All osteopaths in the UK are registered and regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). It's against the law for anyone to call themselves an osteopath unless they are registered with the GOsC.
All GOsC-registered osteopaths have studied for four to five years. And will have done at least 1,000 hours of clinical training to learn the different techniques. Registered osteopaths also have to stay up to date with treatments and must do at least 30 hours of learning activities each year.
To find a registered osteopath in your area, check the register on the GOsC website or telephone the organisation.
When you go for your first visit, the osteopath will ask you questions about your health, lifestyle and circumstances. This may include asking about your medical history, your symptoms, lifestyle, medication and the foods you eat. He or she will also examine you. You may need to undress down to your underwear so that your osteopath can carry out a full examination.
Your osteopath may look at your posture and ask you to carry out movements, such as sitting, standing or walking. He or she may check your pulse and blood pressure or arrange for you to have other tests such as an X-ray.
Your treatment will involve a variety of mostly gentle, manual or hands on techniques. These include massage and stretching to relax stiff muscles and articulation, which involves stretching the joints to help them become more mobile.
Your osteopath may also use manipulation. This is a technique where he or she will make a short, rapid, forceful movement called a high-velocity thrust to your joints. You may hear a clicking or popping sound when this is being done. This is caused by the change of pressure in the joint and it shouldn’t be painful. Your osteopath might also show you exercises and stretches that you can do yourself at home.
There are other specialised techniques that your osteopath may use including cranial osteopathy, which is a gentle manipulative technique that focuses on your skull (cranium). Therapists claim to be able to feel a subtle, rhythmical shape change in your body tissues called the cranial rhythm. This shows them what stresses and strains your body is under and gives them an insight into the overall condition of your body.
Your first consultation with an osteopath usually lasts about 45 minutes. If you have any further consultations, they will be shorter – usually around 30 minutes. The number of treatments you need and how often you have them will depend on your condition. At your first treatment session, your osteopath should tell you how many times you will need treatment.
Your osteopath might refer you to your GP if they think that osteopathy isn’t the right treatment for you.
Several research studies have looked at how well osteopathy works as a treatment for a number of diseases and conditions. Some of these involved using a placebo (dummy) treatment to see how it compares with osteopathy.
There is evidence that spinal manipulation and mobilisation techniques, such as osteopathy, provide relief for low back pain. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends manual therapy as a treatment option for this condition. These are therapies that involve manipulation, massage and mobilisation of soft tissues and joints. Manipulation may also be useful for reducing migraines and some other types of headaches. Research shows that there is no evidence that osteopathy works for treating arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
As with every treatment, there are some risks associated with osteopathy. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your osteopath to explain how these risks apply to you.
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the treatment. Side-effects of osteopathy may include:
- discomfort, soreness or mild pain
- a headache
These should disappear 24–48 hours after your treatment.
Complications are when problems occur during or after the treatment.
A technique called spinal manipulation has been linked with severe complications, such as damage to an artery or having a stroke. However, research shows that the chances of this happening are very small. Around two in every million people who have manipulation carried out on their neck. This is less than the risk of you having problems if you’re taking medicines.
Can my child have osteopathy?
Yes, children can have osteopathy.
Children are sometimes treated using osteopathy for a number of conditions, including middle ear infections and colic. However, there is no evidence to show that osteopathy works for middle ear infections and the research suggests it isn’t effective for colic either.
It’s important to ask your osteopath if he or she has experience of treating children. If you have any concerns about your child having osteopathy, speak to your osteopath or your GP.
Can sports people benefit from osteopathy treatment?
Some people use osteopathy to improve their sporting performance and care for common sports injuries. However, even though osteopathy is often used by sports people, there may not be enough evidence to show that it works for your particular problem.
If you play sport and are regularly active you may find osteopathy useful for treating injuries and for staying fit and well. As well as treating injuries, osteopathy can be used to:
- improve your performance
- improve how well joints move and make movement easier
- help you keep supple and improve the tone of your muscles, which reduces the chance of an injury
Although osteopathy is accepted by many conventional doctors, there is still little scientific evidence to show it works as a treatment for many sporting complaints. However, there is good research evidence that osteopathy can provide relief from low back pain.
If you develop a sports injury you should see a physiotherapist for advice.
How much does osteopathy cost?
There's no fixed price for osteopathy treatment and the cost varies across the UK. A 30-minute treatment session usually costs between £35 and £50.
The cost of osteopathy treatment will depend on the number of sessions you have and where in the UK you have your treatment.
Most people have three to six treatment sessions, but this will depend on the specific treatment you need and how severe the problem is. At your first appointment, your osteopath should give you an idea of the number of treatment sessions you will need.
- Brønfort G, Nilsson N, Haas M, et al. Non-invasive physical treatments for chronic/recurrent headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004, Issue 3. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001878.pub2
- Low back pain: early management of persistent non-specific low back pain. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 2009. www.nice.org.uk
- Constipation in children and young people: diagnosis and management of idiopathic childhood constipation in primary and secondary care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). 2010. www.nice.org.uk
- Dobson D, Lucassen P, Miller J, et al. Manipulative therapies for infantile colic. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 12. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004796.pub2
- Surgical management of otitis media with effusion in children. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). 2010 www.nice.org.uk
- About osteopathy. General Osteopathic Council. www.osteopathy.org.uk, accessed 13 August 2013
- About osteopathy. British Osteopathic Association. www.osteopathy.org, accessed 13 August 2013
- Osteopathy (manipulation therapy). Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearchuk.org, published February 2013
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