Please note that cranial osteopathy is not different to osteopathy. It is a specialised approach to osteopathic treatment and is interchangeable with the word osteopathy on this page.

Research shows that 80% of people experience back pain at some time in their life. Most episodes of low back pain settle after a couple of weeks but up to 85% of people many have a recurrent course with further acute episodes.

Back pain can have a significant impact on quality of life and is a major cause of time off work. Research also shows that chronic pain is often associated with depression, anxiety and poor sleep.

Why does back pain begin?

A common story from patients is that one day a simple movement such as bending to pick something up caused a sudden acute spasm and pain in the back. Why would this happen in an apparently healthy individual?

Osteopaths consider and examine the whole of the patient’s body. During an osteopathic examination it is common for osteopaths to find several different and apparently unrelated areas of strain or tension in the body. Individually each of these may be well tolerated and the patient may be unaware of any problem. But the combined effect of all of these mechanical challenges may reduce the body’s ability to tolerate additional strains.

For example, in a hypothetical case:

Poor posture, such as slouched shoulders, will impose an uncomfortable pull on the muscles and ligaments of the neck. This would be made worse if the patient also had general poor muscle tone, especially in the abdominal and back muscles. Tripping or falling onto one knee may cause a twist through the joints of the pelvis and resultant tension in the low back. Emotional stress can produce tension in the diaphragm area and restrict the patient’s ability to take a deep breath. If all of the above exist in one patient, the simple act of bending over to pick something up may overload the back and causes a spasm or strain.

Osteopathic diagnosis and treatment

Osteopaths have two aims during their diagnosis and treatment:

  • To identify and treat the cause the pain (for example muscle injury, joint strain, intervertebral disc damage etc.)
  • To understand why this back has been vulnerable to this strain, and to improve overall spinal mechanics so that it is less likely to recur in the future.

What does osteopathic treatment involve?

Osteopaths use their hands to examine the patient for areas of tension in muscles and ligaments or areas of spinal stiffness or joint instability. They use a variety of gentle techniques to release areas of tension or stiffness. They work to restore balance and flexibility to the whole musculoskeletal system. During treatment the cranial approach to osteopathy can blend seamlessly with other osteopathic approaches to achieve the desired result.

Osteopaths are trained to assess the way in which a strain acquired from an injury distorts the symmetry and balance of movement through the joints and tissues of the body.

Osteopaths take into consideration the body’s 3 dimensional anatomy and try to understand how different systems of the body are interrelated. For example if the muscles of the chest are very tense and tight, it may be more difficult to take a deep breath which restricts the lung capacity and function.

Osteopaths are trained to know when they should refer patients with back pain to their medical practitioner. This may be for further tests such as MRI scans or X-rays, for example if intervertebral disc damage or some other, more serious pathology is suspected.

Woman clutching a painful back