What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a medical speciality which diagnoses and treats mechanical problems of the body.
It is complementary to main stream medicine and does not claim to be an alternative to it, as both areas of medicine have their strengths and weaknesses.
Osteopathy has its particular strength in the diagnosis and treatment of the neuro-muscular-skeletal system, looking at the relationship of joints, muscles and nerves as a whole.

Osteopaths, like Doctors and Dentists are primary care practitioners,  which means that they are skilled at being able to recognise when a condition is not suitable for osteopathic treatment and so will refer to the appropriate doctor or specialist.
The techniques of discovering disease processes are much the same as when you visit a GP, e.g. orthopaedic tests which may include MRI (private or through your GP), urine tests (e.g good for detecting urinary tract infecctions), blood tests, suitable for ruling out many pathologies (e.g. rheumatological conditions), neurological testing etc.

One of the most important principles of osteopathy is that structure and function of the body are interrelated.
That means, if there is a structural problem in the body, e.g. a shortened leg, it will eventually have consequences on the function of the body i.e. dysbalance of muscles and pain will follow. Another example might be an increased curvature of the upper back (kyphosis) due to working at a desk, possibly leading to a compromise in lung function.

On the other hand, a person with a lung condition/disease (functional problem) may well end up with a structural problem of their thoracic spine as a result of years of compromise.

In order to influence the intricate balance of structure and function, of joints, muscles and nerves, osteopathy offers a wide range of gentle manual techniques such as  deep tissue massage, stretching, trigger point work and various joint manipulations.
The best known of the these is the thrust technique usually resulting in a slight pop or click.
There are many other gentle manipulations which are suitable for young and old alike (particularly if osteoporosis is present, pregnancy, fear of thrust manipulation etc).
Cranio-Sacral Osteopathy is a very gentle technique particularly suiting new-borns e.g. for infant colic.

However, osteopathy doesn’t only treat problems, it also helps to prevent problems from coming back or even from occuring in the first place.
Your osteopath may well give you advice on posture or exercises or even go into work places to advice on optimal work conditions and procedures.
As there is also the possibility of stress and emotional issues influencing or even causing problems of the musculoskeletal system, e.g. back pain, an osteopath will always look out for this possibility as well as mechanical causes of conditions.


As Osteopathy is part of Primary Care, there is no specific need for a referral by your GP, you can simply make an appointment with the practice directly.

It is also good to know that there is no problem with GPs referring patients to a registered osteopath, as the osteopath would be fully accountable to the GOsC (General Osteopathic Council: the statuory regulatory body for osteopathy) for his/her actions and the GP would not be responsible for the detail of the treatment given.
Also, registration with the GOsC is regarded as reasonable grounds for believing the practitioner to be competent in his/her field, another prerequisite for a referral.

Possible side effects:

Osteopathy is one of the only two complementary medicines that are regulated under UK law and is generally regarded as a safe form of treatment (NHS choices website).
Typical minor side effects are increased soreness or pain in the treatment area, headache or tiredness. These symptoms should usually resolve themselves within a day or two and should then be followed by an improvement of your original problem or even of your general well-being.

Fortunately major complications are incredibly rare at an average incidence of 0.13% in manual therapy according to a pooled statistic from controlled trials (“Adverse events and manual therapy: A systemic review.” 2009).