Osteopathy is Not Just Skin Deep

Osteopathy is not just “skin deep”.

Thoughts on the deeper effects of Osteopathic Manual Therapy in animals.

By Chris Bates, DO, Animal Therapist and LCAO Contributor

It is easy to look at Osteopaths in practice and see the obvious or perhaps larger effects of their manual work on the animal, but what else happens during an Osteopathic treatment?

This is a question asked by owners, therapists, and veterinarians alike- a question that deserves a well-developed answer. Here we go!

In previous blogs, we have discussed the integrated and interconnectedness of the body. This interconnectedness ultimately dictates its function.

By seeing the body this way, it becomes obvious that performing a limb rotation using the OAB (Osteopathic Articular Balancing) technique is not just articulating joint surfaces.

Many think the term Osteopathy refers to a practice only concerned with bones. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The term was derived from the philosophy of the interconnectedness of the skeletal system to everything else.

Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathy, would teach how the diseases of the body would express an outwardly visible or palpable structural alteration and that skeletal structural disposition would in turn create disease.

One could say that the most effective tool was the terminus of sorts that the skeletal structure provided. A perfect lever to adjust the constitution of the system… the engine.

Still, wrote in his autobiography, “An osteopath is only a human engineer, who should understand all the laws governing his engine and thereby master disease.” (2018, Republished).

This shows us that we can and should learn how our techniques as therapists affect deeper structures. As classical osteopaths, our movements are long levers used to interact with the parts of the body that may otherwise seem unreachable.

To know all of a bone in its entirety would be to close both ends of an eternity” (A T Still, 2018).

We must be fully aware of the scope of practice of Osteopathy in the modern veterinary world and not suggest that our work is a replacement for appropriate veterinary attention.

However, we must also offer the veterinary profession the bountiful opportunities for health promotion that Osteopathy could provide. I say “could” as it is imperative, first and foremost, that we fully understand the body.

We need this knowledge in order to appropriately adjust it toward health. The hands used without mind are but blunt instruments. With the mind and intellect guiding, the hands become surgical tools without comparison.

Let us consider a dog who has been suffering from a lung infection of some kind. The veterinary intervention of antibiotics has been successful but there is evidence of irritation/inflammation of the pleura (serous membranes lining the thoracic cavity allowing the sliding of the lung tissues against the interior of the cavity during breathing).

Using this as our starting point, we can assess how OAB can assist in a vet-led treatment plan. During forelimb OAB, it is possible to use flexion and compression of the lower limb to isolate movement to the more proximal regions.

Using highly developed palpation, one can feel the muscular and facial pull of the forelimb on the serratus muscles and pectoral group; the muscles which elevate and depress the ribs.

This passive movement of the ribs will gently mobilize the serous membranes of the pleura, encouraging mucosal secretion, lymphatic drainage, and arterial perfusion.

All of the above is essential for the tissues to properly function. As a long lever method that does not require direct pressure, this is well tolerated and works synergistically with the natural respiratory rhythms.

The above is just one example of the holistic nature of Osteopathy. Using it as our guidepost, it is impossible to treat a region or system in isolation. These principles are natural laws.

They are deeply embedded in osteopathic philosophy but perforate all other systems of health as well. For example, if drugs are used, they will come with side effects.

This is because they are affecting everything, not just the intended dysfunction. This does not make drugs bad but proves that the natural laws of Osteopathy are applicable in all areas of health promotion.

To summarise, the wider implications of our manual interventions must be thoroughly understood. Classical osteopathic techniques were designed to have far-reaching effects deep within the body. We are never just treating a joint!

At LCAO we pride ourselves on offering extensive anatomical education and ensuring students fully appreciate the living functions under their hands. This makes our work safe, effective, and potentially more wide-reaching in its benefits.

For more information on how you can become an animal osteopath, click here


Still AT. Autobiography of Andrew T. Still, with a History of the Discovery and Development of the Science of Osteopathy, Together with an Account of the Foundi. Franklin Classics Trade Press; 2018.