Manual osteopathy could be described in simple, lay terms as "holistic manual medicine".

Osteopathic manual practitioners (also known as manual osteopaths to distinguish themselves from American style osteopathic physicians who perform surgery and prescribe medications assess and treat the whole person, not just the symptomatic region. So for example if a patient presents with headache they will be structurally assessed from head to toe. This is because the primary cause may be remote from the symptoms.

For example:

Unilateral pes plannus (flat feet) > functional leg length discrepancy > pelvic torsion > scoliosis > cervicogenic tension headache.

This cause would only be detected with an holistic assessment.

There are eight major principles of manual osteopathy that are widely taught throughout the international osteopathic community.

  1. The body is a unit.
  2. Structure and function are reciprocally inter-related.
  3. The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms.
  4. The body has the inherent capacity to defend and repair itself.
  5. When the normal adaptability is disrupted, or when environmental changes overcome the body's capacity for self maintenance, disease may ensue.
  6. The movement of body fluids is essential to the maintenance of health.
  7. The nerves play a crucial part in controlling the fluids of the body.
  8. There are somatic components to disease that are not only manifestations of disease, but also are factors that contribute to maintenance of the disease state.

These principles are thought to be the underpinnings of the osteopathic philosophy on health and disease. Manual osteopathy is not just a set of techniques; rather it is a philosophy based on these principles.

This philosophy is simple and sensible. When applied in practice, osteopathy can make profound changes in a person's health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised the Osteopathic concept of somatic dysfunction as being scientifically proven, and the British Medical Association also recognised Osteopathy as a discrete health discipline.