Heard of osteopathy but still not been entirely sure as to what it is, or how it helps? Osteopaths Kristi Milliken and Royden McWha explain the benefits it offers to pregnant women, post-partum mothers, and even newborn babies.
The fundamental principle of osteopathy is to use a hands-on approach to diagnosis and treatment, focusing especially on areas distant to the pain site that may be causing the pain or influential in recovery. Osteopaths have a holistic approach to each individual patient and their specific body needs, so that similar "lower back pains", for example, may be treated very differently in each patient in order to recover. Osteopathy really involves thinking outside the box in order to get patients better - we are all different, so it stands to reason that doing the same treatment for each person simply won't work.
Osteopaths will use a variety of techniques to work with the body to achieve pain resolution and improve how the body functions overall, thereby working towards greater health and less risk of recurrence of the same issue. It is important to remember that osteopathy is not an alternative to medical treatment; instead, it works well alongside medicine as a complementary healthcare approach.
How osteopathy can benefit pregnant women, babies, and post-partum mums
A woman's body undergoes significant postural changes during pregnancy. Osteopathy can help alleviate some of the discomforts caused by weight gain and postural adaptations, as well as injuries, using gentle and safe techniques to support mum and baby throughout pregnancy.
Osteopathic support during pregnancy may help to reduce back and pelvic pain, sciatica, heartburn, muscular tension, and many of the other "joys" of being pregnant. Osteopathic treatment can also help improve flexibility, thereby reducing the likelihood of injuries, as well as helping to align the pelvis bones for optimal expansion during labour and delivery. It makes sense for your pelvis to be as flexible, adaptable, and strong as possible for the task ahead! Your osteopath is also likely to give advice regarding breathing techniques, stretches, and exercises you can do throughout pregnancy to help with your delivery and encourage your health and wellbeing.
Osteopathic treatment can be very successful for women with Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), a painful and often debilitating condition that can go on to affect birthing options and post-natal recovery. Pain and tenderness is usually felt over the front of the pelvis, at times extending into the groin, lower back, and abdomen, and is exacerbated by walking or weight-bearing on one leg (such as when climbing stairs) and moving legs apart (such as when getting out of bed and giving birth). When the symphysis pubis joint starts to soften and widen in response to pregnancy, this can sometimes cause SPD symptoms. It can respond well to exercises and external supports such as pelvic support belts; however, there are many other causes of SPD that are not relieved in this way, and osteopathy often has good results in these situations. There are many physical factors that affect the function of the SP, including the joints of the pelvis and the muscles of the leg and abdomen that attach onto the symphysis itself. If there are uneven tensions or strains in these structures, this may result in tension and pain through the front of the pelvis and is usually referred to as SPD. These causes of SPD usually won't respond to external supports, as there is unlikely to be a separation issue at the symphysis; however, they often respond very well to osteopathic treatment to the surrounding structures to allow freedom of movement in the pelvis. This is a rewarding area to help women with, as well-resolved SPD can allow women to enjoy the remainder of their pregnancy without that level of pelvis discomfort, and doesn't need to be influential in her birth plan.
After the baby is born, osteopathy is a wonderful natural option for recovery for both mum and baby. While it is natural for babies to come out, it isn't necessarily easy or without consequence! Following a vaginal delivery, we recommend mums have osteopathic treatment to ensure their pelvis has returned to normal alignment, with balanced muscular tension in the supporting areas. Sometimes during labour and delivery, a mother puts uneven force through her legs, and can end up with strains through the pelvis and lower back. A well-aligned pelvis gives the muscles of the pelvic floor the best chance possible at healing.
Osteopaths also see great results with women who are having difficulties with breastfeeding. While many reasons for breastfeeding difficulties are best addressed through your midwife or lactation consultant, physical discomfort through the upper back and neck, or the abdomen as it returns to pre-pregnancy state, can make it uncomfortable for mothers to breastfeed for long periods. Tightness through the upper chest and front of the shoulders is often residual from pregnancy posture or the efforts of labour, and can reduce the drainage ability of the breast, potentially contributing to engorgement and mastitis. Osteopathy is a great, gentle treatment option.
Many parents look for non-pharmaceutical options for their children, and have a genuine interest in their child being well, rather than simply "not sick". People are often surprised to learn that osteopathy may help babies recover from their birthing journey, and have influence on ailments that can be present in infancy and childhood. Birthing is a very physical process for baby and even a straight-forward vaginal birth can sometimes cause physical strain patterns. It is not unusual for birth to leave its mark on the baby, and many parents have observed differences in their baby's head shape, or preferences to turning head one way. Less visibly obvious are strains that may have occurred in the shoulders, body, abdomen and limbs, which may affect the function of the body or baby's comfort. Babies are often brought for osteopathic treatment for help with irritability, symptoms of colic and reflux, difficulty turning head one direction, flat head, suckling and latching difficulties. Osteopathy in itself is not a cure for conditions such as colic; however, when physical strains are found in a baby, especially though the back and neck, osteopathic treatment often seems to make baby more comfortable and significantly reduces their irritability and prolonged crying. Babies that are unable to turn their head in both directions often have difficulties breastfeeding because of their discomfort in certain positions, which can lead to increased windiness and colic-like symptoms if baby ends up under-feeding or over-feeding and guzzling air. They are often uncomfortable lying down and prefer to be carried, and when asleep on their back can develop flat head on the side of their neck rotation preferences. Osteopathy is very effective here, with gentle techniques to remove the tension in the tissues that may be causing discomfort. It is never too early to bring a child for treatment, and it appears the longer a significant physical strain is left, the more compensatory physical adaptations the baby makes, potentially leading to further physical issues later and a more lengthy treatment process for good resolution.
How to find an osteopath
Osteopaths are regulated by the Osteopathic Council of New Zealand, and are required to have completed the Masters of Osteopathy and Bachelors Applied Science in Human Biology from Unitec New Zealand, or internationally equivalent training to be eligible for practice in New Zealand. This register is available online. Most osteopaths will advertise through avenues such as Yellow Pages, but as with many situations, you can't look past the recommendation of someone who has received successful treatment from a particular practice.
What do potential patients need to know about?
One of the biggest surprises for a lot of patients is the amount of information an osteopath gathers during the consultation. In order to understand the particular issue for the patient and how best to treat it, the osteopath will ask a number of questions about past injuries, medical conditions, concurrent treatments, medications etc. You may also be asked to remove some clothing for the osteopath to check your joint movements and alignment.
Nearly all physical complaints are suitable for some kind of osteopathic treatment, and even very serious injuries or medical conditions can benefit alongside medical management. Osteopaths complete a lengthy five-year tertiary training to give them the diagnostic skills to know if and when a particular patient or condition is not suitable for treatment, and the osteopath can then refer someone directly to a doctor, specialist, or for X-rays. As with any health professional, if you do not feel comfortable for any reason, or are not happy with your progress, seek help from another osteopath or health professional and try again until you find the right person for you.
Royden McWha and Kristi Milliken run Kingsland Osteopaths, a family-friendly practice with a team of experienced and passionate osteopaths who all have special interest in obstetrics and paediatrics. Our practice is buggy-friendly, with late night and Saturday appointments. Learn more about how osteopathy can help you at www.kingslandosteopaths.co.nz