Osteopathy is increasingly gaining popularity but one must make sure that practitioners are licensed, Robert Grech says.

When medications do not give the desired results, many people turn to alternative treatments, while others opt to tread the alternative path first. In both instances, one should ascertain practitioners are licensed and registered, as in the case of osteopathy.

“If one decides to visit an osteopath, one should make sure they are licensed and registered with the Council for Professions Complementary to Medicine in Malta (CPCM),” advises Robert Grech, a registered osteopath with the General Osteopathic Council in the UK (GOsC) and the CPCM.

“This ensures that they have a high level of training and that they are safe and competent to see patients.”

Conceived in the late 1800s, osteopathy is a system of medicine which looks at the body as a functional unit and recognises how all body systems are interrelated.

Grech explains that an osteopath will look at the possible cause of the ailment, such as back pain, by looking at the person’s structure: their posture, how the joints/limbs move, as well as other possible contributing issues such as bowel problems and overall state of health and mobility. Therefore, they will not look at an injury in isolation but within the context of the whole person.

“By working on the body’s structure and maximising its efficiency, the body will increase its ability to heal itself,” he says.

Osteopathy has been shown to be effective in the treatment of low back pain, sciatica, lumbago, neck pain, tension (cervicogenic) headaches, joint pains, fibromyalgia, neuralgia, shoulder pain and other musculoskeletal issues. However, Grech is adamant that if an osteopath realises he cannot treat the patient, he or she will point this out.

We get patients telling us that they managed to ‘get their life back’

“Osteopaths are primary care practitioners, meaning that they are highly trained in differential diagnosis and will refer to your doctor or specialist in the event they find that osteopathy is not appropriate for the condition being presented,” he notes.

As regards treatment, clients get individualised programmes.

“Every patient is different and treatment depends on the individual case. Most importantly, before any treatment commences, the osteopath will listen carefully and obtain a detailed case history,” says Grech.

Treatment itself is most often ‘hands- on’, which means that the osteopath uses his/her hands “to mobilise, stretch and manipulate joints, muscles and tendons”.

“The approach is to identify areas of reduced mobility and correct them by using manipulation of the spine and joints (when this is appropriate) and will also work on areas of muscles known as ‘trigger points’: these are points on muscles which can radiate pain elsewhere in the body,” Grech explains.

He ensures that treatment is gentle and is thus ideal for any age – from babies to the elderly.

Osteopaths are also advocates of self-care and will offer advice on exercise and lifestyle. They may frequently liaise with other healthcare professionals in order to provide a complete system of care, reducing any form of dependence on treatment.

For some patients, one or two sessions can have long-lasting effects but some cases would need a longer course of treatment, especially in the case of complex problems. There are usually follow-ups to monitor progress but Grech says that it is rare for someone to need constant treatment. He adds that clients’ feedback is generally very positive.

“While we do not save lives in the same way that the skilled doctors and medical staff at the emergency departments can, we do get patients telling us that they managed to ‘get their life back’,” he remarks.

“Pain is complex and can also be hidden: a person may not show it but the effects on life are profound, even if it is a simple neck or backache. Most of our patients appreciate that we take time to listen to them and explain what is wrong.

“Some patients admit that they had been putting off seeing us for quite some time, only to realise that treatment was surprisingly gentle, but yet very effective.”

Frequently asked questions

Is an osteopath a physician?

No. Osteopathic physicians only exist in the US, where they practise as fully-licensed physicians with the title DO (Doctor of Osteopathy). They have the same practice rights as MDs (known there as ‘allopathic physicians’) and their training is similar, and they can choose to specialise and become general practitioners, orthopaedic surgeons, gynaecologists, etc.

Osteopathic physicians have added training in manual medicine, also known as OMT (Osteopathic Manual Treatment).

In Europe, osteopathy is confined to the practice of manual medicine only (OMT), and osteopaths do not prescribe medication nor perform surgery. Throughout the years, this distinction gave European osteopaths the advantage to further develop their skills in manual medicine.

How is osteopathy regulated in Malta?

The Council for Professions Complementary to Medicine (CPCM) regulates osteopathy (and another 21 professions). There is a minimum level 6 MQF (Bachelor of Science with Honours) degree in osteopathy required to practise the profession. Most osteopaths nowadays qualify with level 7 (Masters) qualification.

Student osteopaths are required to do 1,000 hours of supervised clinical practice before they qualify and need to pass rigorous examinations involving real patients. It is illegal for someone to call him/herself an osteopath or offer osteopathy treatment if not registered with the council.

A European Standard on Osteopathic Healthcare Provision (EN 16686) was developed by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN)’s Project Committee on Services for Osteopaths (CEN/TC 414) and can be accessed in Malta through the MCCAA (Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority).

The CPCM can be contacted on cpcm@gov.mt.

How many osteopaths are registered in Malta?

Robert Grech was the first osteopath to be registered with the Maltese Council in 2012 but there are now 13 fully-qualified osteopaths on the register. These professionals are now establishing the Malta Association of Osteopaths which will be a member of the European Federation and Forum for Osteopathy (EFFO). More information can be obtained on their website, www.effo.eu.

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