Osteopathy – A Guide

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Osteopathy is a manipulation technique that detects and treats problems with the muscles, nerves and joints. Some injured and disabled people or people with health issues may find some relief from a visit to an osteopath,

How osteopathy is performed
What it can treat
Can I see an osteopath on the NHS?


An osteopath (someone who is registered to carry out osteopathy)will use their hands to find and treat damaged parts of your body by gently stretching, massagingand manipulating the muscles and joints.Osteopaths may also offer guidance on diet and exercise.

This treatment can help to relieve problems such as back pain, neck pain and headache. For a full list, see What it can treat below.

Osteopathy is suitable for almost anyone, including children, pregnant women and the elderly.

How does osteopathy work?

The main idea behind osteopathy is that the structure and function of your body are closely linked. This means that any problems or pain associated with the structure of your body could also affect your internal organs.

Therefore, if problems with the structure of your body are corrected, it will ease pain on the outside of your body and help to treat any illness inside your body.

An osteopath will try to identify what is wrong with the structure and function of your body, and restore this to normal (see How it is performed). Osteopaths do not use surgery or drugs.

Is it effective?

Osteopathy is accepted by many doctors and other conventional healthcare professionals, but there is little scientific evidence to prove that it is effective.

Adverse side effects or complications caused by osteopathy appear to be rare.

How is it regulated?

In the UK, osteopathy is regulated by the General Osteopathic Council. It is a criminal offence to practise as an osteopath if you are not registered with the Council.

How osteopathy is performed

An osteopath will take time to find out about your medical history, and ask about your lifestyle and diet. They will consider each person as an individual.

You will usually be asked to undress to your underwear and perform some simple movements while they examine you.

Diagnosing the problem

Osteopaths have a trained sense of touch and will use their hands to find areas of weakness, tenderness, restriction or strain within your body.

They will make a diagnosis and talk to you about whether osteopathy can help treat the problem and, if so, what sort of treatment programme you need. Osteopaths are trained to identify when a patient needs to be referred to a GP.

When appropriate, an osteopath may referyou for further investigations, such as MRI scans or blood tests, to help diagnose the problem.


An osteopath aims to restore normal joint stability and function to help the body heal itself. They use their hands to treat your body in a variety of ways, using a mixture of gentle and forceful techniques:

  • massage –to release and relax muscles
  • stretchingstiff joints
  • articulation –your joints are moved through their natural range of motion
  • high-velocity thrusts –quick, forceful movements to the spine.

These techniques can reduce pain and swelling and improve movement in parts of your body. They also encourage the movement of blood to and from your tissues and organs.

An osteopath will sometimes focus on your head and base of your back to encourage the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which is found in the spinal cord.

In general, the first treatment lasts about45 minutes, and subsequent treatments around half an hour. You may need two to six sessions.


An osteopath may advise lifestyle changesin orderto avoid the problem happening again,such as improving your posture, changing your diet, and doing certain exercisesin your own time.

A leading osteopath who specialises in all forms of osteopathy: https://www.busheyosteopathy.co.uk/

What qualifications do osteopaths have?

Osteopaths completea four or five-year honours degree programme (bachelor’s or master’s), which involves thorough clinical training.Some osteopaths are qualified to PhD level.

What it can treat

Osteopathy is most commonly used to treat conditions caused by problems with the nerves, joints and muscles, such as:

  • back and neck problems –including neck stiffness, lower back pain and sciatica
  • carpal tunnel syndrome (a nerve problem affecting your hand and fingers)
  • sports or work injuries, such as repetitive strain injury
  • joint pain, for example in the shoulder,knee,ankle or elbow joint
  • arthritis
  • bad posturecaused by work, driving or being pregnant

Osteopathy can also be used to relieve general health problems, such as headaches, ear, nose and throat problems, or disorders of the digestive system.

It can also be used on babies and children to relieve colic (abdominal pains) and sleeplessness.

Can I see an osteopath on the NHS?

local Primary Care Trusts (PCT’s) decide whether to allocate NHS funding for osteopathic treatment (it is regarded as a complementary therapy.

Osteopathy may be available on the NHS in your area, your GP may be able to refer you to an osteopath at a local osteopathic clinic, if they feel that the treatment will be of benefit to you. Sometimes, an osteopath may also provide treatment at your local hospital, or GP surgery.

Currently, most people pay to receive osteopathic treatment on a private basis. Fees can range from between £25-50 for a 30-40 minute session. If you contact a clinic, or therapist, for private treatment, make sure that they are fully qualified and registered with the General Osteopathic Council (the organisation that regulates osteopaths).