A new patient I saw yesterday has prompted me to write about something that I often see in my work. He came wanting me to look at his painful knees one of which he was told five years ago needs replacing.

Osteopaths’ case histories always include questions about accidents, surgery and illnesses in order to sift through what’s happened to the person over the years. This line of questioning brought out that he’d had four hernia operations. One of them had been done very poorly, leading to the mesh wrapping around his intestine. Emergency surgery had to be performed which whilst correcting the issue, was a huge thing to endure. His wife says he’s never been the same since this op, his body shape has changed as well as his posture and even his mannerisms.

I work mainly using the cranial approach to osteopathy and so looked first to tune into his system and provide space for some settling. There was an initial amount of general tension there, which soon began to relax. When I felt into how his tailbone and pelvis were functioning, even with the fact that he’d had a hip replacement 8 years previously I was surprised at how much distortion there was here.

Once there was a bit more alignment in the pelvis, which would help both knees to feel less strain, something else entirely showed up. His whole pelvis and trunk went into a sort of lockdown. It was like being taken down a black hole, with a bit of juddering in the spaceship going on with the intensity of it. I recognised and connected to the trauma of the emergency surgery he’d described and had no choice but to stay put until the body had moved through this phase. It was like being held in a tractor beam.

The patient told me afterwards that he was also feeling something – tingling all over his body. This sort of release of shock and trauma in the body is usually felt by the patient in one way or another – and is always in service to a deeper release that allows the nervous system and in fact the whole body to find more steadiness, grounding and relaxation as this layer of tension melts away.

I’d like to call this ‘medical trauma’ but that tends to be quite obvious. This is more when it goes unnoticed and people have no idea that their body is still being constrained by the effects of a difficult experience. It’s certainly frequently overlooked and underestimated. It can happen in dental work – again very under the radar. Maybe ‘hidden medical trauma’ is appropriate.

Once this layer melts away, the path is clear to work more locally on the problem that they came with. As with many work such as gardening and decorating, preparation is everything. Nothing can be rushed, short-cuts lead to disappointment!

I feel such gratitude when someone puts their health first and grants me the opportunity to work in this deeper way with them.

Joanna Mitchell, senior osteopath and owner of the Sunflower Centre


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