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Mindfulness and Osteopathy


The British School of Osteopathy provides an OsteoMAP clinic, which integrates new developments in mindfulness, and acceptance based approaches to pain with ‘hands on’ osteopathic treatment.

OsteoMAP is designed to support people with long-term musculoskeletal pain, which may be alleviated but is unlikely to be completely resolved by manual therapy alone. It aims to help people with pain find their own pathways to living a more fulfilling life, despite on-going symptoms. OsteoMAP is based on the ‘third wave’ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approaches currently used in group-based pain management programmes within the NHS.

For Mental Health Awareness Week (11th-17th May) we interviewed Senior Osteopathic Lecturer and OsteoMAP Project Manager, Hilary Abbey who answered our questions and gave us a thorough insight into the treatment.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has been described as simply noticing what's happening right now - consciously becoming aware of all our internal thoughts, feelings and sensations in the present moment, without trying to change or control them. Many of us live life on auto-pilot and do things out of habit. This works well in many situations but can also limit opportunities to see possibilities to choose different responses. Mindfulness meditation is part of Buddhist tradition but is now being used in a non-religious way in many healthcare programmes to help people develop self-awareness and body awareness. In OsteoMAP, we use mindfulness and mindful movement exercises flexibly and adapt the focus and length of each exercise, and the sitting or lying position or specific body movements to the physical capabilities and goals of each patient, and no-one is asked to do anything they feel uncomfortable with.

Who is OsteoMAP for?

It is designed for adults with significant, persistent musculoskeletal pain, which can be alleviated temporarily by manual therapy but it is unlikely to be completely resolved by physical therapy alone. It is for people who are ready to explore new possibilities for living a more fulfilling life, that is less limited by pain and enables them to do more of the things that really matter in their life.

How many sessions are needed?

The course itself is made up of six one-hour sessions and each session includes a mixture of osteopathic treatment and mindfulness-based exercises to help people manage pain more effectively. Each session builds on learning from the previous week and each focuses on a different aspect of living with pain.

What can a newcomer typically expect from an initial session?

People who are interested in joining are asked to come for a pre-course interview, which takes between 45 minutes and an hour. The aim of this interview is to explore what they are struggling with and what they would like to get out of participating in the course.

The interview is an important part of the process because the course itself involves looking at how pain affects all areas of life, including day-to-day activities, emotions and mood, relationships with family and friends, and work.

What sort of results can be expected from OsteoMAP?

This is a difficult one to answer because everyone’s experience is different! As well as providing whatever osteopathic treatment is appropriate, our aim is to help people to develop mindfulness skills, and learn about their auto-pilot reactions to discomfort, so they have more opportunities to notice when there is a choice to respond differently.

We don't focus exclusively on pain itself but on how the struggles to avoid or control pain use up energy and cause suffering. By the end of the course, we can't guarantee that the pain will be any less but we hope it will have less impact on limiting the person's life. We often find that letting go of futile struggles to eliminate pain leaves people with more energy to focus doing things that matter, which reduces the impact of pain. Several of our patients have said their pain levels didn't change but they ended the course feeling completely different about who they were.

Are there any risks or drawbacks in doing an OsteoMAP course?

The risks of an adverse physical reaction are quite low. We screen people carefully to make sure they are suitable for osteopathy, and if we're not sure about something we request permission to discuss it with their GP.

The techniques we use are slow and gentle, adapted for each person and our approach is collaborative so we don't do anything that patients feel uncomfortable with. However, talking about pain and its long-term impact on life can be upsetting and it's not uncommon for people to become more aware of pain or to feel more anxious or depressed at the start. This is often an inevitable but valuable part of the process, as acknowledging loss and limitations provides a realistic place to start exploring how to create a more active and fulfilling life, even if pain persists.

It's important that people understand that OsteoMAP is an active experiential course. We have found that people are most likely to gain benefits if they are willing to spend time practicing new mindfulness skills at home and exploring different ways of responding to discomfort, even if they feel awkward or unfamiliar at first.

The next OsteoMAP programme will start at the BSO on Tuesday 9th June 2015. Saturday courses will start on Saturday 18th July 2015. For more information, please check our website at http:/// or contact Hilary Abbey, the Project Manager, at or on 0207 089 5330.

Written by Zennia Coombs


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