Introduction 

Osteopathy is a way of detecting, treating and preventing health problems by moving, stretching and massaging a person’s muscles and joints.

Osteopathy is based on the principle that the wellbeing of an individual depends on their bones, muscles, ligaments and connective tissue functioning smoothly together. Osteopaths believe their treatments allow the body to heal itself. They use a range of techniques but do not use drugs or surgery.

Most people who see an osteopath do so for help with back painneck painshoulder pain or other problems related to muscles and joints. Some osteopaths also claim to treat a wide range of health conditions, including asthma, digestive problems and period pain.

Outside the US, osteopathy is a complementary or alternative medicine (CAM), and is different from conventional western medicine. Osteopaths may use some conventional medical techniques, but the use of osteopathy is not always based on science.

Read more about the common uses for osteopathy and what happens when you visit an osteopath.

Does osteopathy work?

There is good evidence that osteopathy is effective for the treatment of persistent lower back pain. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends it as a treatment for this condition.

There is limited evidence to suggest it may be effective for some types of neck, shoulder or lower limb pain and recovery after hip or knee operations.

There is no good evidence that osteopathy is effective as a treatment for health conditions unrelated to the musculoskeletal system (bones and muscles).

Read more about the evidence on osteopathy.

Accessing osteopathy

Osteopathy is not widely available on the NHS. Your GP or local clinical commissioning group (CCG) can usually tell you whether it is available in your area.

Most people pay for osteopathy treatment privately. Treatment costs vary, but typically range from £35 to £50 for a 30-40 minute session. You do not need to be referred by your GP to see an osteopath privately.

Only people registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) are allowed to practise or call themselves osteopaths. You can find a registered osteopath near you on the GOsC website.

Find out more about how osteopathy is regulated.

Back pain guide

Back pain guide

Explore this guide for information about different types of back pain, ways of preventing it and advice on treatment

Page last reviewed: 17/07/2013

Next review due: 17/07/2015