Osteopathy: The Secret to Recovering from Sports Injuries

Sports come in many forms; and whether your sport is running ultramarathons, playing golf, practising yoga or going fishing, you may sustain an injury at some point. With such a diverse range of activities, there can be an equally diverse range of injuries. How can someone know how to treat them all?

Well, the answer is that no single therapist will be the best specialist for every injury, but injuries have certain patterns that lead up to them. The philosophy of Osteopathy can be applied to all injuries in that we believe in order to function optimally, all parts of the body must be in balance and working together. Modern rehabilitation principles can be applied in combination so you have the best and most holistic approach to your recovery.

Many people are now seeing the benefits of Osteopathy for general wellness and recovery from sports. The London Olympics in 2012 saw a dramatic shift in the acceptance of Osteopathy as a strong member of the athletes support team – it was the first time Osteopaths were invited to be part of the Olympic Central Medical Team. Athletes have used Osteopathic treatments for many years before to help them function optimally and recover from injuries as quickly as possible, but Osteopathy for sports injuries has become more mainstream since London 2012.

You don’t have to be an Olympian to benefit from Osteopathy. In fact, the weekend warrior or fun runner will benefit just as much, if not more!. Osteopathy is a holistic treatment directed at the muscles, bones, and joints that treats the entire body instead of just looking at the injured part.

How can Osteopathy help in sports?

Sports injuries can generally be categorised into traumatic, acute or chronic. Traumatic could be an impact leading to bruising, soft tissue or bone injury. Medical attention is recommended here to assess the level of injury, but osteopathy can play an important role in the recovery process. Acute injuries are commonly things like a pulled hamstring or an ankle sprain. These generally take less than 3 months to recover but may still need attention beyond this time. Chronic or overuse/repetitive strain injuries are considered being from 3 months onwards. These can be cumulative strains that feel stiff and achy, but can still have acute intermittent sharp pains. Common examples of chronic injuries are tennis elbow, golfers elbow, Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis.

An Osteopath examines and identifies any muscular, connective tissue, or joint problems and determines if these have any wider implications on the body. Depending on this assessment, the treatment may include physical manipulation, muscle stretching and massage. The aim is to restore balance, assist or reduce compensations (depending on the stage of injury), improve blood flow, help drain of waste from the injury, reduce pain and normalise movement patterns.

Here’s how osteopathy can help sports persons:

1. Osteopaths help in restoring structural balance, and develop ease of movement and joint mobility. This helps in greatly enhancing sports performance.

2. Osteopathic treatment looks at addressing the root cause of the issue instead of treating the symptoms. The root cause might not be the pain in the knee you’re feeling, but a problem in the hip or lower back from sitting so many hours in the office!

3. By decreasing tension and stress in joints through massaging the soft tissues, osteopathy helps in increasing blood flow, and nutritional intake in the muscles and joints. This helps the body recover fast as well as improving function.

4. Osteopathy can be used alongside conventional treatment methods to reduce pain and increase the pace of recovery, especially after surgery. Osteopathy can complement physiotherapy, acupuncture and massage therapy to name a few.

Sports injuries that can be treated with Osteopathy

Osteopathy’s ability to fasten the recovery period and provide comprehensive relief makes it the choice for many people in the way sports-related injuries are handled. It can treat a wide range of issues including:
  • – Pulled muscles
  • – Knee injuries
  • – Ankle injuries
  • – Foot pain
  • – Hip pain and clicking/’snapping’ hip
  • – Plantar Fasciitis
  • – Achilles Tendonitis
  • – Hamstring strain
  • – ITB syndrome (iliotibial band) – Runners’ knee
  • – Tennis Elbow and Golfers Elbow
  • – Shin Splints
  • – Pulled calf muscles
  • – Shoulder Pain
The RICE protocol has been used for decades, although there is some debate about the use of ice in recent years. Ice or cryotherapy is used to help prevent excessive swelling and reduce pain. Some people believe the reduction in swelling may slow down the recovery, while others feel the faster you reduce swelling the quicker you can return to basic activities. Icing is still often recommended in acute injuries with swelling for this reason.

Quick action for acute injuries!

It is not always possible to receive immediate professional help when it comes to sustaining sports-related injuries. But there are a few things you can do by yourself to help reduce swelling, pain and prevent further injury. Follow the RICE protocol:

Rest: Give your body a break and rest the injured area for 24-48 hours. Try to seek professional help as soon as possible to determine the best course of action after this time.

