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neck-massageWhile sitting in the sauna a week ago I found myself unashamedly eavesdropping on a conversation going on between the only 2 other chaps in the room. The two were talking about experiences they had had being treated by various manual therapists. Chap 1 (as he shall be known) began by saying he had recently been treated by a Chiropractor and had benefited greatly. Chap 2 (who was a lot older) replied that he too had had treatment from various osteopaths and chiropractors. He was however a little puzzled as to how he could tell which one was right, as they had all said different things. In the first treatment he was told that his pelvis was out of line, the next bloke told him it was a lack of core stability, finally someone had found that his shoulder had dropped on one side and treating this seemed to herald the end of his symptoms.

It seemed clear to me that Chap 2 had decided that the last person he saw was the best as he was able to find the ‘real’ problem and sort it out. The others were of course very good too but they had missed the mark a little, although he admitted that he always felt better after every treatment.

At this point I decided to intervene. “I might be able to help clarify a little” I offered from my perch. A very awkward silence ensued as 3 barely dressed, sweaty strangers in a hot dark room turned and looked at each other.

I told them that I am an Osteopath and so had my own thoughts on why different practitioners see different things in patients and how it all usually helps the patient to feel better.

The person is like a pie chart. When that pie chart is full up, the person will feel symptoms, be that a painful shoulder, headaches, sore back or whatever particular little blessing the body has decided to bestow upon its owner. That pie chart is made up of several different pieces such as stress at work, an old physical injury from years ago, decreased levels of exercise, a tight left shoulder, a habit of wearing 3 inch heels (cough cough, not in my case obviously chaps) etc. Removing pieces of the pie chart gives the body a bit more space in which to do it’s thing (it’s remarkably good at getting better!) and so the trick is clearly finding which piece of the pie chart is biggest, and so contributing greatest towards the current condition.

For example, you have a painful neck, all on the right hand side. Had it before for a couple of months last year and it’s coming back. After an examination your osteopath tells you that you have a stiff section in your mid back, a right shoulder that’s pulled forward and an aggravated joint in your neck. All very physical pieces of your pie chart that can be addressed with manual therapy. However, you also have a computer desk that isn’t at the perfect height, a 2 year old that only sleeps in the day, and your best friend has a neck problem that she was told would never go away (best friends problems are responsible for many of my patients incorrect health beliefs!). So you see, treating any of these aspects will of course help. Hopefully of course your practitioner will identify the biggest physical pieces of your pie chart and help to remove them! . At this point Chap 2 scratched himself unceremoniously and said “yeah maybe”, and then left. This left Chap 1 helplessly alone with the enthusiastic conversationalist.

We osteopaths like to harp on about how the body all works together as a unit and that the person must be treated as a whole. The truth is that removing stressors from the body (and the mind) will allow the body to do what it naturally does which is recover and restore vitality. Different practitioners will do this in different ways, which is the wonderful thing about manual therapy and complementary health care