What is an Osteopath? And how might they fit into your Endo management team?
Anyone with Endometriosis knows that it is a complex condition and each woman will need treatment that is individualised to meet her needs. Over time, many women will create their own ‘Endo Toolbox’, filled with pain management strategies, exercises and health professionals that help them manage their wide variety of symptoms. This list of professionals may include their GP, Gynaecologist, Physiotherapist, Massage Therapist etc. Each professional will be useful for assisting them with different aspects of their condition. While many people haven’t heard of Osteopaths, they may be a useful addition to an ‘Endo Toolbox’.
What is an Osteopath?
If you’re wondering what an Osteopath is, you are not alone! Osteopathy is a form of manual healthcare. Practitioners are concerned with the relationship between the structure of the body – its muscles, ligaments, and joints – and the way the body moves. In simple terms, this means that the aim of treatment is to help you move better because if you move well, you feel better.
In Australia, Osteopaths are AHPRA (government) registered health professionals who complete a minimum of four years accredited university training in anatomy, physiology, pathology, general healthcare diagnosis and osteopathic techniques.
You might include an Osteopath in your ‘Endo Toolbox’ when you need help with the biomechanical (whole-body) symptoms of Endometriosis. Osteopaths are different because:
- They view the body as a whole, which is useful, as many women experience pain in more than just the pelvic region.
- Treatment is gentle and uses a combination of massage, joint mobilisation and myofascial release techniques. Visceral techniques, which are directed at the ligaments that attach one organ to another, are also commonly used.
How could an osteopath fit into your ‘Toolbox’?
Osteopaths may assist with addressing some of the biomechanical discomfort associated with endometriosis. Biomechanics refers to the study of how the body moves. All the structures in our bodies (the muscles, bones, ligaments etc) are connected, so when one area isn’t working optimally, other areas may come under strain. It is well documented that connective tissue restrictions, muscle tension, altered neurodynamics of peripheral nerves (the nerves that innervate your skin and muscles) and biomechanical abnormalities may be the cause of pelvic pain.
Taking a whole-body approach means that your Osteopath will look at the effect endometriosis has on how the rest of the body moves. For example, a woman may have a pelvic floor that is tighter on one side than the other. They may have been to see a Women’s Health Physiotherapist, but the problem keeps returning. This is not to say that Women’s Health Physios aren’t awesome at their jobs because they are super stars and should be part of your ‘Toolbox’! However, a pelvic floor imbalance suggests that there may be an imbalance somewhere else in the biomechanical chain, for example, in the ankle, knee, hip, sacroiliac joints or low back. A woman may choose to visit an Osteopath to see if reducing the tension in other areas of the biomechanical chain can assist the body in reducing tension in the pelvic floor.
Your Osteopath will ask questions about other areas of your body. For example, you may have an old ankle injury that has resulted in stiffness and decreased motion in your foot. This reduction in mobility will need to be compensated for elsewhere in the body, often by the knee or hip, or even in the opposite leg. Our bodies are highly adaptable and usually, we would cope well with this compensation. However, there is a limit to how much your body can compensate. When you have endometriosis, your body’s ability to compensate for problems in other regions along the biomechanical chain may be reduced, as the muscles and ligaments around your pelvis are already under additional stress. The muscles in the hip may begin to tighten and change their movement patterning to try and accommodate for the altered movement in the ankle. This alteration in movement patterning may involve increasing tension in the obturator internus muscle. This muscle is important in controlling how well the hip moves, but it is also closely related to pelvic floor function. When the obturator internus tightens it can increase tension in the pelvic floor muscles on that side of the pelvis.
Osteopaths work to identify and, where possible, correct biomechanical imbalances. Treatment usually involves a hands-on release of the affected areas and some take-home exercises to help you manage the problem in the future. While Osteopathy won’t solve the problem in every case, it may assist with taking the strain off other regions, which can help reduce the biomechanical strains placed on your pelvis and pelvic floor.
Osteopaths may also be able to help with lymph drainage. Poor lymph drainage is often overlooked, however, stasis in lymph can be associated with increased inflammation and pain in an area. By improving movement through the pelvic region, the diaphragm and ribs, Osteopathy may be useful in assisting with lymph drainage.
As with everything else in endometriosis management, Osteopathy is not a magic bullet, but it may be a useful adjunct to your ‘Endo Toolbox’; particularly if you want a gentler treatment style or you have pain or discomfort that extends beyond the pelvis.
If you would like to know more about Osteopathy or you have questions about how it may assist with managing some of the biomechanical symptoms associated with endometriosis, please do not hesitate to contact Pivot Osteopathy. Alternately, you may wish to contact your local osteopath. Remember, for the best outcomes, it is important to seek someone with an interest in women’s health.