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What do Osteopaths Treat?

As osteopaths we offer effective treatment for a wide range of muscular and joint problems such as those listed. Below is further information about some of the conditions we see most frequently.

If your particular condition is not included, we may still be able to help. Please contact us for further advice.

  • Low back pain
  • Sacro-iliac joint pain,
  • Leg pain and sciatica
  • Hip, knee, ankle and foot pain
  • Back pain during and after pregnancy
  • Upper back pain
  • Neck pain, shoulder and arm pain
  • Headaches and migraine headaches
  • ‘Frozen shoulder’,  elbow pain, e.g. ‘tennis elbow’
  • Arthritic pain
  • Sports related injuries
  • Postural problems
  • Pain caused by driving or work strain
  • Symptoms associated with fibromyalgia
  • Plantar fasciitis


Arthritis is a common, complex group of musculo skeletal disorders. There are more than 200 kinds of arthritic and rheumatic disease, the commonest being Osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition and Rheumatoid arthritis, Juvenile arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis, which are inflammatory diseases.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, often referred to as ‘wear and tear’, which tends to affect an older age group though not exclusively so. It is a chronic or long term condition characterised by breakdown of the joint cartilage, a soft tissue that covers and protects the bony surfaces, which becomes pitted, rough and brittle and also by thickening of the underlying bone. In addition bony outgrowths form at the outer edges of the joint, changing its shape, the joint space narrows and the amount of fluid within the joint reduces. Ligaments become strained and weakened and related muscles may become wasted.
These changes lead to a stiff joint which may also be painful on movement, especially after a period of rest.
In the spine, the discs between the vertebrae which when healthy are thick and spongy, become thinned, and the bones forming the joints between the vertebrae swell and thicken. Apparently 85 per cent of people over the age of 60 will have such changes, but not all will experience symptoms from these changes.

You may be surprised to hear that the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis, are those in the fingers and at the base of thumb.

Inflammatory arthritis is a disease of the immune system, an ‘auto-immune’ disease; these are sometimes referred to as systemic conditions as they affect the whole body. Inflammatory arthritis causes the affected joints to become swollen and damaged; these are often accompanied by other health disturbances such as digestive problems, tiredness or a feeling of being unwell. If this applies to you it is important to seek medical advice. All ages can be affected by inflammatory arthritis, including young children.

What causes arthritis?

The cause of arthritis is not understood and for many people there is no explanation. There are factors which can influence its development and genetics appears to play a significant part, possibly making you more susceptible to the influence of other lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking. You may be more likely to develop arthritis following an injury or if you have done heavy, repetitive physical work over a long period.

Osteopathy and arthritis

Many of the patients we see at the clinic have symptoms associated with arthritis. Although the changes that develop with arthritis cannot be reversed, there are things that can help reduce pain and improve mobility for those suffering from osteoarthritis. It is more difficult to help with the rheumatic conditions but gentle massage can give a little ease if the disease is not active.

Osteopathic treatment, such as the mobilisation, gentle manipulation and massage of painful joints and muscles, can often significantly ease joint pain and stiffness, particularly when it is affecting the neck, back or shoulders. In addition, exercises to mobilise the joints and strengthen muscles will reduce stress on the affected joints and so the degree of pain. These benefits will not last indefinitely and many people have treatment on a regular basis, maybe every 2-3 months, (this varies from patient to patient) which keeps them as mobile and pain free as possible, improving their quality of life.

I have treated many patients over the years who are anticipating a hip replacement due to arthritic changes, but are not quite ready for an operation. These patients do report relief of pain from treatment and although this is temporary, it has allowed them to manage for longer, or be more comfortable, before going for surgery.

I have also seen a few cases where a hip replacement has been technically successful but there is still pain and restriction. This seems to be, that for some reason, the muscles surrounding the hip are still tight. 2 or 3 treatments of deep massage have improved things greatly and the patient can realise the benefits of their new hip joint.


More than 10 million people in the UK suffer with headaches, making it one of the most common health complaints; very few people have never experienced a headache. The pain of headache is caused by disturbances of the nerves and muscles of the head and neck, and pain sensitive membranous coverings of the brain, the meninges. Although headaches can be very painful and debilitating most are nevertheless entirely benign.

Headache is a symptom that our patients frequently complain of, either the main symptom they are seeking treatment for, or something that is mentioned during the consultation. Osteopathic treatment can be very effective in relieving most common types of headache.

