What is an osteopath?

A Definition of Osteopathy and Osteopathic Treatment

Sports osteopath applying treatment to shoulder injury

An osteopath is trained in osteopathy – a form of manual therapy that focuses on overall body health and wellbeing by treating imbalances and weaknesses of the musculoskeletal framework. Osteopaths work with not only the spine, but all areas of the body. Osteopathic treatment is directed to muscles, joints and connective tissue which reduces pain, improves postural balance, and aims to enhance the healing capacity of the body by promoting optimal blood flow, healthy nervous system tone, and lymphatic drainage.

Osteopaths are sometimes known as the ‘mechanics’ of the body because they work in a very physical — and almost mechanical way — by using their hands to identify and treat different types of dysfunction in the body.

Osteopathic treatment techniques may include stretching, soft-tissue massage, joint mobilisation, occasionally joint manipulation, and very subtle (cranial or biodynamic) techniques. Treatment plan and application of treatment is developed specifically for each person and presenting complaint.

Osteopaths in Australia complete a minimum of 5 years’ university training and studies in anatomy, pathology, physiology, general medical diagnosis, and osteopathic techniques. They are registered with the government as osteopathic practitioners.

Read more about our osteopaths and their qualifications here.

Osteopathy is a holistic (whole body) approach to health care.

Osteopathy is a holistic form of manual therapy, which encompasses much more than simply massage and joint manipulation for treating a specific injury or ailment.
It is a philosophy based on four basic principles, which together collectively state that the body functions as a whole and has the ability to self-heal.

Osteopathic care is directed to the whole body, aiming to bring about flexibility and postural alignment, optimal blood flow and healthy neural (nervous system) tone — all of which provide an optimum opportunity for self-healing and wellness.

The Four Principles of Osteopathy:

The Osteopathic Philosophy embraces the idea of the unity of structure and function through four main principles:

  1. The body is a unit, and the person represents a combination of body, mind and spirit.
  2. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and health maintenance.
  3. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.
  4. Rational treatment is based on an understanding of these principles: body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.

What conditions does osteopathy treat?

Typical conditions that present to our Osteopaths vary for different age groups.

Growing_bones (238 of 259)

It’s important to note that and very little research has been done in the field of osteopathy for babies and children- largely because the osteopathic profession does not have the resources to conduct research on a large scale.  Despite this, osteopathic treatment is commonly provided to babies and children. Osteopathic care does not claim to cure any of the conditions listed below, the osteopath’s role is to remove physical tension in the body that may be associated with common childhood conditions.  Our principal osteopath completed a two year post-graduate diploma in paediatric osteopathy, studied further in oro-facial myology (correct use of the lips, tongue and establishing nasal breathing for healthy facial development and dentition) and is trained in the INPP method (assessment and movement therapy for neuro-motor immaturity). All Growing Bones osteopaths who treat babies, toddlers and children work with this knowledge base.


Note: Osteopathic treatment at Growing Bones uses no more pressure than would be used when holding or dressing a baby, and is delivered with the aim of keeping the baby comfortable and calm throughout.

