Maybe Call Your Osteopath First, Not Your Doctor

I had an interesting exchange on Facebook this week in an attempt to spread the osteopathic love and increase knowledge of my profession.

I know, I know, the comments section if any post is usually a minefield of armchair experts and trolls but I couldn’t ignore this one.

On a local Facebook group someone has requested recommendations for “someone who can sort my back pain as soon as possible”. Some of my wonderful patients had tagged me and my business so I went to offer my availability personally.

Then I scrolled… that was mistake number one.

A gentleman had replied with “I hope you’ve been to see a doctor first and it isn’t anything serious.” A fair comment, especially if you’ve never been to the doctor for back pain but the opportunity to educate on how manual therapists would be a better option first was right there and I had time to spare.

So I replied… that was (perhaps) mistake number two.

I approached with caution: “The doctors will sadly prescribe painkillers (if you’re lucky) and do nothing else if there are no red flag symptoms. It would be months of repeated GP appointments before they refer for a scan unless backed up by a referral letter from another allied health professional (osteo/physio/similar profession). Even then it can be a struggle to get more help!”

This gentleman then pointed out that “kidney issues need to be ruled out with any lower back pain.” Again, this is true, he’s not wrong and I thought I could further explain how an osteopath or physio is still a better option.

At this point I thought: in for a penny, in for a pound! A phrase I often use when I’ve engaged in the comments section of a Facebook post.

“I agree, as do lots and lots of other things, but the GP won’t do anything for back pain if there are no red flag symptoms. Definitely won’t refer for a blood test for kidneys based on back pain alone. Kidney issues would likely exhibit other urinary/pain symptoms which private physios and osteos (and I think chiropractors) are able to screen for with thorough questioning and examination. Any doubts and they would refer to GP with a letter and all the findings. If the manual therapist has done the leg work the GP will then hopefully refer for bloods/scans as appropriate.”

A clear explanation of the role an osteopath can play in modern healthcare routes, diagnosis and contributing to a positive experience for the patient journey.

I thought I had him converted! That was mistake number three.

The reply I got was: “I think it is best to see a proper doctor first. In this instance if Jack has not seen one already.”

I chose to leave it there. You win some, you lose some and one day this guy might need an osteopath and think of our Facebook exchange. More importantly other people might see my explanation and learn something about manual therapy and our role as primary care practitioners. As it happens I got a patient book in 30 minutes after this discussion who, when they arrived for their appointment, said they’d seen my posts. I may not being winning the hearts and minds of everyone, but I can still try!

An interesting point to take away from the gentleman’s final reply is that he said “proper doctor”. I promise I’m not pretending to be a medical doctor, “I have a very particular set of skills, I will diagnose you, and I will treat you with your consent. If I can’t then I will advocate for you so that you can access the care you need to get better.” That’s the best impression of Liam Neeson that I’ve got!

The GP is great at triage, medication prescriptions and referral when necessary, but lack of NHS funding means this is rarely something they will do immediately unless you have any ‘red flag symptoms’ that indicates the need for urgent investigation. Often any body, joint, muscular or (especially) back pain in isolation is dismissed with the advice to take painkillers and rest a few days. Speaking to your osteopath might be a better choice for the reasons I outlined in this post and if you aren’t sure then give them a call to see if they think they can help or whether the GP is a better choice.

If you’d like to know more about what an osteopath does or how Wisbey Osteopathy can help then please contact us or explore the Wisbey Osteopathy website a little more!

Alternatively there are other avenues of care: pharmacists, calling 111, urgent care units instead of A&E, manual therapists like osteopaths, physiotherapists, sports massage therapists. You can always call ahead before making appointments to check you’re going to the right place, too!

Photo by Benjamin Wedemeyer on Unsplash

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