The role of an osteopath is to diagnose and treat damaged muscles, ligaments, nerves and joints. Since 2000, an osteopath practitioner in the UK can only legally describe himself or herself as one if they are registered with the General Council. This official body oversees the osteopath profession, ensuring codes of conduct are followed, complaints investigated and standards maintained.
One of the main purposes of this form of therapy is pain relief by reducing tissue inflammation. An osteopath can help people of all ages who suffer from discomfort that impacts on everyday life.
Patients range from athletes with a sports injury and office workers suffering from repetitive strain injury, to babies with colic or sleeplessness and women with back pain caused by pregnancy and a change in posture.
Half of all patients who seek out this form of therapy suffer from complaints relating to the lowest region of the back - the lumbar region. It is the most vulnerable area, because it bears the entire weight of the upper body, and is flexed, twisted and bent more than any other part of the spine.
Other than injury, lot of this discomfort is likely to result from the routine of everyday life. For example, shopping involves lifting heavy loads while it would be impossible to perform household chores without bending, twisting, pushing and pulling. Even ironing involves standing and twisting. Caring for babies and young children and nursing the sick and the elderly can put an enormous strain on the back and pregnancy can also result in acute discomfort.
Treatment does not involve the use of drugs or surgery. Instead pain is eased and mobility increased by muscle and tissue massage and the physical manipulation and stretching of joints. The latter can result in a cracking noise which is the sound of gas bubbles popping in the fluid of the joints.