Back Tracking: Osteopathy and Chiropractic

17th January 2009

Grace Fuller looks at two ‘hands-on’ options for pain relief

The easiest option, when back or other pain comes calling, is to reach for a couple of painkillers. And a couple more. And so on. As a short-term solution, it might work, but if you really want to look after your overall health, then you need a treatment that will address the root cause of the pain, and put you right for the future. As the British Chiropractic Association says: pain is a warning sign… don’t ignore it.

You’ll probably turn to osteopathy or chiropractic. Both these popular ‘manipulating’ therapies originated in America towards the end of the nineteenth century, and they do have several features in common – sharing an emphasis, for example, on the importance of the spine in ensuring good health. (They’re not alone in this, as it happens; most traditional healing arts, along with martial arts and practices such as yoga and tai chi also focus on the integrity of the spine).

The broad philosophical basis of osteopathy and chiropractic might be similar, but there are differences in approach.

Chiropractic is based on the simple philosophy that optimum health derives from a properly functioning spine and nervous system – that good spinal alignment therefore leads to better health and less pain.

It’s all about alignment, or the lack of it – and spinal misalignment is responsible for a range of musculo-skeletal problems. If the spine isn’t working well, then the nerves and muscles that control posture and movement become irritated and restricted, leading to discomfort and pain, not only in the back but throughout the body. Chiropractors are trained to adjust and manipulate the joints in such a way as to relieve the restrictions, thus improving function. The underlying premise is that the body is designed to work well, and just needs tweaking to keep it in top form.

It sounds incredibly logical, yet we still remain surprised at the range of less obvious conditions for which chiropractic can be effective – from headaches and migraine to sciatica and tennis elbow.

Whereas a chiropractor focuses on small and precise movements that effectively manipulate the spinal column, and on ‘clicking’ joints back into place, an osteopath uses varied techniques, mobilising a joint with stretching and pressure as well as manipulation. The emphasis here is more towards soft tissue/ muscle work, and the aim: to release the body to be able to heal itself from whatever is ‘wrong’.

If you wake with unexpected pain, or turn suddenly and find your body doesn’t want to do what you want it to, then remember that loss of joint movement may have a variety of causes: accident or injury, overuse, wear and tear, the stresses of 21st century life. Modern activities such as texting, hunching over a mobile phone, slouching over a computer screen (much as I’m doing right now…) can all lead to back pain – and the resulting complications are referred around the body.

Lifestyle is a factor, too, so most chiropractors and osteopaths will try to set treatment in the context of a holistic approach to diet, nutrition, exercise and posture.

Both chiropractic and osteopathy promise that you can be pain-free naturally. As you reach for those painkillers again, that’s worth remembering.

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