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Introduction to Osteopathy (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 28, 2022


What is osteopathy?

This is a great question. And like most things in life, the answer is simultaneously simple and complex. In this two-part series, we’ll dive into the who’s, what's, when’s, where's, and why’s of osteopathy with the goal of getting to know the discipline a bit better so you can determine if hiring an Osteopath is right for you and your horse.

Before we begin flipping the pages of time back to the 1800’s when osteopathy was born, let's start off with a working definition written by our Lead Therapist, Erin Bergold, to keep us organized as we continue to explore:

"Osteopathy is a therapeutic discipline that maintains an integrative, whole-body approach, which acknowledges the interconnectedness and inherent motion of every part of the body to every other part of the body. The osteopathic practitioner may use a range of methods to reinstate this inherent motion to any structure* that no longer moves** with the goal of restoring the body’s natural propensity to heal itself, i.e., homeostasis."
The philosophy of Osteopathy is to look for and reinstate health rather than detecting and mitigating disease. —A subtle distinction, but a significant one.

* “Structure” in this context refers to any mechanical or fluidal aspects of the musculoskeletal, visceral, or craniosacral systems.

** “Movement” in this context refers to the direction, amplitude (range of motion), and qualitative smoothness of motion within a given joint*** dictated by its intrinsic anatomical design.

*** “Joint” in this context refers to an “osteopathic joint”, which includes any structure located within the body that moves in contrast to its surrounding structures. This is not limited to bone tissue, but open to all tissues including fascia, viscera (organs), muscle, blood vessels, nerves, and more. In this definition we start to understand how every structure is connected to every other structure in the body.

Now that we've officially laid the first bricks of our osteopathic knowledge, on we go!


How did the name “Osteopathy” get assigned to the discipline? --Especially since it's defined as addressing the mobility of all tissues and fluids, not just bones?

Excellent question, and valid point. The “osteo” does pigeonhole us to think “bone”. In fact, osteo is shortened from the Greek word, osteon, which literally translates to, “bone”, or “relating to bones”. The second half of this word, namely “path”, also has Greek roots, as it is most likely a shortened version of either pathos, which translates to “suffering”, or penthos, which translates to “grief” (Collins, 2022). --Using both Greek definitions of “path” ultimately translates the name of “osteopathy” to (according to the Greeks at least) “bone suffering” or “bone grief”.

However, if we were to take a more literal, modern day understanding of the word “path”, we would think it to mean more of a route, or trail, or continuous line between two or more places. If we combine this interpretation with the term “osteo”, we achieve a rough translation of “bone route” or “bone trail”.

To draw a few real-life correlations of “bone suffering/grief”, I’m sure many of us have experienced the feeling of a broken bone--or a set of workout-induced shin splints, or even a rib that’s simply unable to move with your respiration patterns, making every deep breath feel like you’ve got a knife in your chest.

Of course, we’ve all felt at least one of these things at one point or another. So, the concept of bones being able to cause grief or suffering is pretty logical. But the question remains: how do we get from a name that literally means “bone suffering” or “bone path” to include the movement capabilities of every other kind of tissue in the entire body?

This is a great example of natural-progression after an initial-discovery. For instance, have you ever named a dog or other pet a cute or cool or fun name just to find out after getting to know their personality that the name doesn’t fit them at all? But now they know the name and respond to it, so you can’t/don’t want to change it for the sake of confusion on everyone’s part. Well, that’s pretty close to what we have here with the name “osteopathy”.

To find out how this "proverbial dog" outgrew his name, as well as a host of genuinely interesting information about how osteopathy came to be, check out "Part 2" in our Introduction to Osetopathy series.

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Collins, (2022). Definition of 'Osteo'. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from

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Zig Shamble
Zig Shamble
Mar 28, 2022

Love the "proverbial dog" lol. Great info in a funny, smart delivery. Can't wait to read more!

Replying to

Great to hear, Zig! We hope you'll like our upcoming series just as much!

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