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What is osteopathy and does it work? We tried it to find out

Aches, pains, posture problems — osteopathy can help. In fact, it’s used to treat everything from insomnia to fibromyalgia.

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WOMAN WITH ARMS OUTSTRETCHED

Photo by Getty Images

What is it?
Developed 150 years ago by a doctor in Missouri, osteopathy uses a subtle, hands-on technique called palpation to ‘listen’ to your body. Unlike massage, palpation is used to identify issues such as congestion, dehydration, scarring and stiffness, while restoring proper function to bones, muscles, fluids (yes, fluids) and organs.

Our tester
Lora Grady, assistant editor.

The backstory
I’ll admit I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to complementary therapies. I’ve struggled with joint problems since my teens and always depended on traditional medicine for pain relief. After my double hip-replacement surgery three years ago, I stopped using painkillers, but I still struggle with pain and stiffness. Until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of osteopathy, and I arrived at osteopath Janet Walker’s office in Toronto feeling slightly apprehensive.

Level of undress
I wore shorts and a camisole for my session, though most osteopaths recommend you do the treatment in your skivvies to give them a better visual of your alignment and access to your tissues.

How it all went down
Janet had me do a few basic movements (walk a few steps, bend my knees) in front of a mirror. When I flexed my left knee, she pointed out that I was carrying more tension in my left hip-flexor muscle. I could see — and feel — the difference in movement between my left and right hips, although I’d never really noticed it before. Next, I lay down on a cushioned table. Janet gently manipulated the tissue around each hip flexor, explaining that she was trying to release the tightness around my hip. The movement was so subtle I barely noticed it. Then, she pressed gently around the base of my skull, which she said would help with my stiffness and posture problems (she explained that using palpation on the “cranial field” can treat strains and compressions elsewhere in the body).

Biggest surprise
Janet placed her hands around my ribs, abdomen and pelvis, and could tell that I’d had respiratory problems in the past (childhood asthma) and digestive issues (irritable bowel syndrome) from the tension in my diaphragm. She showed me how to stand properly (feet pointing straight ahead, ribs tucked in, hips over heels) to improve both my breathing and my posture.

I’d recommend it
Osteopathy is a great approach for anyone with neck-to-knee joint pain or posture problems.

Price tag
$130/hour (a session is generally 60 minutes).

Final verdict
Relaxed and feeling much looser, I walked home standing taller, with a little bounce in my step. Depending on the underlying problem and symptoms, you might need anywhere from three to 12 sessions — or more — to correct position, mobility or balance issues. I felt better for two days after my treatment. Am I cured? No. Would I try osteopathy again? Absolutely.