Holistic medicine

What is osteopathy?

What is osteopathy?

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What is osteopathy? A basic explanation

In osteopathy, hands are examined and treated. This makes it one of the manual therapies. The word osteopathy is derived from ancient Greek, namely from the word "Ostéon" for "bone" and the word "pathos", which means something like "suffering".

The American doctor Andrew Taylor Still created the basis for the development of osteopathy around 125 years ago. From Still's point of view, many medications and operations in conventional medicine were superfluous. He regarded it only as an expression of helplessness that no other way could be found by a sick person and his doctor.

Still placed the self-regulating forces of nature at the center of his new treatment method. Osteopathy takes a holistic approach, so it always sees people as a unity of body, mind and soul.

Osteopathy - a brief overview

The following section provides basic information on osteopathy in brief.

  • What is osteopathy? Osteopathy is a holistic treatment method that uses various techniques to try to stimulate self-healing powers and to remove restrictions on movement in tissues and organs.
  • Effect: Osteopathy is said to remove restrictions on movement. The self-healing powers are to be strengthened for this purpose, for example by increasing blood circulation and the removal of lymphatic fluid by the treatment.
  • Application areas: Possible areas of application are above all complaints of the musculoskeletal system and resulting problems such as headache, neck pain or back pain as well as various health problems of infants such as infant asymmetry or excessive crying. However, the effect has so far not been proven or has not been sufficiently demonstrated by reliable studies.
  • Side effects: So far, no serious side effects are known. After treatment, you may experience fatigue or a temporary worsening of symptoms.
  • Important NOTE: The best way to clarify whether osteopathy can help with your individual symptoms is to speak to your doctor in person.

The four basic principles of osteopathy

The four basic principles of osteopathy are:

  1. The human body functions as a unit.
  2. The body has self-healing powers.
  3. The structure of the body and its function interact with each other.
  4. Too much pressure or too much tension in one area of ​​the body can also trigger pressure or tension in another area of ​​the body.

Osteopathy effect

A central term in osteopathy is "dysfunction", also called "osteopathic dysfunction" or "lesion". This means a restricted movement of a tissue that an osteopath can feel.

The aim of the treatment is to remove this restriction of movement, which is worked on with the help of various techniques. The aim is to strengthen the self-healing powers, among other things, by stimulating the blood circulation and promoting the removal of lymph fluid.

Different forms of osteopathy

Osteopathy is so diverse that it is difficult to find a uniform definition. There are many different schools, treatment and theory approaches. What they all have in common is that they are mainly treated with the hands.

The spectrum of the individual treatments is also very diverse. Some practitioners sometimes work with painful techniques, others are very gentle so that you hardly feel a touch. Like chiropractic or manual therapy, osteopathy can be very "structural", but it can also act very gently "like laying on of hands" or Reiki.

There are now three basic treatment techniques in osteopathy: the parietal, the visceral and the craniosacral technique.

The parietal system in osteopathy means the musculoskeletal system with bones, muscles, capsules and ligaments. So-called "long leverage effects" are used to treat dysfunctions in the parietal system; indirect manipulation or mobilization techniques are used.

The visceral system in osteopathy means the internal organs. These should be achieved through passive movements of the diaphragm.

The craniosacral (also “craniosacral”) treatment technique works with the “craniosacral rhythm”; from the skull (cranium) to the sacrum (sacrum) there should be a pulsation of the brain and spinal fluid that spreads through the connective tissue into the body. This should be harmonized using a specific technique.

Historical development of osteopathy

Andrew Taylor Still took anatomy as a strong pillar, the knowledge of which of course is of great help or support in visualization. After studying numerous philosophical and scientific concepts, he went on to formulate and put his idea into practice. In 1892 he founded the first school of osteopathy (“American School of Osteopathy”) in order to further develop and spread his method there.

Since then there have been some direct Still students, such as William Garner Sutherland or John Martin Littlejohn, who went their own way and understood and disseminated osteopathy differently from its founder.

But even after that, osteopathic therapy experienced many enrichments and modifications of the original theoretical approaches and techniques. For example, through the French osteopath Jean-Pierre Barral in the treatment and diagnosis of organs and thermal diagnosis, or the concept of body language and treatment at the fascia level by the US osteopath and emergency physician Stephen Typaldos.

In the USA, osteopathy was established as a university course. Graduates are equivalent to doctors in terms of professional policy. In Germany, the most widespread training consists of five years of extra-occupational instruction. Basic professions are doctors, naturopaths and physiotherapists.

Areas of application of osteopathy

Nowadays, people with musculoskeletal complaints mainly go to an osteopath. First and foremost

  • A headache,
  • Back pain,
  • Neck pain.

Osteopathy for infants

A January 2019 study found that osteopathy for infant asymmetry, sleep and feeding disorders, flattened occiput, and excessive crying can achieve very good treatment results, without serious side effects. However, there was also criticism of the study. Further extensive studies are required to confirm the results.

Has the effectiveness been scientifically proven?

The effects of osteopathy have not yet been fully scientifically proven, although some studies indicate that they are effective. Osteopathy is one of the alternative medical procedures.

Osteopathy side effects

Serious risks and side effects are not yet known. Fatigue is sometimes reported after treatment. The symptoms may also worsen for a while after treatment.

Cost and duration of treatment

The cost of an osteopathic therapy session is between 60 and 150 euros. The symptoms should improve after about four sessions, but this depends on the individual symptoms.

Does the health insurance cover the treatment costs?

Some health insurance companies cover different proportions of the treatment costs. The best thing to do before you start treatment is to inquire directly with your health insurance company to what extent it supports osteopathic therapy.

Important NOTE

It is best to clarify in a conversation with your family doctor whether osteopathy could be helpful for your complaints or to what extent it is a supplement or alternative to previous treatments. (kh, editorial office of medical practice)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Magistra Artium (M.A.) Katja Helbig, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Verband der Osteopathen Deutschland e.V .: What is Osteopathy? (Accessed: 19.09.2019), osteopathie.de
  • German Society for Osteopathic Medicine: How does an osteopathic treatment work? (Access: 19.09.2019), dgom.info
  • Werner Langer, Eric Hebgen: Textbook Osteopathy, Thieme Verlag 2017
  • Johannes Mayer, Clive Standen: Textbook on osteopathic medicine, Elsevier, Urban & Fischer Verlag 2017
  • Torsten Liem, Tobias K. Dobler: Guide to Osteopathy: Parietal Techniques, Urban & Fischer Verlag 2014
  • Bierbach, Elvira (ed.): Naturopathic practice today. Textbook and atlas. Elsevier GmbH, Urban & Fischer Verlag, Munich, 4th edition 2009
  • Akademie für Osteopathie e.V. (AFO): Final report on one of the world's largest studies on osteopathic treatment of infants in the first year of life (the OSTINF study); Press release, (published in January 2019), osteopathie.de

Video: Osteopathic Evaluation of the Sacrum Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine OMM. Lecturio (January 2023).