Tension headaches

Sometimes called chronic daily headache, these are the most common type of headache among adults and adolescents, accounting for 70% of cases.  They are described as a tightness or feeling of pressure, usually on both sides of the head. The cause is tension and contraction of the neck muscles, frequently associated with factors such as poor posture, stress, tiredness, depression and eye strain.

Cervicogenic headache

This headache originates from the joints of the neck. Pain can be felt in the head and face, often a dull ache starting at the base of the skull then spreading over the top of the head. Pressure may be felt behind the eye along with discomfort in the jaw. The neck may be stiff, painful and tender to touch, especially around the base of the skull.

These symptoms are due to compression and restricted movement in the joints of the base of the skull and the first and second vertebrae of the neck. This is often due to postural strain when the neck is held to one side or rotated, or the head is tilted up, either for long periods of time or repeatedly for short periods.

Medication induced headache

Medication-induced headache is the third most common cause of headache after migraine and tension-type. It affects women more than men and most often during their 30’s and 40’s.
Symptoms develop in those taking painkillers frequently, for tension and migraine type headache or by headache sufferers using them for other painful conditions.
With prolonged use the body becomes used to the painkillers, when none are taken for a day or two ‘rebound’ or ‘withdrawal’ headache can occur.
It may be difficult to differentiate these from tension and migraine headaches; if painkillers are the cause, symptoms resolve after stopping the medication, although they may be worse initially and take a couple of weeks to settle.
The painkillers most likely to cause medication induced headaches are codeine, paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen, also triptans - anti-migraine medicines such as sumatriptan.


According to the charity Migraine Action, about one in seven people in the UK suffer with migraine. While the frequency and severity of this type of headache varies widely, for some they can be very debilitating.
The exact cause of migraine is not known but it is related to constriction and dilation of blood vessels, and chemical changes in the brain. Certain factors can trigger an attack in those predisposed to migraine, such as particular foods or drinks, hormonal changes and lifestyle. Some sufferers experience an aura before the headache starts.
Migraine pain can be moderate or severe and is described as a pounding or throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. The headache is associated with symptoms including light and noise sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and abdominal pain. Attacks last from a few hours to three days
You may also come across references to ‘mixed headache syndrome’ or ‘transformed migraines’ which are a combination of migraine and tension headaches.

Temporo-mandibular joint disorders

Headaches can be a symptom of disorders of the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ), the joint of the lower jaw and the skull, and of teeth grinding. Dentists may prescribe a teeth guard for these conditions and in some cases they can respond to osteopathic manipulation.

Osteopathic treatment of headaches

When I am treating a patient suffering from headaches, one of the most important aspects is to establish the cause and possible aggravating factors.
These include physical demands of work, stress, anxiety and depression, tiredness, eye strain, loud noise and bright lights, and following accidents such as whiplash type injury or sport injuries.
Most headaches are not serious and many cases can be eased with lifestyle changes such as getting more rest and drinking enough fluids.
Osteopathic treatment, through releasing muscle tension and improving mobility of the joints in the neck and perhaps surprisingly, the thoracic and lumbar spine, can be very effective in easing headaches, often completely.
Research has shown that osteopathy can help in the treatment of migraine, particularly by releasing restrictions in the upper part of the neck. In my experience of treating patients with migraine, attacks do not stop altogether but the severity and frequency can reduce significantly.
In many of the cases we see there is a postural element, so we will give advice for correcting this. This may be related to working on a computer but it could be other everyday activity such as sitting in a twisted position or with your head tilted back while watching the television, poor driving position or using too many pillows.

Low Back Pain

This is a very common problem and can affect people of all ages. Low back pain can be acute, that is, a very sudden onset of severe pain, or chronic, which is pain lasting several weeks or more. People in acute pain often say they have a ’slipped disc’, although the pain may be due to a disc problem, joint strain or muscle spasm. Acute pain can become chronic if it is not treated or does not resolve on its own; up to 7% of people with acute back pain will go on to develop chronic pain. Chronic pain does not tend to be as intense as acute pain but can still be very debilitating and affect everyday life. Both types of low back pain can, in most cases, be eased with osteopathic treatment.

