Here at OCHK in Central, our patients are often intrigued by the similarities of osteopathy to some aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine, particularly tit tar bone setting. So, in this article, we’ll take a look at the extent to which these two approaches to medicine overlap, where they differ, and how the two philosophies relate.

Bone setting through the ages

Bone setting is a traditional form of manual therapy that has cropped up in many cultures through the centuries, including Ancient Egypt, Europe, Asia and Africa. Often practising with no formal training, bone setters not only set fractures but performed joint manipulation and treated many kinds of injuries, such as sprains, strains and dislocations.

Chinese bone setting, (‘tit tar’ or ‘dit da’ – literally, ‘fall hit’) can be traced back to around 200 B.C. It arose from kung fu and other martial arts, where injured fighters needed effective treatment to get them back on their feet as quickly as possible. It rapidly became used to treat soldiers injured on the battlefield. It continues to be a popular choice for the treatment of accidents, falls and sports injuries.

In nineteenth century America, where osteopathy originated, bone setters were often the only medical practitioners available to poor, rural communities. Andrew Taylor Still, the founding father of osteopathy, originally called himself a ‘lightning bone setter’. He studied anatomy, physiology and pathology to improve the service he could offer to the community. In this way, he expanded the scientific, technical and philosophical concepts of his work, eventually forming the practice of osteopathy in 1874.

Comparing osteopathy and TCM

Let’s look at some of the similarities between osteopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and also some aspects in which they differ.

In the treatment room

Osteopathic and tit tar treatment may appear similar in many respects. Both include a physical examination to determine the cause of the problem. The practitioners then use joint manipulations and massage techniques to ease pain and stimulate the body to heal.

However, there are some significant differences, too. These differences arise in the way practitioners understand the body and its problems.

” As part of TCM, bone setting has arisen from traditional beliefs and customs, deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Early Chinese physicians advanced the medical understanding of their time, formulating theories to explain what was happening in the body. The accumulation of knowledge through hundreds of years of practice led to the growth of TCM as a healthcare system. This means that its practices come from observational wisdom rather than scientific testing. However, this is enough to reassure its users that it offers effective healthcare. Although TCM has developed over the centuries, and could be considered a forerunner to modern medical science, its core beliefs are still grounded in those traditional theories.

Osteopathy, however, arises from today’s scientific concepts of the body, including anatomy, pathology, neurology and embryology. Over its almost 150-year lifespan, osteopathy has been continually revised and updated to reflect the latest research on how the body works. The professional organisations that regulate osteopathy ensure that osteopaths review and adapt their techniques, depending on the latest evidence for safe and effective practice. This constant process of research and review forms part of the professional life of every osteopath.”

There are also variations in treatment methods. For example, alongside joint manipulation and massage, osteopaths have a wide range of techniques they can draw on. These include muscle energy techniques, cranial osteopathy, visceral techniques and exercise therapy. They can apply a combination of techniques according to the needs of the patient to achieve the desired results.

TCM practitioners, too, may apply techniques from the various branches of Chinese medicine. Herbal medicine, acupuncture, nutrition and movement therapy can all form part of a holistic treatment plan.

Training, education and qualifications

Osteopathy is a regulated profession in many parts of the world. Practitioners must complete a recognised degree qualification and maintain certain professional standards in order to legally use the title ‘osteopath’.

Here in Hong Kong, there is no local regulation. However, most osteopaths belong to the Hong Kong Osteopathic Association, which requires that they hold registration with a professional body such as the General Osteopathic Council

The main function of these regulatory organisations is to protect the public. They focus on maintaining the highest standards of safety and professionalism through education and research. For example, all osteopaths know how to perform joint manipulations safely and how to spot any risk factors that suggest they might not be appropriate. And when new research points to a way of improving standards, osteopathic organisations relay the update throughout the profession.

Training in tit tar is less formalised, although practitioners may voluntarily register with a professional body, such as the Chinese Medical Council of Hong Kong. Registration requires the practitioner to hold an approved undergraduate degree. Before booking with a practitioner, always check their qualifications, registration and professional insurance status.

Underlying principles

Given their different origins, there are a surprising number of overlaps between the fundamental principles that guide osteopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

  1. Both methodologies were developed as a complete form of medicine. They provided effective health care at times when there were no sensible alternatives.
  2. The body is capable of naturally returning to a state of health if given the right circumstances. Osteopaths and TCM practitioners each seek to remove blocks to that self-healing mechanism.
  3. Good circulation is fundamental to health. Andrew Taylor Still’s assertion that ‘the rule of the artery is supreme’ is reflected in TCM’s focus on Qi, the vital energy that flows through our bodies. Qi and blood are inseparable – Qi driving the flow of blood, blood nourishing the formation of Qi.
  4. The structures of the body and its function are interconnected. A healthy body is one where all parts are in balance.
  5. Health is more than the absence of disease. Osteopathy and TCM both take a proactive, preventative approach to health. As A.T. Still put it, “the object of a physician is to find health, any darn fool can find disease.”

Osteopathy may align more closely with Western medicine’s scientific, biomedical view of health care than the energy-based approach of TCM. However, they both use a holistic and patient-centred approach to health, and, as you can see, they perhaps have more in common than you might think!

Interested in osteopathy?

If you’d like to find out more about how osteopathy could help you, why not book with one of our registered osteopaths today and take the next step towards a healthier you?

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