Interview with Osteopath Katy McConkey in Barcelona

Katy McConkey is an Osteopath at Osteopatía del Mar. She trained in the UK and Spain and has been based in Barcelona for over 25 years. She is passionate about her work: keeping up on the latest research, seeing people improve after treatments, and being in the position of meeting such a variety of great people who come to the clinic every day.

What is Osteopathy and who does it target?

Osteopathy is a comprehensive, whole body approach to health that focuses on the interconnections between all the body’s systems. It is a process of manual medicine aimed at alleviating pain and improving health and well-being. Gentle adjustments are carried out on the body’s structure (the bones and their attached muscles and tendons) and this has an effect on the body’s physiological systems (for example digestive or lymphatic systems) and helps get them back to optimal functioning. All groups of people may be treated – as with traditional medicine – the new-born, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults and the elderly.

Is Osteopathy regarded as an Alternative Medicine? 

Traditional medicine (also called Allopathic or Western) is so called as it is evidence based. It treats pathology with drugs and/or surgery. Osteopathy does not prescribe drugs and it treats dysfunction and ill health with the hands by carrying out manual treatments on the body finding and eliminating blockages and thus allows the body to cure itself.

It falls into a group called CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine). I myself prefer the term integrative medicineThis is the use of alternative and traditional medicine in the same treatment. This forecasts the future of medicine, and a positive, and local, example is the use of Osteopathy in the Paediatrics unit in the new Mataró hospital. Current trends in medical thinking, I am happy to say, do tend towards long held osteopathy tenets: importance of outdoor exercise in health, diet, posture, brain-gut relationship etc.

What are the main principles of Osteopathy? 

Osteopathy is based on the study of anatomy and physiology and their interrelationship and interdependence. It looks at the body as a whole. It looks for the cause of the problem of the presenting symptom (why is that muscle hurting, why this kind of headache? why insomnia? etc) and addresses this cause, eliminating the obstacles that are not allowing the body to make itself healthy (e.g. congestion, contracture, restricted mobility etc). The causes are not necessarily in the body and may be external: poor diet, poor work/social relationships, poor posture.

The main principles of Osteopathy are outlined below:
The artery is supreme; unimpeded flow of all body fluids denotes good health. Congestion in fluids or tissue leads to metabolic toxicity and thence illness/dysfunction. Improved circulation of blood, lymph, or CRF (brain/spinal fluid) to the congested areas will provide the needed nutrients, O2, and eliminate toxin build up.  
Structure governs function; structure is taken to denote the skeletal structure (musculoskeletal) and function (physiology). 
The body is an integrated unit; restriction of movement in a joint/articulation, contracture or congestion will be reflected in other parts of the body, and not necessarily at the site of the dysfunction or pain. All body parts are interconnected and interrelated. 
The body is a self-healing unit; the body has intrinsic mechanisms for self-regulation and healing. It has all the necessary chemicals, substances to promote and maintain health. Chronic conditions are believed to occur when the healing capacity is compromised.

What are the main techniques of Osteopathic treatment?

All techniques or treatment approaches chosen have the common aim of pain relief. Each patient, depending upon age, body type or presenting complaint is treated with the most suitable technique at that time for that specific person.

Techniques involve gentle stretching of muscles and mobilising of joints. We use Soft and Deep tissue massage; Lymphatic drainage; pump, effleurage; Sacro cranial: listening to the body’s inherent rhythms ; Visceral techniques:  release tension in the viscera ( stomach, intestines) manually, or stimulating /inhibiting the relevant nerve; HVT(Thrust): short thrust to stimulate/move a misaligned vertebrae or joint; Fascial release: listening to and improving movement in the body’s fascia ;  general osteopathic treatment (GOT): mobilizes the joints in the body in a choreographed order, it is excellent for lymphatic drainage and realigning body posture; Diaphragms/respiratory: balancing or improving diaphragmatic movement.

What type of disorders can best be treated by Osteopathic treatment?

