Osteopathy is a form of manual therapy which focuses largely on freedom of movement. Movement is essential for optimal function of all the systems of the body, and conversely a lack of movement is one of the major preventable causes of poor health and loss of performance. The principles of Osteopathy apply just as much to the equine body as they do to the human body.
Osteopathic diagnosis and treatment uses a rational approach to the assessing and treating dysfunction in the body. Anatomical and physiological rules guide the practice of osteopathy, allowing a thorough evaluation and treatment plan to be formulated specifically for the individual situation. It is this unique philosophical approach which differentiates osteopathy from other forms of manual therapy.
The Rule of Proximity: Simply, the structures near one another are affected by one another. An example of this might be if your horse jolts and jars his shoulder when jumping. It is likely that given some time, the resultant shoulder restriction will start to affect the neck and the girth area. You may find he starts being reluctant to bend one direction, reactive to leg aids or becomes unusually girth-shy. Alternatively, existing restriction around the girth will, over time affect the way the shoulder girdle, amongst other structures, moves and predispose the horse to this jarring or jolting as movement has become restricted and isn’t as full and free as it could be in that individual.
Rule of Function: Many of the structures that are involved in similar actions are affected due by a restriction. This mean that a muscle, which produces a similar action, attempts to take over from the injured muscle. Similarly restriction of full range of motion of a joint which is part of a chain of movement (think of elbow extension for example), will result in joints within that same chain of movement (in this example, all the joints of the forelimb up to and including the scapulothoracic ‘joint’) needing to adjust their range to compensate for this restriction.
Rule of supply: The arteries and nerves must have freedom of movement and flow to adequately supply the tissues with nutrition, oxygen and hormones plus neural control of muscle and glandular tissue. Muscle imbalance, spinal joint restriction or chronic changes to connective tissues can adversely constrict these major arteries and nerves. Muscles or joints that are already restricted in their movement are more likely to trigger symptoms with relatively little additional strain. This is the basis behind relatively small incidents creating a sudden acute painful episode.
Rule of drainage: Similarly, the veins and lymphatic vessels must have freedom of movement and flow to transport by-products away from the tissues (deoxygenated blood and extracellular fluids).
Rule of Pain: Pain is always a symptom, not the disease or disturbance itself. Even in chronic cases, pain after apparent healing is often indicative of a disruption in the normal function of the associated tissues or compensation that formed during the acute injury. And so the hunt begins. These cases can be tricky and many of us learn to compensate and ‘just keep going’. Horses, even those who are sensitive, are well known for their forgiving natures, and often continue to do their work for a long time before succumbing to symptoms of dysfunction that has existed in the body for a long time. In these cases it is a little like peeling back the layers of an onion to find the true cause of the pain. The longer the problem has been in the body, the longer it can take to work through these layers.
Rule of connectedness: The body is a complex, unified organism made up of many overlapping, interconnected systems. Each system effects and is affected by many other systems. Complex and often career-ending presentations such as cruciate ligament injuries, respiratory dysfunctions (eg broken wind in horses), tying up and acute or chronic tendon or muscle injuries may be indicative of underlying mechanical dysfunction which has developed to a point where the related organ systems have begun to suffer also. While a complete cure may not be possible due to the degree of tissue damage, many of these cases show remarkable improvement when the associated mechanical dysfunction is addressed.
Rule of difference: The structure of each body is different from all others. No two cases are the same. While symptoms may appear similar, the specifics of which tissues are in trouble and therefore the treatment approach will vary to a greater or lesser degree. One size does not fit all. The individualised approach of osteopathy embraces this very fact.
So as you can see, osteopathy is quite unique in its approach to the body. By making use of all of these rules, it often becomes a relatively simple process of determining the underlying cause of the problem, whether that be pain or lack of performance ability.
5 years of study to become a qualified Osteopath and a further 2 years of post graduate animal specific study ensures that not only the philosophy or the “Art” of the Osteopathic approach but also the anatomical and physiological knowledge, both for humans and animals , the “Science”, is solid. This combination results in an effective, safe and well tolerated therapy which may just be the missing link in gaining the best pain free performance possible.
Updated 26th January, 2019