Osteopathic Vocabulary

Osteopaths are experts in the human body. We use terms relating to movement, anatomy, and health in an everyday manner and forget that not everyone has the same vocabulary! It's important -- as an expert in any field -- to be able to explain your work to people that don't have the same vocabulary. So in this blog post, I'm going to define some of the most commonly used terms in an osteopathic clinic -- just in case I forget you don't know what I'm talking about!

Soft Tissues

This term refers to all the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue that hold us together. They're basically the rest of the stuff other than bones and organs. The majority of injuries that I see in clinic are to the soft tissues. As they don't show up on XRAY, this type of test won't diagnose damage to them. Damage to the soft tissues is usually diagnosed clinically (via a specialist like an osteopath) or an MRI scan. 


Fascia is everything in the human body!! It's the connective tissue that makes everything continuous in our bodies. In life, it's a very fluid substance and has recently been shown to help transmit nerve and sensory signals through the body. It helps all our soft tissues move and glide around with ease. If we are dehydrated, have poor nutrition or poor health, the fascia can get sticky and stuck in place. This is also the case after an injury or prolonged postural changes. So then when we do try move in a particular way, you might feel a painful pull in one area, which is usually where the fascia is stuck down.


Adhesions occur in the fascia, muscles, and usually close to where these attach to the bones. If there is an trauma in the body, you will get some scar tissue, which makes the fascia less able to glide around. So these areas where the fascia gets sticky and stuck down are called adhesions. It's important to address these adhesions with osteopathic treatment, as overtime they can restrict movement of the soft tissues and of joints. 

Trigger Points

Trigger Points are muscles knots. They have a nerve centre, so they can refer pain to areas of the body far away from the source. Even though trigger points seem like nothing, they can be very painful -- trigger points in your chest muscles can even mimic a heart attack! They are easy to treat and respond well to myofascial release and acupuncture needling.  

Myofascial Release

This is one of my favourite types of treatment. It's more than just a massage, and it works deeper on the reflex mechanisms within muscles and the fascia. It uses deep steady pressure with some rhythmical joint movements to relax muscles and help the fascia to unstick and glide with more ease. 


This treatment technique works to get joints moving easier. It focuses on the joint level, and uses slow rhythmical movements to increase movemet. It can start gentle and become stronger, as the body responds to the treatment and allows it. Mobilisations stimulate special nerve receptors within the ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the joint, which send messages back to the brain for improving movement. 


In the osteopathy world, the term manipulation is used in reference to 'the clicking' technique. The technical term is 'High Velocity Low Amplitude Thrust' and it uses a fast impulse movement to help get a joint moving. Sometimes there is an audible 'pop' which is just the release of gases from the joint space. With this HVT technique, a large number of nerve signals is sent to the brain from that area of that area of the spinal cord, and this helps reset the circuits of pain and stiffness. 


Flexion / Extension / Rotation / Side Bending

These terms refer to how you move. 

Flexion of the spine is when you bend forward (as to tie your shoe), whereas flexion of the knee is when you bend it bringing your foot towards your bum.

Extension of the spine is when you lean backwards (as to look up to the ceiling), whereas extension of the knee is bringing it back to straight.

Rotation is when you twist, which is a very important movement in the spine -- especially in sports like tennis, golf, cricket and football. There is very little rotation in joints like the elbow and knee, but it's big in the hip.

Side-bending in the spine is when you...well...bend from side to side!!

In life, functional-dynamic movement occurs with all of these movements happening together, so it's important to be flexible in all directions.