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Fit to be tried: Osteopathy

THE man with the healing hands gets me to lie on my side so he can firmly manipulate my sore joints and misaligned muscles.

Alexander Gibbs is an osteopath -- a form of therapy that treats pain and disease by manipulating the body. He is one of only a few hundred practitioners in Ireland and trained for four years to qualify.

He places my hands so they hug around my body, and then twists my neck gently but with a snap that produces an internal clicking sound that might be alarming if it were painful.

It's not, though, and instantly blood seems to flow into the sore and stuck spots of discomfort as Gibbs repeats the procedure on my right shoulder, where a recurring pain has forced me to seek treatment.

Rolling the shoulder around produces a nasty crunching sound, and he says this is the result of a build-up of calcified tissue. After a thorough physical check and a questionnaire on lifestyle, Gibbs shows me how, when I bend my knees up, one is higher than the other.

He says the problem is likely to stem from poor pelvic alignment, even though it's the shoulder that's giving me pain. The osteopaths' approach to health is based on the principle that our bodies have an intrinsic ability to heal, and practitioners focus on treating and rehabilitating musculoskeletal disorders, most commonly in the lower back.

"We assist the body's natural healing mechanism to bring healthy change, using our hands as instruments to bring this about," Gibbs says.

An osteopathic treatment feels gentler than a session with a chiropractor, its closest equivalent.

"What sets us apart is that with touch, we build up a detailed picture of what's going on to produce the problem," Gibbs says.

Osteopaths are popular and well-established in countries such as the US and Australia, and a growing number of people are being treated in Ireland.

Gibbs, from Rathgar on Dublin's south side, is an arch manipulator in the best sense of the term. But it takes three sessions before a strong improvement shows in my sore shoulder, although a side benefit is improved posture and better sleep.

Gibbs (39) has regular clients who come to him, sometimes for no more than an annual check.

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"Everyone has some trouble with their bodies at some time, whether they've hurt their backs from lifting too much or even just from too much sitting down," he says.

"Usually after three or four sessions we can put you on the road to recovery, and sometimes after that an annual appointment is just the ticket."

Gibbs trained in England, as there is no full-time osteopathic college in Ireland, a situation he would like to see changed.

As part of this, he and a number of colleagues are looking at setting up a free osteopathic clinic for children. The clinic would benefit trainee osteopaths, who would gain hands-on experience, and treat youngsters in need of help with health problems such as back complaints.

For myself, I found that getting your bones and muscles manoeuvred back into their natural shape with a satisfying click improves your alignment, frees up your movement and dissolves pain. I'll definitely stick with this joint.

The Verdict

Did it work: Yes, at a cracking pace

Pluses: Relieves muscle pain

Minuses: Can be costly

Cost: First appointment €80 (for 90 mins), subsequent – €70

Contact: The Winton Practice, 12 Winton Avenue, Rathgar, Dublin 6. Tel: (01) 4905818 or check www.holisto.com for your local osteopath

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