Overview

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 use physical manipulation, stretching and massage with the aim of:

  • increasing the mobility of joints
  • relieving muscle tension
  • enhancing the blood supply to tissues
  • helping the body to heal

They use a range of techniques but not drugs or surgery.

In the UK, osteopathy is a complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) and is different from conventional western medicine.

Although osteopaths may use some conventional medical techniques, the use of osteopathy isn't always based on scientific evidence.

Read about what happens when you visit an osteopath.

Common uses

Most people who see an osteopath do so for help with conditions that affect the muscles, bones and joints, such as:

Some osteopaths claim to be able to treat conditions that are not directly related to muscles, bones and joints, such as headaches, migraines, painful periods, digestive disorders, depression and excessive crying in babies (colic). However, there isn't enough evidence to suggest that osteopathy can treat these problems.

Does osteopathy work?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends manual therapy alongside exercise as a treatment option for lower back pain, with or without sciatica.

There's limited evidence to suggest that osteopathy may be effective for some types of neck, shoulder or lower-limb pain and recovery after hip or knee operations.

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

Read more about the evidence on osteopathy.

Accessing osteopathy

While osteopathy isn't widely available on the NHS, your GP or local clinical commissioning group (CCG) should be able to tell you whether it's available in your area.

Most people pay for osteopathy treatment privately. Treatment costs vary but typically range from £35 to £50 for a 30- to 40-minute session. You don't need to be referred by your GP to see an osteopath privately. Most private health insurance providers also provide cover for osteopathic treatment.

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

Read more about how osteopathy is regulated.

Page last reviewed: 10/06/2015
Next review due: 10/06/2018