It is not only sore backs, necks or muscle pains that are treated. People with the following complaints present for treatment: asthma, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, sciatica, lumbago, headaches, menstrual problems, posture, knee problems, tendonitis, tennis elbow, bruxism, wry neck, neck pain, anxiety, lack of energy, insomnia. The list is endless. It treats most dysfunctions. It doesn’t, for example, treat infection or disease (though is able to treat some of the presenting symptoms). If no improvement is seen after a treatment, the person will be referred to the relevant special for medical tests to carried out.

Is there are a regulatory body for Osteopathy in Spain? 

Yes there is, it is called the Registro de Osteopatas en España (ROE). Only certain recognised schools are allowed to join. Being a member confers the guarantee of your standard of schooling and insurance. I am a member and my school is affiliated with the European School of Osteopathy, UK, which is where I took my exams and received my certificate. If you want the guarantee of a well-qualified osteopath look for the letters Eur. Ost. D.O. after their name.

Can Osteopathic complement advice from Doctors in some cases?

Absolutely! If you have bad back ache because you are straining your lumbar spine because you are not standing correctly, an osteopathic treatment will be directed at correcting your posture and hence eliminating the tension and therefore the pain. If you have chronic asthma, this will have caused mechanical strains on your inspiratory muscles, osteopathy can relieve these tensions. If you have a chronic slow digestive system or heartburn…osteopathy may be a valuable and longer lasting option than heartburn/antacid/ fibre pills. Yes, pain killers may alleviate a headache or backache, but it may return; we would try to find out what is causing you to have a headache/backache and release that tension.  

Can an Osteopath also advise on lifestyle and environmental issues that may contribute to a disorder? 

Yes. The patient gives an in-depth medical history on the first visit, and should it be deemed that the origin of the problem is organic they will be referred to a specialist. If the overriding factor is psychological, they will be referred to the adequate specialist. If dietary factors are the cause they will be referred to a dietician. Specific exercises and life style changes are often suggested in consultation. Poor posture and tendonitis of the elbow/wrist will be improved in osteopathy treatments but will reoccur if your sitting posture/chair does not change (i.e. the root cause of the presenting problem).

Do you have a special interest in any area?

Yes, I’m very interested in sleep, or rather the lack of it!  3 years ago, I carried out a pilot study in insomnia to see how Osteopathy and CBT can help people improve their sleep patterns. To my mind lack of sleep in adults, and more worryingly in children, is the new epidemic facing us in the western world. It is terrible to see the number of children being labelled with attention deficiency syndrome and given medication (worryingly often a stimulant!) when in fact all the symptoms the children are expressing are from lack of sleep (see Matthew Walker, Why we Sleep). Treatment involves cranial techniques and attempt to rebalance the inputs coming from the central nervous system and teaching good sleep habits.  

What are the benefits of visiting an Osteopath during pregnancy?

Apart from all the obvious hormonal changes, being pregnant alters the body posture (your centre of gravity moves forward). These postural changes can strain different muscles and you may find yourself with low backache, or sore feet/legs, or you may find you have swollen ankles; these kinds of things can be gently treated with lymphatic drainage techniques. Sore pelvic muscles or sacrum can be treated and released giving pain relief and relaxation. Treatments are recommended from the second trimester on.

What problems can Cranial Osteopathy help with in older children? 

Problems with mood changes or anxiety, some treatments can be very calming and may help the child/teenager relax, and consequently sleep better. Taller or overweight children may be struggling with good posture and the subsequent effects; treatment will help improve this. Tendency to panic attacks, diarrhoea and constipation: the digestive system can be regulated, and a healthy gut also gives a long-term net effect of a stronger immune system. Ear infections and congestion. Problems of concentration may be due to tensions, strains, contractures, poor eyesight, diet, all this can be assessed in the treatment.

How long do you suggest people continue to visit an Osteopath when treating a disorder? 

It depends entirely on the presenting complaint, how long they have had it for, and how well they respond to treatment, also their general state of health and well-being. In an acute case the first visit would be followed up after 7/10 days, then approximately at 2 weeks, then 3 weeks, and then once every 3-6 months if the person wants to have a “maintenance” session. Average treatment about 3-5 sessions. If there is no improvement, they will generally be referred to the appropriate specialist.

If people are interested in finding out more about Osteopathy, how can they contact you?
You can contact me  to have a chat or make an appointment by email mcconkey.katy@gmail.com or by telephone 609143690.


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