Therapist applying pressure with thumbs on back.

What is Osteopathy?

By Elaine Sauvé, MOst, BAppSci, BHSc

A patient-centred approach to health, this manual therapy is used globally to address a wide range of ailments safely and effectively.

Osteopathy is a holistic form of manual therapy which facilitates healing by focusing on how the whole body functions as a unit, including the bones, joints, muscles, nerves, circulation, connective tissue, and internal organs.  Osteopathic techniques are effective in treating both acute and chronic pain conditions and improving mobility, health, and general wellbeing.

Osteopathic principles recognize the body has the potential to heal itself and provides a unique approach to treating the whole body; not only the area of pain, but also the underlying cause of the problem.  Osteopathic practitioners seek the cause of pain and dysfunction by taking a comprehensive case history and physical assessment to look at the interaction of multiple systems in the body (digestive, neurological, cardiorespiratory, and musculoskeletal). Lifestyle factors are also discussed as potential contributors, including diet, exercise, stress, occupation, and sleeping issues. Osteopathic practitioners are trained in anatomy, physiology, pathology, and a wide range of hands-on techniques to provide a multi-system approach.

Osteopathic practitioners typically use the sensitive palpation of their hands to assess restrictions and strains, and provide manual treatment in order to decrease pain and improve function.  Treatment utilizes both direct and indirect manual techniques such as soft tissue mobilization (stretching, massage, trigger point), myofascial release, muscle energy, positional release, joint mobilization, visceral release, and cranial osteopathy.  Techniques aim to address the cause of dysfunction and facilitate the body to integrate changes.  With osteopathic treatment there is no single protocol that is applied to all patients or conditions.  A patient-centred approach is taken that emphasizes collaboration between patient and practitioner; treatment plans are discussed then individualized and may include exercises, stretches, postural correction, and other advice. 

Osteopathy in BC

The Osteopathic International Alliance (OIA) recognizes that internationally there are two streams of osteopathic practice:  “osteopathy” or “traditional osteopathy” practised by osteopaths (Osteopathic Practitioners within BC) and “osteopathic medicine” practised by osteopathic physicians. The majority of countries in the world and the majority of osteopaths in Canada use these internationally accepted titles and definitions.

In British Columbia, the standards are not yet in line and the titles “Osteopath” and “Osteopathic Physician” are currently reserved for osteopathic physicians only.  Members of Osteopathy BC (OBC) therefore use the title “Osteopathic Practitioner” in BC to make it very clear that we are not physicians and to conform with the law.

Currently, treatment provided by osteopathic practitioners is not covered by MSP.  However, most major extended health insurance providers include osteopathy in many of their plans.  Patients must consult their specific plan for details.

How to choose an osteopathic practitioner

Globally, osteopathy is a well-established form of manual therapy and is regulated in many other countries including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia. In Canada, however, traditional manual osteopathy, as practised by osteopathic practitioners, is not yet a regulated health profession in BC, so the title does not necessarily indicate equal levels of training, credentials or standards of practice among practitioners. Therefore, it’s important to choose an osteopathic practitioner who is a member of an organization that maintains high standards, such as OBC and the Canadian Federation of Osteopaths.  See for the list of members in BC.  Additionally, only members of OBC have the ability to invoice to registered extended health providers.

Osteopathic practitioners treat more than you think!

Osteopathy is safe for people of all ages, from babies to the elderly.  Osteopathic practitioners treat a wide range of conditions and problems including:

  • Back and neck pain
  • Sciatica
  • Pelvic imbalances3D white people. Man with headache
  • Whiplash
  • Headaches
  • Hip, knee, ankle, and foot pain
  • Shoulder, elbow, wrist pain
  • Sinus issues
  • Sports or work-related injuries
  • Joint and muscle pain, sprains and strains
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Digestive, respiratory, menstrual problems
  • Postural issues
  • Pregnancy and post-partum related pain
  • Babies’ and children’s problems

Osteopathy and back pain

Back pain will affect most people at some point in their life, whether mild or severe, acute or chronic.  Common causes of back pain include trauma, such as a car accident or fall; heavy lifting, extensive sitting or standing; pregnancy and childbirth; digestive conditions such as constipation or irritable bowel; menstrual pain or endometriosis; dysfunction in the upper back, pelvis, or lower limbs.

Other more serious causes include disc injury, fracture, tumour, or infection. Osteopathic practitioners are trained to differentiate between uncomplicated back pain and pain that requires referral to your doctor.

Osteopathic practitioners can help you develop a safe and effective treatment plan by improving joint mobility; reducing muscular tension, inflammation, and nerve irritation; providing advice on posture, exercises, stretches, and ergonomics at home or the workplace.

Osteopathy and headaches

The most common type of headache originates from muscle stiffness or joint strain in the neck and upper back.  Other causes of headache include sinus congestion, whiplash, stress, dysfunctional breathing, jaw imbalance, teeth grinding, poor posture, and workplace ergonomics. 

Osteopathy provides an effective approach for treatment by improving your general mobility, including the mobility of your ribs, thoracic and cervical spine; reducing muscular tension, nerve compression and inflammation; providing advice on posture, breathing mechanics, exercise, stretching, and workplace ergonomics to help prevent a recurrence of symptoms; and differentiating between headaches with common causes versus those due to something more serious. Your osteopath will refer you to your doctor if necessary.

For more information, visit the Osteopathy BC website,

Elaine Sauvé, MOst, BAppSci, BHSc, is a New Zealand-trained osteopathic practitioner. A Kelowna local, Elaine has recently returned to practise osteopathy, a manual therapy which facilitates healing by focusing on how the whole body works together. Elaine passionately believes that osteopathy uniquely addresses chronic issues by treating the root of the problem, not simply the symptoms. Contact her at

*Reprint from our Winter 2017 Issue

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