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  • Writer's pictureCaleb McCleary

So what is Osteopathy? And how did I get here?




I'm glad you asked! I was in the same boat as many of you while I was finishing up my undergraduate degree in kinesiology. I had never heard of it. I played high level sports and got injured pretty badly. I went down all of the “typical” routes of healing. The physiotherapists, the Medical Doctors, X-rays, pool therapy, shockwave, ultrasound, acupuncture, and more! These options were easily available to me and were some of the household names of the therapy world. I think I relate to most people when I say the first time I heard about Osteopathy I instantly thought “oh yeah bone specialists.. Why would I go to them for my muscular injury?” It was only after prodding, referrals, and a lack of improvement with other methods that I finally decided to go and give these bone guys a try.


In my first appointment I only got more confused. This guy was moving around my organs, working on my neck and shipping me off in 20 minutes. I had come from the understanding that all therapy lasts 1 hour generally and I remember saying “that's it?” when I was politely asked to go for a walk before getting in my car to drive home. I felt slightly different, but I knew part of that feeling had to be a psychosomatic reaction to a new form of therapy, and that I would probably get up the next day feeling the exact same. I was also confused because this was one of the first therapists who didn't insist I work out my core, or rest in bed for a number of days. I got no new stretches to do and was only told to go for a walk. I felt slightly scammed.


Over the next couple of days I felt better physically, but mentally I was trying to put together the pieces of what was so different. I have always had a passion and a love for the human body, and had always wanted to work in a field related to anatomy and physiology. I had taken a number of sport injury courses and tried to understand why this weird form of manipulation worked. I talked with professors and TAs and realized that a lot of my colleagues and teachers had no idea what Osteopathy even was. I was hooked. I applied to the Canadian Academy of Osteopathy and after 4 more years of education, I think I can finally say with confidence - that I still don't fully understand the intricacies of how I had healed!


But with those years of education I DO understand that sometimes we don't always need to know the exact “whys” and “hows” of how the body works. Don't get me wrong - I’m still a diehard nerd when it comes to the new discoveries about how the body functions, but I have also learned that we will never have all the answers in therapy. Since we humans are biological individual entities that are ever changing and adapting to our environments, we cannot fully understand the human art of healing. I say human art of healing because we don't heal like the mice in experiments, or any other animal for that matter. We have too many changing variables: our beliefs, emotions, physical and chemical makeups, backgrounds, genetics, etc. One variable that we all DO share in common, though, is our anatomy.


Anatomy is not just the muscles and bones, but it is the arteries, veins, nerves, lymphatics. It is the organs and every bit of fascia in between. Anatomy is what we as practitioners use and what we can feel and move. The founder of Osteopathy, A.T. Still, was a pioneer and a genius of his time, and he understood this variable in more depth than most humans on the face of the planet today. He knew that changes in the anatomy would also cause changes to the physiology. “It appears perfectly reasonable to any person who has familiarized themselves with anatomy and its working with the machinery of life, that all diseases are mere effects, the cause being a partial or complete failure of the nerves to properly conduct the fluids of life.” (from A.T. Still Autobiography).

Mr. Still believed to his core that the body has its own ability to self-heal and self-regulate. Over the years of its evolution or design, the body has developed an innate ability to adapt and fight off anything that comes its way. But when we have dysfunctions, postural abnormalities, or a loss of proper mechanics, the body suffers as an entire system. This includes aspects of our body like our mental health, our digestive function, or our chronic pain. Osteopathy is part Philosophy and Art, with the understanding that everything in the body has a function and an impact on the entire body. It is understanding that we don't need to know every detail, physiological change, or environmental impact, as long as we know everything possible about anatomy, and furthermore that we understand that “a knowledge of anatomy is only dead weight if we do not know how to apply that knowledge with successful skill” - A.T. Still.


So to answer the question “What is osteopathy”, in my opinion, it is a philosophy about alignment of the anatomy in the body, with principles that govern our treatment to help patients on an individual level reach their body’s potential to self-heal and self-regulate as efficiently as possible. It is knowing that all aspects of what make up our body have an impact on the system as a whole. We as practitioners use the body on the table as our guide to find what might be misaligned, and discover the root cause of why symptoms are, or are not, appearing. Osteopathy has both a beautiful simplicity and an immense complexity that takes a lifetime of practice to understand. Think of the beautiful game of chess. Most people know how to play, but to master this game it takes years and years of study, attention, and practice. Now extrapolate that to the ever changing body and you have a career of learning that lasts a lifetime.


I hope this helps to answer any questions you might have before diving into treatment. I know this might make things more confusing, but hopefully it gives you more to think about in your daily routines. Consider how you are having an effect on your own anatomy.


Obviously these are all the opinions and the story of the writer, and I know there are differing opinions and questions out there! Leave a comment respectfully, or reach out to me if you have any differing opinions, similar opinions, questions or anything to add to my thoughts on the topic!


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