How Osteopathy helps me be a better RMT

October 2, 2019

To recap from my previous blog post, the three principles of Osteopathy are:

  • The body is a functional unit (parts of the body work in unison, not isolation)
  • Form and function are interrelated
  • The body has self-healing properties

So, how does that help me, a Massage Therapist, help you? I’m glad you asked.

As an RMT, Osteopathy allows me to see the body at a systemic levelTo illustrate this, I’ll use the analogy of looking at the body as though it were a computer.

Just like a computer, our bodies have many, many parts. Knowing about these individual parts and how they work is very important, but when we understand the “operating system” that combines and coordinates all of our various parts, then we can fully understand how the many parts work together, or, how our bodies are indeed functional units.

In the human body, the operating system is partly equivalent to the nervous system, therefore in Osteopathy, we try to address exactly that. The nervous system is divided into two parts, the Central Nervous System (CNS), and the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

The CNS is the part of the nervous system which allows us to have self-awareness, and take deliberate actions ,like threading a needle for example, while the ANS takes care of all the things that are happening in the background. Our heart rate, digestion, muscle tone etc.

Broadly speaking there are two parts of the ANS. The Sympathetic Nervous System, or SNS, sometimes referred to as our “fight-or-flight” system, which, as its name indicates, gets us ready to either fight the bear or run from the bear. (I recommend not fighting bears!)

The SNS does this by increasing our heart rate, directing blood away from our digestive system and into our limbs so that we can run really fast, or fight really hard, and focus our attention where it is immediately required (again, angry bears).

The second part is the Parasympathetic Nervous System, or PSNS. Also commonly referred to as our “rest-and-digest” system. This system lowers the heart rate, directs blood flow to the digestive system, helps us relax, and perhaps most importantly for the Osteopath,  it also promotes self-healing. Yes!

The vagus nerve is the main carrier for the PSNS as seen in this picture in yellow.


Optimal health, is when these two systems are in balance, unfortunately most of us in the modern world are often waaaay too stressed, meaning our fight-or-flight systems are hyperactive.

Knowing that, when it comes to treating clients, it is clear that we would like to increase the system that promotes relaxation and self-healing.

Ok, but how do we do that? 

To give a specific example, when a client comes in to see me complaining of a tight neck, (which is a problem in the function-structure complex) before treating the neck, I’ll take the time to promote relaxation first, thereby reducing the fight-or-flight response from the SNS.






By mobilizing the upper back as well as softening and massaging the muscles in and around the ribs and spine area, we help the client RELAX and in turn promote self-healing. This is one of the reasons everybody likes a good back rub!

More specifically, the upper back is where the nerve that tenses our neck muscles resides, so by mobilizing this area, we are directly affecting the neck. Makes sense right? After concentrating on these areas, treating the neck, as you might guess, becomes much simpler. The neck is now already more relaxed, thus making my job that much easier. As the neck muscles relax, more blood will be able to flow in to the tissue and that will help wash away the lactic acid and inflammation substances that were lingering there, which in turn will reduce the pain and improve the function-structure relationship.

As a massage therapist, understanding how the human body works helps me to help the client by releasing the source of their pain (and sorrow LOL) in a more efficient and profound way, because not only is the neck now able to be released, the whole self-healing mechanism gets a big boost.

It is important that I mention that performing osteopathic techniques is indeed within my scope of practice as an RMT. Meaning that the governing body overseeing RMT’s in Ontario (CMTO) is approving of and comfortable with me using these techniques.

Last and perhaps the most important fact about the nervous system, is that it is a”habitual creature” which means that the more time spent being relaxed the more we are likely to be relaxed in the future. And the same is true in reverse. The more time we spend being tense..You get it.

The nervous system although important in making the body a functional unit, and in facilitating self-healing, is just one part of the human body’s operating system, I am looking forward to exploring with you in treatment (and in writing!) more of that system.

Until next time!


Roy Cohen is a Registered Massage Therapist at Whole Therapy who is currently studying Osteopathy. Although he currently does not practice as an Osteopath, his Massage practice reflects his learning on the subject.


Posted in Uncategorized by Pat Moore