By Emily Dux.
I became an osteopath because I wanted to work with my hands and do something practical and helpful to society. I’d had treatment for my own back problems and found osteopathy to be a (varied and) magical form of healing. Both my father and brother visited osteopaths when I was a child, my father for back pain and my brother because he walked very awkwardly. On my brother’s return from his session, walking much more normally, I remember asking him what the osteopath had done and he said: ‘he showed me how to walk.’ I was intrigued, and wanted to know how the osteopath had done this.
I love my work because it’s so varied and when you make a difference for someone it’s very rewarding. It’s also quite an honour to be trusted with people’s problems and getting to grips with what they are putting their body, mind and spirit through every day. Taking the case history, studying the patient’s posture doing any necessary tests and then formulating a diagnosis is a bit like detective work mixed with engineering. I see such a variety of problems and every person is so individual that it’s always interesting.
Osteopathy is a manual therapy where we diagnose altered function within the structure of the body. We can improve function by releasing tension and stimulating movement in order to re-establish appropriate nerve output, lymphatic and venous drainage and blood supply. It’s known for treating back problems, but we are able to treat a wide range of functional problems in the body.
I work mainly with cranial osteopathy which involves a gentle form of touch and can make quite profound changes in the body. I also love the human form and am awed by its intricacy and what it is capable of and its extraordinary capacity for self-repair and reorganisation (if given the chance). And this is what I witness every working day.
Osteopathy was founded in America in the late 1800’s by Andrew Taylor Still. He was trained as a medical doctor but found that many of the methods used at that time did not work and were sometimes even harmful. Driven to help people with the least surgical or medicinal intervention, he realised that to create optimum health, all parts of the body must work harmoniously together.
Still’s father was a Methodist preacher as well as a medical doctor and Still was influenced by both these disciplines and also by Shawnee native American culture and other healing disciplines. He combined all these aspects of his experience, including great personal tragedy and a passionate study of human anatomy and understanding of the natural world to develop a new type of health care. Osteopathy was born.
Still built an osteopathic school in Kirksville America where patients were treated for a wide range of conditions. Soon demand became so high that boarding houses had to be built and new train routes laid to cater for the amount of people wanting treatment. I am pleased to say that right from the beginnings of osteopathy, there have always been female osteopaths in the profession and women are well represented in the field today. In the UK there slightly more women osteopaths than men.
I treat people of all ages and have a special interest in mothers, babies and children (I worked and taught at The Osteopathic Centre for Children for a number of years). As I’ve reached midlife, I’ve become interested in how osteopathy can help woman in perimenopause, menopause and after. After being in practice for a few years I noticed that some of my regular female patients after the age of forty were experiencing changes in their menstrual and premenstrual symptoms. And so I started to realise the huge impact that small changes in our hormonal system can cause. And of course these imbalances can become much more pronounced as we move towards and through menopause.
Throughout a woman’s life the monthly cycle can be quite demanding. The menstrual cycle is a natural process but can cause pelvic congestion and literally a drag on the pelvis and hence rest of the body. Pregnancy and childbirth are natural processes that some women sail through without problems, but they can also have a huge effect on the body and result in a variety of symptoms. They can have an impact on posture and so affect the function of the whole body postpartum. Small changes can make a big difference to how a body functions and gentle osteopathic adjustments can guide the body easily back to health.
Perimenopause usually starts from mid-forties but can start as early as mid-late thirties and basically means the time leading up to menopause. The symptoms are due to a decrease in sex hormones which can also affect the rest of the hormonal system such as thyroid and adrenal function. As we get older our glandular tissue suffers some level of deterioration as the blood supply is less efficient and the exposure to environmental toxins takes its toll.
Symptoms vary from woman to woman depending on the type of hormonal imbalance. Some women may glide through their perimenopause and menopause without any problems, but many experience all sorts of unpleasant and confusing symptoms.