  • Head shape concerns / torticolis-  The osteopath uses specific body positioning during the treatment, and prescribes take home exercises to improve neck flexibility and reduce preference for lying with the head turned to one side.
  • Postural imbalance- This can involve any part of the body where there is asymmetry. The osteopath uses specific body positioning during the treatment, and prescribes take home exercises.
  • Unsettledness – Can be due to multiple factors. The osteopaths role is to identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain that may contribute to physical discomfort and subsequent unsettledness.
  • Reflux / colic – Again, can be due to multiple factors and osteopathic care does not claim to cure these conditions. The osteopaths role is to to identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain through the upper neck, jaw, rib cage and soft tissues of the abdomen that may be associated with reflux and colic.
  • Feeding difficulties and/or pre-post tongue / lip tie release – The osteopath looks at whole body posture- but specifically the position and movement of the upper neck and jaw, and the use of the cheeks, lips and tongue. The osteopath may wear a glove and massage inside the baby’s mouth, use specific body positioning during the treatment, and prescribe take home exercises. All treatment is delivered with the aim of keeping the baby comfortable and calm throughout.
  • Constipation – Can be due to multiple factors. The osteopaths role is to identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain through the hips and lower abdomen that may contribute to tissue congestion and constipation. Take home exercises may also be prescribed.
  • Recurrent respiratory infections – Bronchiolitis is a common chest infection in young children, caused by a viral infection of the lungs.  It usually occurs in babies under six months, but sometimes up to 12 months of age (Royal Children’s Hospital, 2010 (a)).  Although osteopathy does not claim to treat the acute symptoms of bronchitis, our osteopaths commonly see babies and children who suffer recurrent episodes of bronchitis, severe enough to be admitted to hospital. We find that these babies and children often display tissue congestion and restricted rib cage movement, which may predispose to decreased fluid dynamic recurrent infections. Our osteopaths work with specific body positioning and massage, using no more pressure than would be used when holding or dressing a baby.  Treatment does not guarantee that babies and children will not continue to get bronchiolitis, osteopathy aims to improve chest mechanics so recurrent episodes may be less severe, while encouraging a faster recovery.

Toddlers & older children:

  • Delayed gross motor milestones / Asymmetrical crawling or walking patterns – All children develop at different rates. Delayed or asymmetrical creeping, crawling or delayed walking are common concerns in otherwise healthy children. The osteopaths role is to understand the child’s primitive and postural reflex profile, and identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain that may make it difficult for a child to learn a specific motor skill. Take home exercises may also be prescribed.
  • Asthma – Asthma is a common condition caused by narrowing of the small air passages (breathing tubes/bronchi) in the lungs. The narrowing happens because the air passages become swollen and inflamed, making it harder for air to get through and causes wheezing, coughing and problems with breathing (Royal Children’s Hospital, n.d). Some research exists to support a therapeutic effect of osteopathy in paediatric asthma (Guiney, Chou, Vianna & Lovenheim, 2005), however more clinical trials are required.  Postural compensations are common in children with moderate to severe asthma and include head protraction (forward head carriage), elevation and protraction of the shoulder girdle (high and rounded shoulders), decreased chest wall expansion and muscle shortening of the arms, posterior trunk and posterior lower limb (Lopes et. al., 2007).  The osteopaths role is to identify and release any areas of compensation, physical tension or strain through the rib cage, thoracic spine, accessory respiratory muscles, upper neck and jaw. Take home postural and nasal breathing exercises may also be prescribed.
  •  In-toeing (turning in of feet) / Out-toeing (turning out of feet) – In-toeing is when the feet turn inwards when walking.  It is common in childhood and is usually outgrown. It may be a good idea to see your osteopath if: in-toeing only affects one leg; in-toeing is severe and not improving with time; in-toeing is causing tripping and affects participation in activities; feet are stiff, or painful and not improving with time (Royal Children’s Hospital, 2010 (b)).   The osteopaths role is to identify what is causing the in-toeing- metatarsus adductus (foot turned inwards), internal tibial torsion (lower leg rotation), or internal femoral torsion (thigh rotation), and release any areas of compensation, physical tension or strain through the pelvis and lower limbs.
  • ‘Growing pains’ – It is thought that growing pains are the result of muscle strain and fatigue, linked with the bone and muscle changes that occur with growth.  The osteopath uses massage and stretching techniques to improve flexibility and promote blood flow to body areas affected, which may help ease symptoms.  Home exercises may also be prescribed.
  • Tummy pain – Can be due to multiple factors, therefore osteopathy alone does not claim to cure tummy pain in children. The osteopaths role is understand the factors potentially contributing to tummy pain (diet, medical history, family history etc.) and to identify and release any areas of physical tension or strain through abdomen that may be associated with various types of tummy pain. Referral to a dietician or nutritionist for diet modification may be recommended in some cases.