Ice: Putting an ice pack on the injured area will reduce pain and swelling. Depending on the area you can ice for 5-20 minutes and repeat several times over the space of a few hours. The more ‘meaty’ the area, the longer you can leave the ice pack on for.

Compression: Wrap a bandage on the injured area to restrict swelling and movement. Make sure the bandage is not tied too tight else it will reduce the blood flow.

Elevation: Keep the injured limb in an elevated and comfortable position for best results.

The RICE protocol has been used for decades, although there is some debate about the use of ice in recent years. Ice or cryotherapy is used to help prevent excessive swelling and reduce pain. Some people believe the reduction in swelling may slow down the recovery, while others feel the faster you reduce swelling the quicker you can return to basic activities. Icing is still often recommended in acute injuries with swelling for this reason.

Osteopathy in Professional Sports

Olympians use Osteopathy to treat injuries and improve performance. It is now a commonly relied upon therapy used by athletes involved in various sports including hockey, rugby, soccer, weightlifting and even skating.

Two time MVP award winner from the NBA, Stephen Curry, has relied upon Osteopathy to ensure peak performance and the results speak for themselves.

Tennis legend Roger Federer also attributes the benefits of Osteopathy in part to his longevity at the highest level of the sport. There are numerous other examples of how top sportspersons have used Osteopathy to their benefit.

The Osteopathic treatment

While many therapies aim to be holistic, Osteopathic treatment differs in that it looks at the alignment, muscle balance, nerve supply, and blood flow in and out from the injured area, as well as other part of the body. A biomechanical issue in the hips could be causing shoulder pain or dysfunction for example. As it is non-invasive in nature, there are several methods to go about it.

Treatment is decided upon after a thorough physical examination of the patient. During this period, the patient may be asked to demonstrate simple movements or perform special tests for the Osteopath to understand the nature and extent of the injury.

Osteopaths are like mechanics for the body, looking at how each part affects the whole. While there is usually treatment direct to the injured area including massage and stretching like techniques, joint manipulation and joint articulation, there may be treatment in other areas of the body. Osteopathic treatment also combines myofascial release and very gentle Cranial and functional techniques which can help in all stages of the recovery.

Some soreness often occurs in the first 24-48 hours after treatment but people suffering from sports injuries will notice that there will be a significant decrease in pain and a reduced need to consume painkillers throughout a course of osteopathic treatments.

Treatment Frequency

The frequency of the treatment, and duration is decided depending on the severity of the injury and how long will the patient’s body take to completely recuperate from it. Osteopathic treatments are mostly tailor-made for all patients as different bodies react to injuries differently. The osteopath decides on the details of the treatment after thoroughly examining the issues.

On average, each osteopathic session lasts for 30-60 minutes and is repeated 1-3 times per week in the acutely injured phase. However, this could be more or less frequent depending upon the type of injury and desired outcome for the patient.

Post Treatment Care

Muscular exertion during a course of treatment is bound to result in mild pains or a little discomfort especially during the initial sessions and are not a major cause of worry. During this period, it is relatively common for patients to experience some effects in muscle soreness and tiredness, most of which are not major signs of concern.

However, if you experience any unusual symptoms or extreme discomfort, be sure to contact your Osteopath at the earliest. You can also consult your doctor to help you out during the process.

Bottom Line

Osteopathy has a wide range of hands on treatment approaches meaning the therapist can choose the most appropriate based on the type of injury, age of the patient, and the level of sport they are performing. With it’s holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment, many people use Osteopathic treatment when they don’t have injuries but want to function optimally and recover from training sessions.

Osteopathy and other therapies such as physiotherapy or acupuncture also work well together. While physiotherapy, in most cases, focuses on exercise based rehabilitation, Osteopathy can work on the structural alignment and possible compensations related to the injury as you recover.

Osteopathy has gained more and more importance over the past few years and is becoming a relatively common choice of therapy worldwide. Stephen has worked with people from all sorts of sports backgrounds from triathletes to professional dancers, as well as those who just enjoy a few rounds of golf at the weekend. Reach out to see how Osteopathy can help you perform better and lead a pain-free life.

Stephen Watts is a British-trained osteopath who has worked in top clinics in the UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong. He has an M.Ost Osteopathy from the European School of Osteopathy (UK) achieving a First class award. Before becoming an Osteopath, he worked for 7 years as a sports and remedial massage therapist with an emphasis on myofascial release.

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