These can include an increase of premenstrual symptoms such as tender breasts, abdominal bloating and discomfort, headaches, migraines, insomnia also fatigue and more general stiffness than usual in any part of the body. This happens because our bodies can become slightly more inflammatory than before which can result in achy joints and make us more vulnerable to repetitive strain injury and other aches and pains. Periods during perimenopause can be very heavy and this needs to be taken seriously. You may need a scan to check for fibroids and blood tests to check iron levels.
Heavy bleeding is demanding on the body so you need to adjust your routine. For example, if you exercise, take more care and don’t push yourself. Don’t go for a long run whilst bleeding heavily as this can lead to all sorts of problems. For some women even a long walk on these days can be too much for the pelvis. Having said that, of course it’s important to do some exercise, but it needs to be appropriate to what our body needs at the time.
Staying in touch with ourselves by becoming more aware of our changing needs and limitations is vital. Understanding what level of exercise, work and home demands we can realistically expect of ourselves at different times of the month and knowing when to rest are skills we need to learn. Eating good food is also vital and taking some supplements is also helpful. The digestive system can become more sensitive and so the right type of food is important. I think it’s very important for a woman’s future health to pay attention during perimenopause and menopause and to take care of herself.
As we go through menopause, when menstruation stops, the hormones do balance out and most women tend to feel better. However hormones are still on the decline and will go through dips and surges, so your body is still changing and you need to be in touch with it.
We can experience a number of emotional symptoms depending on the hormonal imbalance and also due to the overall decrease in sex hormones. This lack of hormones can cause feelings of anxiety, depression, overwhelm, irritability and make us feel stressed much more easily than when we were younger. Some women may experience times of very low energy.
Perimenopause can be a time when emotional upsets from the past come to the surface and this in turn can of course affect our mental and physical health. When unpleasant feelings do surface it is a great opportunity to explore and understand yourself more. Self-understanding always leads to better life choices. On top of all this, it’s often a time of life with many other demands from family and career, so getting as much support as possible is important.
I am perimenopausal myself and find that osteopathy, a good diet and exercise are all vital in keeping me feeling well. During this time there can be a feeling of two steps forward and one step back. For example, if you exercise and then get an injury it can be very dispiriting. It can make you feel like giving up – or for some people ignoring the problem. It’s important to take abreak, but it’s just as important to know when to get back to being active. So understanding how to change your routine appropriately is a skill that is helpful to learn. Our bodies desperately need to be used! We are not designed to just sit at a desk. So some aches and pains due to exercise are part of the journey and osteopathy can help maintain the body through this journey. I understand that some people don’t like exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym – it can be anything, but something you enjoy is best.
I remember one of my patients, a menopausal woman, saying: “it’s all over now!” I was shocked at how she felt. As I’m approaching this time myself I can understand one could feel despondent and negative about the future. Despondency can set in especially if you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms. However there is usually some way of tackling these symptoms in order to stop them taking over. Taking positive action to improve your wellbeing – whether it’s lifestyle changes, alternative/ complementary therapy, or taking HRT (synthetic, body- or bio-identical) and counselling, can all lead to more of a sense of empowerment and control over your body and life.
Osteopathy can help resolve and deal with some of the problems that I have mentioned.
It’s a holistic way of helping people heal and stay healthy. I would love a future heathcare system that incorporated and integrated complementary and alternative therapies much more than now. If it was integrated appropriately I am certain it would not only save the UK NHS money but improve the general health of the population.
You may also like Qigong And The Muttoneer, Mindfulness Meditation 101, and Yoga For Menopause – 7 Reasons Why It’s Great.
Emily Dux initially trained as an actress which gave her an understanding of posture, movement, the use of the voice, dance and the benefits of physical fitness. An episode of severe back pain led her to seek osteopathic treatment. This was so beneficial it inspired her to change career and train as an osteopath. She graduated from The British School of Osteopathy in 1999 and worked at The Osteopathic Centre for Children for 13 years where she became a tutor teaching postgraduate students. She has a general osteopathic practice but also specialises in working with children, babies, pregnant and post partum mothers. She is a specialist cranial osteopath and is fully trained in the biodynamic approach. You can find Emily at the Healthy Living Centre.