Beliefs and Use of Palpatory Findings in Osteopathic Clinical Practice: A Qualitative Descriptive Study among Italian Osteopaths

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The Italian government has started the regulatory process of osteopathy to include it among the healthcare professions mentioning terms, such as "perceptual palpation" and "somatic dysfunction" within the professional profile. 'Palpatory findings' are one of the multidimensional aspects that can inform osteopathic clinical reasoning. The non-regulated educational system has led to heterogenic professionals working in Italy, thus, the aim of this study was to investigate how Italian experts use palpatory findings in their clinical practice. A total of 12 experts were selected to participate in four virtual focus groups. A qualitative inductive approach with a constructivist paradigm was chosen to describe the results. The themes that emerged were: osteopathic identity; evaluation; osteopathic diagnosis; and sharing with different recipients. Participants agreed on the peculiarity and distinctiveness of osteopathic palpation, but there was some disagreement on the clinical significance of the findings, highlighting a complex multidimensional approach to diagnosis and treatment. The results seem to reflect the history of the profession in Italy, which has evolved quickly, leading professionals to seek new paradigms blending tradition and scientific evidence. The authors suggest further investigation to verify the state of art among osteopaths not involved in research or a broader consensus of the results.

Keywords: biopsychosocial approach; evidence-based practice; hands-on hands-off; osteopathic assessment; osteopathic clinical practice; osteopathic identity; osteopathy in Italy; palpatory finding; qualitative research; somatic dysfunction.