Massage for little ones: Osteopathy is a trend in children's medicine

Dusseldorf, Germany - Six-month-old Leon lies relaxed on Dennis Guelden's massage table as the osteopath rubs the child's torso, applies gentle pressure on other places and massages elsewhere.

The treatment is intended to help ease tension and and make irritations disappear. Little Leon likes the treatment which his mother, Melanie Driesen confirms. But while osteopathic medicine considers itself holistic while critics classify it as esoteric.

Guelden says Leon has a type of nerve irritation on the back of his neck that causes him not to like lying on his back, and he also isn't able to turn his head properly. Guelden defends the osteopathic practices, saying within a few treatments Leon has developed into a calmer and more balanced child.

When parents seek relief for a baby that cries continually, they often feel excluded by conventional medicine. The same thing is true when parents seek to relieve tension in older children.

"Many doctors and parents tell their children to pull themselves together and bear their problems," said Gabi Prediger, an osteopath and director of an index of traditional osteopathic doctors in Munich. But a child can't always do that.

"Oestopathy is intended to work preventatively and early in life, making it especially suitable for children," said Prediger. It can be used to detect and treat something like a displaced vertebrae very early. Also among children who have conspicuous behavioural issues, Prediger has achieved noticeable success. In addition, she says osteopathy can have a positive influence on the course of a pregnancy and childbirth.

But conventional medicine is skeptical about claims made by osteopathic medicine as are German insurance providers.

"Scientific verification of the effectiveness of osteopathy is still lacking," according to AOK, Germany's largest health insurance company based in Bonn. For this reason osteopathy has not been included in Germany's accepted general principles for cures. Thus, it is not possible to cover the costs of osteopathic treatments, the insurer says.

Patients who nevertheless decide to seek treatment from an osteopath should pay attention above all to the qualifications of the therapist even though there is still no institution in Germany to verify an osteopath's claims. Many osteopaths have studied physical therapy. Often they have decided to pursue the additional education in osteopathy at a school or academy because the definition of physical therapy is too limiting for them.

"Classic physical therapy involves a treatment that focuses generally on movement, while osteopathy seeks to stimulate the body to solve things on its own," said Guelden.

"You factor in the entire muscular and skeletal systems and the nerves and organs. Hence, the treatment is, of course, also more complex," Guelden explained. Guelden works primarily with dentists, noting that there is often a connection between problems with the jaw and other problems in the body. (dpa)