Pregnant women:

  • Pelvic instability
  • Pubic pain
  • Low back / pelvic pain
  • Carpal tunnel / wrist pain
  • Sciatica
  • Neck / shoulder pain
  • Preparation for labor
  • Induction massage – by our aromatherapist
  • Lymphatic drainage / fluid relief
  • Recovery post-birth


  • Low back pain / sciatica
  • Neck pain / headaches
  • Postural concerns
  • Hip / knee / ankle / foot pain
  • RSI / carpal tunnel / wrist forearm pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Asthma
  • Digestive issues
  • Acute joint sprains / sports injury
  • Chronic pain management
  • Rehabilitation post-surgery
  • Amatuer and professional sportspeople

What does an osteopath actually do?

Osteopaths provide treatment to the physical body structure with their hands. Treatment is directed to specific areas, specific for each person and presentation.

The object of osteopathic care is to promote health in the body. The osteopath does this using soft tissue massage, joint articulation, some joint manipulation and very subtle (cranial or biodynamic) techniques. These techniques release tension and strain in the muscles, ligaments and joints of the body. This process is sometimes accompanied by a release of emotional stress.

The releasing of body tension aims to improvesblood flow and lymphatic drainage throughout the body, making it easier for tissues and organs to return to a state of balance and healthy function.

All osteopaths treat bodies differently. Our Melbourne osteopaths use a combination of approaches — the most gentle (using no more pressure than when holding or dressing a baby) when providing osteopathy for babies and young children.

For adults and athletes, joint mobilisation, inhibition and gentle osteopathic manipulation, along with soft tissue stretching aims to improve strength, elasticity, mobility and performance for active bodies.

What to expect from your osteopathic session:

Your first consultation will include a comprehensive case history followed by an assessment of your posture, muscle tone and flexibility, joint range of motion, spinal alignment and pelvic balance to determine the cause of pain or illness.

For babies and children, consultations include a comprehensive case history followed by an assessment of reflexes, posture, symmetry and movement

Osteopathic diagnosis is made and explained to you, along with the proposed treatment.

With your consent, the osteopath then applies treatment with their hands using soft tissue massage, joint articulation, some joint manipulation and very subtle (cranial or biodynamic) techniques. Exercise prescription often follows, and is important to prolong the effects of treatment and assist long term pain relief, recovery and rehabilitation.

Most of our patients report feeling quite relaxed and refreshed at the end of their osteopathic session. You may feel tired and a bit sleepy even. This is a good sign! You may want to go home and rest to allow your body to integrate the treatment.

Our osteopaths

Our osteopaths use creative thinking and clinical reasoning based on 5 years university training plus years of clinical experience to develop treatment approaches for the person, not the problem. Our work stays interesting, fun and enjoyable ….! and our patients receive the best treatment to resolve their concern.
Read more about our osteopaths here.

If you have any questions please call us on 03 9687 3040, or make an appointment using our secure online booking tool.


Guiney PA, Chou R, Vianna A, Lovenheim J. (2005). Effects of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment on Pediatric Patients With Asthma: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 105, 7-12.

Lopes EA, Fanelli-Galvani A, Prisco CCV, Goncalves RC, Jacob CMA, Cabral ALB, . . . Carvalho CRF. (2007). Assessment of muscle shortening and static posture in children with persistent asthma.(Author abstract). European Journal of Pediatrics,166(7), 715.

Royal Children’s Hospital. (2010 (a)). Kids Health Info –  Bronchiolitis. Retrieved 7 August 2017 from http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Bronchiolitis/

Royal Children’s Hospital. (2010 (b)). Orthopaedic fact sheet – Intoeing in children. Retrieved 9 August 2017 from http://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/rheumatology/intoeing.pdf

Royal Children’s Hospital.(n.d). Kids Health Info – Asthma. Retrieved 8 August 2017 from http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Asthma/

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