Despite a steadily-expanding presence in Europe, Osteopathic manual therapy did not become firmly established in Canada until the early 1980s.


Osteopathic manual therapy is a whole body system of manual therapy based on biomechanical principles. Osteopathic manual therapy shares many of the same goals as traditional medicine, but places greater emphasis on the relationship between the organs and the musculoskeletal system as well as treating the whole individual rather than just the disease. 

Osteopathic manual practitioners consider the whole person and look for the underlying causes of symptoms and disease.  Treatment enhances the functions of regulatory and healing systems that are part of every human being. Osteopathic manual practitioners do not treat disease; they treat the person.

Osteopathic manual therapy is a system of health care that looks at the relationship between the body’s physical structure (bones, ligaments, muscles and organs) and its impact on the body’s physiological processes.  Osteopathic manual therapy assists the body to regain its normal functioning as a balanced and efficient system.

The four tenents of Osteopathy

1.  Structure Governs Function - refers to the reciprocal relationship between the structure of the body and its corresponding function, meaning that if there is abnormal function of a part of the body then the function of all areas related to that part of the body will be altered.
2.  The rule of the artery is absolute - states that if there is proper circulation to and drainage from an area, the tissue that is supplied by that area will have proper nutrition and adequate removal of waste product to allow for normal function.  This principle also states that if there is compression and/or congestion in an area, then nerve function to and from that area may be compromised.
3.  The body is a functional unit - refers to the fact that no part of the body functions on its own.  There is an interrelationship among the various components in the body including the fascial, circulatory, biomechanical, visceral, nervous and lymphatic systems, as well as the dura and the core link.
4.  The body is a self-regulating mechanism - refers to the fact that the body possesses self-regulating mechanisms that allow for homeostasis.  If some of these mechanisms become inhibited, the ability of the body to adapt to various conditions becomes altered.  If too many of these systems become inhibited, the body loses its ability to self-regulate.  If there are areas in the body that are not functioning well due to altered positions, mobility or vitality, the body then has to function in a compensated or unnatural state.  Osteopathic treatment helps the body return to its homeostatic base line.

How do Osteopathic manual practitioners treat?

Many professions, such as massage therapists, cranial sacral therapists and physiotherapists use techniques that stem from Osteopathy.  What sets Osteopathy apart from these professions is the depth of knowledge that determines when and how to use a specific technique.  Osteopathic manual therapy treatment integrates an in-depth understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the body with precise, refined palpation skills to achieve the desired results.

In carrying out treatments, Osteopathic manual therapists call upon what is probably the largest range of techniques used in any manual therapy. 

Fascial Release

Many Osteopathic manual therapy techniques are based on Fascial Release, which is a generalized term to describe treatment that is aimed at restoring soft tissue mobility and motility, particularly that of membranous-like tissues. These connecting tissues comprise the fabric that holds the human body together as a functioning system. The Osteopathic manual therapist's in depth knowledge of anatomy combined with refined palpatory skill are used in achieving release without the application of force.

There are many types of Fascial Release that have been developed by Osteopaths, including:
  • General Osteopathic Treatment (GOT) which is primarily rhythmical.
  • Articulation techniques, in which joints are mobilized by being passively taken through their range of motion.
  • Muscle Energy techniques, in which contracted muscles are released by alternately being stretched and made to work against resistance.
  • Counterstrain techniques, which achieve release of restriction by placing the affected joint or muscle in a position of comfort while applying a counter-stretch to the antagonists of the tight muscles.
  • Functional techniques, which involve gentle mobilization of joints in a way that probes barriers to normal movement until a way is found through the restriction.
  • Reciprocal Membranous Tension.
  • Massage and stretching techniques.

Osteo-Articular Adjustments

As described by Philippe Druelle, DO, an osteo-articular adjustment is a precise methodical and exacting manual osteopathic technique, which requires specificity. The Osteopathic manual practitioner's goal is to restore the natural physiological relationship between the elements comprising the articular functional unit without using force.

Rather than attempting to physically move the bones, the Osteopathic manual practitioner delivers a precisely timed and placed “impulse” in order to reduce the strain upon the intended articular functional unit. This impulse allows the unit to return to its natural position without stressing the tissues, the body, or the patient.” The articulation is not forced through a range of motion; there is no high-velocity thrust performed at the articular end range.

Osteopathy in the Cranial Field

Many Osteopathic manual practitioners also use this sub-discipline of Osteopathy developed by William Garner Sutherland, DO, who was a student of the profession’s founder, A.T. Still. Cranial Osteopathy focuses on the restoration of the Primary Respiratory Mechanism (PRM); treatment is not restricted to the cranium alone, it may also be applied to any other tissue or system of the body.


Visceral techniques are used in the management of conditions affecting internal organs, involving gentle and rhythmical mobilization of the visceral areas.


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