The media has recently highlighted the positive effects of touch and exercise on mental health. This emphasis stemmed from the fact that this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May) focused on movement and the body.


Osteopathy and Mental Health

For the last few centuries, our culture has been dominated by philosopher René Descartes’ (1596-1650) theory of the mind-body split. This has had a significant impact on the understanding and management of mental and physical health in our society, leading to stigma and fragmented care.

At Butterfield Osteopathy, we were pleased to be recognised for our contribution to the mental well-being of our community. The GHP Mental Health Awards named us the Best Osteopathic Clinic North London 2024.

This prompted me to write about osteopathy and mental health.


Understanding the Connection

It is common for people to see their pain as entirely separate from their mental health, which is a cultural leftover from the Cartesian mindset of the mind and body being separate, as mentioned above. Often, pain is a result of a broader issue related to chronic or persistent stress. At the same time, pain can result in a worsening of mood and trigger health anxiety.

I frequently encounter patients with very intense pain symptoms who, when questioned, claim that nothing substantial has occurred that could account for their pain. I understand that they mean nothing “physical”. However, in almost 9 out of 10 cases, the response is “yes” when asked about any major life events. Something significant has occurred or is about to happen that has triggered a pain response, such as the arrival of a new baby, the loss of a loved one, a breakdown in a relationship, or issues at work. Consequently, we see people experiencing significant life transitions or making major life decisions.

Some people find it perplexing that I, as an osteopath, am interested in their mental health when they come for pain management. This blog aims to explain the connection between osteopathy and mental health.


A Historical Perspective

Osteopathy has always considered the mind and body as interconnected. The founder of osteopathic medicine, Andrew Taylor Still, MD (1828-1917), was a doctor and surgeon in the American Civil War. When he first presented osteopathy to his medical colleagues about human beings’ interconnectedness and self-regulating and self-healing abilities, he was laughed out of the room. It was believed at the time that people could not heal themselves and required large doses of mercury and other heroic medical interventions. Thankfully, modern techno-medicine has come a long way since then.


Research and Practice

US osteopathic medical practitioners (DOs) receive training alongside MDs and have the same practising rights as any doctor. However, even though they have a more holistic understanding of health and disease, not many DOs practice OMT (Osteopathic Manipulative Techniques, which is an umbrella term for osteopathic touch interventions). It would seem natural for American osteopathic psychiatrists to consider how manual osteopathic interventions can aid in managing mental health disorders. There is still a lot of research that needs to be produced by osteopaths. The gap between mind and body is narrowing, leading many medical professionals to reconsider how to address their patients’ mental health symptoms, which often have a significant physical component. A recent study demonstrated positive outcomes when osteopathy was used as an additional intervention alongside conventional therapy for patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In the UK, a feasibility study is being conducted to examine how osteopathic interventions can potentially improve mental health outcomes.

The practice of osteopathy can address the physical symptoms of mental health in several ways. It is a crucial part of our strategy to empower our patients to recognise how feeling overwhelmed impacts them physically and to help them learn how to manage this independently.

  1. Regulation of the autonomic nervous system: Osteopathy can help to regulate the autonomic nervous system, which plays a crucial role in regulating physiological responses to stress. By promoting balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system, osteopathy may help reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall mental well-being.
  1. Breathing mechanics: Stress and anxiety directly impact our breathing and can lead to physical issues, particularly in the neck and shoulders. Additionally, our breathing responses change in the presence of pain. Effective treatment and education empower patients to identify their unique breathing patterns and understand their bodies’ stress responses.
  1. Improving blood flow and circulation: Osteopathic methods, such as manual manipulation and massage, can enhance blood flow and circulation in the body. This increased blood flow can improve the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, which may have a positive impact on mental health by promoting optimal brain function and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  1. Release of tension and relaxation: Osteopathic techniques target the release of tension and restore proper alignment and movement in the musculoskeletal system. By reducing physical stress and promoting relaxation, osteopathy can help alleviate physical discomfort and pain and improve sleep, positively impacting mental health. Chronic pain and physical discomfort are often linked to mental health issues, and addressing these physical symptoms can contribute to improved mental well-being.
  1. Harness the power of the mind-body connection: Osteopathy can play a crucial role in positively influencing mental health by fostering a sense of well-being, enhancing body awareness, and improving the mind-body connection. This holistic approach paves the way for overall mental health improvement.
  1. Getting back to exercising: Regaining your exercise routine is crucial for your mental well-being. Osteopathy offers physical symptom relief and support for easing back into exercise. Collaborating with your osteopath, you can devise a plan to navigate the mentally challenging rest periods while healing from an injury. Your osteopath can recommend minor adjustments to your routine to facilitate a smooth return to your favourite exercise or sport.
  1. Social prescribing: Achieving mental health recovery goes beyond physical treatments. Participating in community activities, support groups, and social interventions can significantly improve patients’ mental and emotional well-being. Osteopaths personalise their social prescribing recommendations to suit your needs and preferences. Our holistic approach considers your unique mental health challenges and personal goals. We strive to offer referrals or suggestions tailored to your specific circumstances.

We understand that talking about mental health is stigmatised, but as your healthcare professional, we are always open and, without judgment, will do our best to help you.

If you want to discuss how we can support you on your road to recovery from life’s many challenges, please contact us or book a consultation.



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Bowes, M.R. et al. (2023) ‘Osteopathic manipulative medicine and its role in psychiatry’, Cureus [Preprint]. doi:10.7759/cureus.47045.

Butterfield Osteopathy (2024 winner: GHP Mental Health Awards) (2024) GHP News. Available at: (Accessed: 06 June 2024).

Darren J. Edwards, Senior Lecturer in health and wellbeing (2023) Osteopathy can be used to treat mental health issues related to back pain – new study, The Conversation. Available at:,for%20depression%20and%20fear%20avoidance. (Accessed: 06 June 2024).

Dixon, L. et al. (2020) ‘Effect of osteopathic manipulative therapy on generalized anxiety disorder’, Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, 120(3), pp. 133–143. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2020.026.

Exercise is the new antidepressant | letters (2024) The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed: 06 June 2024).

GHP Mental Health Awards (2024) GHP News. Available at: (Accessed: 06 June 2024).

Lewis, J.R. (2016) A.T. still: From the Dry Bone to the living man. Blaenau Ffestiniog Wales: Dry Bone Press.

Osteopathy & the mental health setting – A case study (2020) Manna Housing. Available at: (Accessed: 06 June 2024).

Thibaut, F. (2018) ‘The mind-body cartesian dualism and psychiatry’, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 20(1), pp. 3–3. doi:10.31887/dcns.2018.20.1/fthibaut.

Touch can reduce pain, depression and anxiety, say researchers (2024) The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed: 06 June 2024).