What is Good Health?

This question really consists of 4 questions:

  • What is good health?
  • What is disease?
  • What is healing?
  • What is cure?

What is Good Health

The first of these is an interesting question and not an easy one to answer. Everyone has their own viewpoint on health, so let us look at it from a few definitions:

World Health Organisation - “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not just merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

The Office of economics states: “A person should be regarded healthy provided he can remain socially and economically active, even though he may have to suffer some health disability or discomfort.”

Any lay person  Good health is that thing you take for granted until it is not there anymore.

These all use suffering as a point of reference. However there is one that uses homeostasis (see below) as a point of reference:

Jacques De Cotes (former president of the French Osteopathic Association): “Good health is not a state, but a search for equilibrium”.

Orthodox medicine has a very ‘reductionist’ model of disease: if you have a skin condition, you are referred to a dermatologist; if you have a digestive disorder you are directed to a gastroenterologist; hence all the specialist departments in hospitals.

Many books exist on disease: symptoms and signs, and pathology right down to the cellular, and even molecular, level. However no orthodox medical books exist on healing, and use of the word ‘healing’ may even be frowned upon by orthodox medicine. This creates a curious situation: orthodox medicine presumes the principal opinion on health, but focuses only on disease. However, the body has an in-built ability to maintain health; it knows what is supposed to be going on, and knows what to do about it if something happens.

The word homeostasis (Greek: homeo – same, stasis – staying still) is used in physiology. It describes the body’s ability to maintain relatively stable internal conditions even though the outside world is continually changing. Even though it means ‘unchanging’, it actually indicates a dynamic state of equilibrium, or balance, in which internal conditions change and vary, but always within very narrow limits. Homeostasis can be seen as an expression of a person’s good health.

Acute disease occurs when homeostasis is functioning well and is working hard to re-establish itself. If you eat something that is potentially toxic (e.g. a dodgy prawn) the body will react rapidly to eliminate it from the body via vomiting and diarrhoea. Yes you are violently ill, but it for a good reason. Chronic disease occurs when homeostasis is trying hard, but is effectively failing. Both of these can be seen in people’s subjective symptoms, symptoms about which people only seek medical attention when those symptoms actually trouble them.

What is disease?

Princeton – An impairment or condition of abnormal functioning

Wikipedia – Any abnormal condition of the body or mind that causes discomfort, dysfunction, or distress to the person affected of those in contact with the person. Sometimes the term is used broadly to include injuries, disabilities, syndromes, symptoms, deviant behaviours, and atypical variations of structure and function, while in other contexts these may be considered distinguishable categories.

People usually only attend a medical practitioner when they feel ill, or have ‘something wrong’. They have a suffering and want it taken away; they have 'dis-ease' (as opposed to being 'at ease'). In my experience, people usually want a name given to it, though this is mainly due to their experience of orthodox medicine. This is a person’s expectation.

I am an osteopath. People attend my clinic usually because they have pain (frequently, but not always so). When they stop having pain, they stop attending my clinic. This could be regarded as normal. But is a person actually better?

What is healing?

1. To restore to health or soundness; cure
2. To set right; repair
3. To restore (a person) to spiritual wholeness

Healing is a function of our inherent healing mechanism, though it is usually seen as something that is done to you. This is deeply ingrained in our culture. All diseases are regarded as invading entities, and equally such entities are removed by someone else; ‘I was healed’. People are largely ignorant of their own inherent healing mechanism – mainly because the culture teaches something else; invading entities.

In truth, no matter what treatment we have, after it we still have to heal. Even if we do need help in the form of a course of antibiotics, we still have to heal. Drugs like antibiotics do kill bacteria, but if that was all that happened, at the end of it we would still have a population of dead bacteria floating around inside us. It is our inherent healing mechanism, working through our immune system, which mops up all the baddies and their dead debris. So what does it mean to get better?

What is cure?

The word ‘cure’ derives from the Latin word ‘cura’ meaning care, concern or attention. The current use of the word cure is believed to reflect the belief that the right care, concern or attention was tantamount to a cure.

How do we see cure:

  1. To heal, to make well, to restore to good health. Cures are easy to claim and, all too often, difficult to confirm
  2. The time without recurrence of a disease so that the risk of recurrence is small; as in the 5 year cure rate for malignant melanoma
  3. Particularly in the past; a course of treatment, for example take a cure at a spa. Giving the body the attention it wants

This should really be phrased; giving the person the attention they need. Therapeutic intent is of great importance in any situation concerning treatment. The analogy of getting your loved one a present, bought with the greatest love and intent is appropriate here. You can buy it, wrap it beautifully and present it on the day, but if it is not what they want, they may say, “That’s very nice dear. Did you keep the receipt?” 

People may have preconceived ideas (an agenda) when they attend an osteopath:

" I had a disc manipulated once and it worked then; do it again”, 
" Go to the place of the pain and take it away “, 
" Put the bone back into place”, 
" You make me well”, 
" I don't care what you do as long as you take the pain away”

Considering all this, it can be seen that good health, disease, healing and cure are all inherent functions within us. But what does the body, the person, want to help to facilitate the re-establishment of homeostasis?

There can be many facets of health: diet, posture, stress, exercise, visceral elements, emotional elements, and old traumata stored in the body, each with their emotional content. Equally there can be several facets that need attention in the person’s journey towards health


Stress is a word used frequently today, understood little and a lot of research exists to investigate it. There are different types of stress. Broadly speaking there are two types: immediate and chronic.
Immediate type stress involves our involuntary sympathetic nervous system and adrenaline. It can be a response to normal demands from our environment, or it could function in any ‘fight or flight’ situation where we perceive our life as being threatened; we either overcome it or escape from it. Either way we stay alive. This is effective in the short term, but a maintained adrenaline response would exhaust and even kill us.

This type of stress can be seen as the upward line of the graph (PGF Nixon - Charing Cross Hospital, London, 1987). It occurs when a challenge arises, or is presented to us, in our life and we are able to respond accordingly to match it; we can change and adapt. In a perfect world it should flatten out (as the ‘intended’ line), as our capacity to respond matches the demand (arousal) put upon us. Sadly the reality is different, as demand frequently exceeds our capabilities. Now chronic stress sets in. 

Chronic stress is that form of stress from which we cannot escape, e.g. worries about work, relationships, money and even summations of such conditions. From this we can see that stress is usually seen in terms of the external factor causing the stress, but this is not actually so. Stress is really an expression of our bodily response to an ongoing situation, i.e. it is an expression of our relationship with the external factor and what that does to us. The hormone of chronic stress is cortisol. 

Cortisol suppresses the body’s stress reaction. It is actually trying to be protective; it acts as an anti-inflammatory and is used as such by orthodox medicine. However, it puts all repair processes on hold, including the immune system; so even if you do benefit from steroid (cortisol-like drugs) therapy, afterwards you still have to heal, i.e. return to homeostasis (homeostasis – see ‘What is Good Health?)

Many people have ongoing stress reactions to their environment on an everyday basis, and most probably don’t even know they are experiencing stress; all they do know is that they have symptoms they don’t like. Their bodies are dynamic, searching for equilibrium and doing their best at any point in time

Craniosacral Therapy is an effective way of helping reduce the person's experience of the unpleasant effects of stress

Cortisol suppresses the body’s stress reaction. It is actually trying to be protective; it acts as an anti-inflammatory and is used as such by orthodox medicine. However, it puts all repair processes on hold, including the immune system; so even if you do benefit from steroid (cortisol-like drugs) therapy, afterwards you still have to heal, i.e. return to homeostasis (homeostasis – see ‘What is Good Health?)