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Why Consider Osteopathy for Chronic Pain?

Photo: courtesy of Jesper Aggergaard

Pain is horrible. It’s also horribly complicated, and the more we learn about it, the more complicated we realise it is.

We used to think it was as simple as pain-specific nerve endings sending messages (called “nociception”) to the brain. We now know that nociception is only one part of a complex decision making process that the brain makes (literally, at the speed of thought), to determine whether it believes your tissues are in danger. If it does, we feel the sensation of pain. If it doesn’t, we don’t.

This means that pain can be really challenging for health professionals, as well as being terrible for people who are suffering. The dominant medical way of thinking is all about trying to find the one simple solution (particularly either a surgical procedure or a drug) to resolve medical problems, and that is what we have all come to expect. For temporary pain, pharmaceutical drugs can be wonderful. For ongoing pain (the word “chronic” refers to the time for which something has persisted) they all have their limitations.

Simple solutions to complex problems do, fortunately, sometimes exist; and we all hope for them. Unfortunately this desire for simplicity has meant that some people who have learned that the experience of pain is generated by the central nervous system have tended to used this to come up with overly simplistic responses; such as suggesting that pain is all in people’s minds (it most certainly isn’t) or that people are responsible for their own pain (they most certainly aren’t; who would ever choose to be in pain if they had an option?)

I see a lot of people who have had pain for a long time. There is almost always a solution; but you usually have to dig for it. Bodies are good at repairing themselves, and if pain is persistent, it is important to ask why, and to think about all of the connections involved: mechanical, neurological, fluid flow and transfer, and more. When pain becomes chronic, there is almost always at least one vicious cycle involved. As just one example: migraine headaches caused by altered blood flow with the brain, caused by tight tissues around the neck; which tighten in response to subtle confusion of the balance system because the brain is struggling with its “vestibular” (balance) system, because it isn’t getting quite enough blood. There are patterns like this that are not uncommon, but each person’s presentation is different, and the process of helping a person to resolve their chronic pain starts by considering the person as an individual, in all their complexity.

Because osteopathy works with individuals, looks for the causes of their health issues, and engages with the complexity of all of the connections within their body, it can often be quite effective at helping to resolve chronic pain.

John Smartt is an osteopath who practices in Sydney City and at Mortdale in the St.George region. For more info please refer to website