There are many causes of low back pain such as heavy lifting, bending, twisting, falls, sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, injuries, or excessive physical activity such as sports, gardening or DIY.  Occasionally it is not possible to identify the cause. Mental stress, anxiety and depression or other social factors can also predispose or contribute to back problems.


Sciatica is pain which goes from the low back to the buttock and down the leg, sometimes reaching the lower leg, ankle and foot. Tingling and pins and needles in the lower leg sometimes accompany the pain. You may hear this called a ‘trapped nerve’. There may be back pain initially which can ease to be followed by leg pain that is often more severe than the back pain. Sciatica is due to compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve as it passes through the spine and into the buttock. This can be caused by a prolapsed disc in the lower spine or by joint or muscular factors and may follow heavy lifting or excessive straining.  It is often associated with degeneration (wear and tear) of the discs and can occur with underlying conditions such as spondylolisthesis (a vertebra slipped slightly forward) and spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal). An osteopathic consultation will include tests to help decide the cause of your sciatica and in many cases osteopathic treatment along with prescribed exercises will help ease the symptoms.

Neck, shoulder and arm pain

Pain, stiffness, tension, and clicking in the neck and shoulders are very common, often causing misery to the sufferers. They can follow an injury such as whiplash, be the result of falls or arthritis, or may simply be associated with postural strain, stress or anxiety. Typical postural factors include a poor seating position at a desk, particularly for long hours at work, working above your head so you are looking up, leaning over close work, a poor driving posture or simply sleeping in an uncomfortable position.

Strains in the neck can often cause pain to spread around the shoulder blade, the shoulder joint and down the arm, sometimes with tingling and numbness, often described as a ‘trapped nerve’. Headaches may also be associated with neck stiffness and tension. These symptoms may be due to muscular, joint or disc problems.





Back pain in pregnancy

Many women experience back pain at some stage during pregnancy, affecting the low back, upper back or neck. Sciatica is also common. As a pregnancy develops, the mother’s centre of gravity changes, altering her posture week by week; this may lead to musculo-skeletal problems.  Ligaments which support the joints are affected by hormonal changes, compounding the problem.

Many aspects of the care of a newborn, such as feeding or lifting babies in and out of cots and cars, can also cause mothers to experience pain due to associated postural strain.

Osteopathy is a safe treatment at any stage of pregnancy and during the post-natal period. Gentle massage and manipulation plus advice on posture and exercise can help the body adapt to the changes taking place.

Posture and Back Pain

Aches and pains can often be the result of poor posture over long periods of time, either at work, through a hobby eg. leaning forward over craft work, driving or even when relaxing. Just sitting badly in front of the TV for a couple of hours every evening can be a strain for your back and neck. Changes to improve posture can make a significant difference to your comfort and at work will improve efficiency and often reduce tiredness.

For all desk work, particularly when using a computer, correct desk layout and ensuring a good working and seating position will minimise strain on the joints and muscles. It is worth getting into good habits before symptoms start as postural problems usually build up gradually.
A poor seating position can cause neck pain and headaches, shoulder and arm pain, and lower back pain; peering at the screen with your head forward alters the centre of gravity, causing overuse of muscles of the neck and compression at the base of the skull.

If you do a lot of desk and computer work it is good to take a breather regularly, to sit back and look away from the computer at least every half an hour, rather than to end up slouching, which increases pressure on your inter-vertebral discs.

If you anticipate being at your desk for long periods, you may want to invest in a suitable chair. This does not need to be very expensive but it is important to choose the right one for you and to know how to use it. Please get in touch with the clinic if you would like more advice on this.

As osteopaths, in addition to hands on treatment, we can give advice on making the changes needed to improve your situation. It may be that minor changes to your chair position are all that is required or perhaps a more detailed re-arrangement of your working environment. It is easy to fall into bad habits, particularly if you add extra pieces of equipment or become busier, so there is more paperwork in a restricted space and little time to do anything about it. Do ask for advice, as prevention of problems is the best option. This is not limited to desk based working; osteopaths can usually give advice whatever your work environment.
For more information on this subject, please see our advice sheets. If you are struggling to get your desk layout right on your own – and it can be hard to see what needs to be changed - we offer on-site work station assessment and advice. Please contact then clinic for further information.

  Judith Jenkins - Southport Osteopathic Clinic, 67 Liverpool Road, Birkdale, Southport PR8 4DE, Telephone: 01704 550694 Site By Lime Haze