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Older Adults:The Case for Osteopathy (part 2)

In the latest of our series looking at the care crisis for older adults, Shireen Ismail, Course Leader for our Postgraduate Certificate in the Intergrated Care of Older Adults, looks at the important role osteopathy can play in lightening the load on NHS services.

"As the aging population increases, so do the demands on hospitals, A&E departments and social care services (more than two-fifths of the NHS’s budget is spent on people aged over 651). This may be attributed to a lack of infrastructure within the community to manage risks, disease and injury before they progress, as well as a failure to address health promotion and injury prevention with sufficient emphasis and in a comprehensive fashion at an early stage2.

Osteopathic services can play a significant part in helping to relieve the incessant pressure on hospitals and social care services. Osteopathy is often described as taking a patient-led rather than disease-led approach, and osteopaths dedicate a significant portion of treatment sessions to evaluating the patient’s needs, expectations and values, which in turn can a key role in the health outcome. Osteopathy uses assessment and treatment of the neuromusculoskeletal system to improve the function and well-being of the individual, and the osteopath’s expertise in physical examination focuses on thorough physical observation, hands-on palpation, joint mobility and muscle testing.

There is now research which establishes that stimulation of the skin senses produces quantifiable benefits on both physiology and psychology of the older patients 3,4. It is argued that osteopathic treatment can reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, creating a cascade of biological and neurological events that can change the inflammatory and autonomous nervous system mechanisms. A caring touch may also have profound effects on emotional and psychological well-being of patients, particularly in long-term healthcare settings. These effects are in part due to the C Tactile (CT) afferent system and are likely to play a critical role in older adult care.

There is also a definitive move towards reducing the pharmacological load on frail older adults5,6. Exercise and manual therapy can promote improved function and reduction in pain thereby reducing reliance on pain killers. Osteopathy promotes and supports the patient's ability to exercise thereby reducing dependence on medication for a range of conditions.

There is clear evidence that manual therapy and exercise can be utilised to improve health in this patient group. Osteopathy is uniquely placed to influence the health of older adult patients through its comprehensive assessment and its use of touch and manual therapy to reduce pain and improve function in order to achieve activities of daily living. This can be further enhanced by creating a collaborative approach to the treatment of older adults.

If you’d like to learn more about care in older adults, you may be interested in our Postgraduate Certificate in Integrated Care of Older Adults starting this September, or in attending our Clinical Risk in Older Adults conference this October.


2 Chow,W. 2003  Long term care: a health promotion challenge.   Perscpective 27(2)

3 McGlone etal. 2014  Discriminatory and affective touch: sense and feeling.  Neuron 82 Elsevier

4 Peck, S.  1997  The Effectiveness of Therapeutic Touch for Decreasing Pain in Elders with Degenerative Arthritis.  Jounral of Holistic Nursing Vol 15 Issue 210.1177/089801019701500208  

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