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Page last updated
February 15, 2003

ISSN No:1470-5494 All rights reserved. No part or portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the express, prior and written permission of the publisher. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, the publisher accepts no responsibility for any person acting as a result of the content herein.



A bone of contention or a spectrum of healing


In the second of our series on Complementary medicine which could Complement the business world in the 21st century, business writer Julie McCreadie looks at two very different types of treatment: osteopathy and thalassotherapy.

Osteopathy is one of the most respected forms of complementary medicine available in Britain, approved by such Establishment figures as Prince Charles. It has more credibility than chiropractic, yet is a combination of two of the oldest forms of healing; massage and manipulation.

Skeletal structure
Osteopathy is a form of holistic medicine based on the belief that the functioning of the skeletal structure of the body is fundamental to good health. The body's structure is created by its interconnecting bones and joints.

Osteopaths believe that if bones are out of place, or joints inflamed, the rest of the body will be adversely affected. The osteopath diagnoses the body's structural fitness and then, by using his or her hands to manipulate different parts of the body, will encourage it to regain its balance and thus regain health.

Modern-day osteopathy began in 1874, when Andrew Still, an American doctor, developed a system of manipulative medicine designed to realign any structural deviations and abnormalities. Dr Still believed that the body was self-healing, and that it had to have an uninterrupted nerve and blood supply from all the body's tissues to function properly. For instance, curvature of the spine or a muscle spasm would cause blockage of nerve and blood flow, which would obstruct the body's ability to heal itself. The idea of manipulating the body to restore it to health dates from the year 2700 BC, when Chinese writings referred to manipulation as a healing art. Hippocrates, the 'father of modern medicine', wrote in 400 BC: "It is necessary to know the nature of the spine, what its natural purposes are, for such a knowledge will be requisite for many diseases."

Osteopathy has much in common with chiropractic, another manipulative therapy. The main difference between them is that chiropractors use more X-rays and focus more on the state of the spine as the key to the patient's health.

Osteopathy is also different from physiotherapy, although they share similar methods. Qualified physiotherapists use heat, cold, exercise, massage, manipulation, electricity and light to rehabilitate patients after illness or injury. However, physios usually work under the direction of a doctor, whereas osteopaths work independently. Indeed, there is now a register of osteopaths, aiming to give them the same standing as doctors and dentists.

There are no set techniques for osteopathic treatment, but osteopaths develop their own way of working according to their experience and physique, and to the needs of their patients. Practitioners claim that they can treat and cure many illnesses not directly related to a joint problem. Musculo-skeletal injuries treated are strains, sprains and slipped discs, plus diseases like arthritis, lumbago and sciatica. Some people find that, after their initial joint problem has cleared up, treatment has had a beneficial effect on another area of their health, like migraine, digestive disorders and even asthma.

Asthma cure?
"Osteopathy can help cure asthma," said Laurence Holvey of the Camden Practice, a member of the Register of Osteopaths. "It targets the ribs, and gives people freedom of movement in that part of the body. But the most common ailments we treat are acute neck pains, mid and lower-back pains."

Cranial osteopathy, a type of healing in its own right, can be used to treat children's behavioural problems, or hormonal imbalances. Cranio-sacral therapy, as it is also known, is a specialised form of manipulation involving the bones of the skull. Cranial osteopaths believe that by adjusting the position of the bones, possibly displaced through injury, the osteopath can make a positive change to the patient's health.

Pulsing fluids
This type of work involves very gentle holding, with no manipulation of any sort. The therapist is trained to hold the head and feel the pulsing of the cerebrospinal fluid in the brain and in the spine. They claim to be able to detect all sorts of information about the state of the body, and even feel the movements of the gut while just holding the head!

Cranial osteopaths tend to specialise in head injuries. One of the commonest problems they treat is that of people who had difficult births and were delivered with forceps. By readjusting the bones in the skull, which may have been distorted during the birth process, many symptoms can be treated. Proponents of this therapy claim that it is effective for many ailments such as ME, gastro-intestinal problems, and menstrual difficulties.

A session of osteopathy lasts about 30 minutes and costs around £25. Make sure your osteopath is a member of the Register of Osteopaths. Cranial osteopaths should have the letters MCrOA after their names, indicating that they have trained with the Cranial Osteopathy Association.

The word thalassotherapy comes from the Greek word 'thalassa', meaning sea. The 'therapy' comes from using the properties of sea water to help the body heal itself. Thalassotherapy has close links with hydrotherapy, which also uses the power of water to heal.

Nature cures using the sea have existed for thousands of years. Hot and cold sea-water baths were quite common at coastal resorts in Victorian times. Many people feel better at the seaside; the ozone produced by crashing waves can be invigorating.

In Europe, the sea's healing power is being exploited by thalassotherapy resorts which use sea water in a more sophisticated way. According to enthusiasts, thalassotherapy works because the mineral content of the sea is very similar to our blood plasma. Blood plasma is responsible for feeding and strengthening all the body's cells to enable it to function healthily. Therapists claim that when sea water is heated to blood temperature, the minerals present in the water are absorbed into the skin and penetrate the bloodstream, enhancing the body's mineral balance and making the person feel rebalanced and healthy.

Not deterred
Many conventional doctors and dermatologists dispute this theory, but this doesn't deter the many people who pay to have a thalassotherapy treatment.

"We treat people who want to detoxify their bodies or get rid of cellulite, as well as people with medical problems," said Letty Withington of Hoar Cross Hall Health Spa in Litchfield, Staffordshire. "They usually suffer from muscle strains, rheumatism, or arthritis."

At thalassotherapy centres, daily treatments involve sea water and seaweed. "We use a hydrotherapy bath," says Letty Witherington. "It's like your bath at home, but much bigger and more solid. It's like a computerised jacuzzi and it can be programmed for the water to massage various parts of the body deeply. It gets rid of toxins in the body."

Water blitz
The more vigorous type of treatment is the 'blitz', a ten minute session in which a high-pressure hose is sprayed over the patient's body to stimulate circulation and treat cellulite. A more luxurious treatment is seaweed envelopment, which involves being massaged with seaweed oil and wrapped in a hot blanket for one hour. This algae wrap is both relaxing and beneficial for the skin and circulation.

British centres
You don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy the benefits of sea water. In Britain many health farms and beauty salons use freeze-dried sea water and seaweed products for their treatments. And cosmetic manufacturers now produce gels, soaps, muds and bath preparations containing sea products. You can even apply sea salt scrubs to your hair to revitalise a sluggish scalp.

When by the coast, try walking thigh-high in the sea to tone and help improve circulation in the hips and thighs. But one word of caution; levels of pollution around most of the European coastline mean that sea bathing can be dangerous.

A day programme of thalassotherapy treatment at a health farm, including the 'blitz' and seaweed wrap, costs around £65.


Written and compiled by Julie McCreadie, a journalist and publisher for over 20 years. Now also advises companies on IT, new media and changes in the law - particularly regarding publishing, copyright and intellectual property. She is involved in the Technology means Business programme, managed by the Institute of Management and supported by the DTi to promote UK competition with better use of information and communications technology (ICT).





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