Monday 23 January 2012

Driving and Osteopathy

Happy New Year- that means hello 2012, and hello winter driving. Vancouver got its first taste of winter driving this year with below freezing temperatures and snow earlier in the week. As I write this first blog of the year from the warmth of my home, I can still see patches of snow that haven’t melted yet out my window. The weather is almost back to normal for this time of year, but the chaos that happened during this week of winter driving is a reminder of how to be safe on the roads. For me, it inspired me on how driving is like Osteopathy.

When I was treating a patient today, I was focusing on the different levels of tension and tissue, and like our founder A.T. Still would do, imagine the different layers of anatomy under the skin. That’s when I realized the amount of concentration that Osteopathy requires for each patient. Oftentimes, we may treat different patients with the same aches and pains and it’s easy to follow a standard treatment. And that’s a lot like driving because sometimes I will drive to my destination before I realize how I got there. That is because I might have taken the same route every week that it has become a routine my brain can do without my conscious awareness.

On the other hand, the snow last week made the roads more slippery and more dangerous. Driving required my full attention to stay aware of not just the grip on the road but the way others were driving. The roads were almost alive the way each block felt differently, the main roadways clearer to drive on, and the alleys still covered in snow. It reminded me of last summer when I went on a roadtrip down the Oregon Coast.  The scenery along the Pacific Ocean is beautiful, but the road sometimes narrowed to one lane while you are just feets away from driving off the edge of a cliff. So summer or winter driving can make you focus on the road as easy as a routine drive can allow your mind to wander.

As I was treating my patient, I realized how driving is like Osteopathy. As I was telling her my epiphany I compared how this knot in her back was like that narrow highway I was on, and how I had my focus on trying to relax it with inhibition and pressure. After it softened, it was like the highway turned into 4 lanes again. It is easy to let our minds wander when we treat the same aches and pains everyday. And in some therapies, it is easy to put on a machine or other device to our patient, then leave the room, and literally wander. But I think Osteopathy also allows us to focus on our diagnosis and treatment, and to learn more about our patient and ourselves. This is similar to how driving can allow our minds to wander, or to appreciate the feel of the engine, the comfort of the interior, and the grip on the road.

So in an Osteopathic Treatment, we have many opportunities to focus: when we are using a HVLA technique, we need to focus on how to free the right joint; when we are using a MET technique, we need to focus on the feather edge barrier; when we are using inhibition, we need to focus on the pressure and point on the muscle; and when we use Counterstrain, we need to focus on the moment the muscle starts to relax. Given the trust our patients have given us, this clinical focus is just as important as in driving, with even a momentary lapse in concentration having possibly dangerous results. For example, treating the neck is like driving in the snow- we need to be careful.

Thus, one of the things I think makes Osteopathy special is this focus we give to our patients compared to other therapies. Although many therapies share this attention to detail, others can easily prescribe a pill or tincture, a machine or exercise to do the work. Although they may be helpful, they lose the opportunity to learn and focus on the details or special features of the patient. Just as a BMW or other performance car can take me from point A to B, it also gives me the opportunity to enjoy the drive there. All it takes is to not let your mind wander and to focus on the moment. Our patients are like that luxury car who we can help and help us get to where we want.

Dickson Wong
Osteopathic Practitioner

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