Osteopathy is a regulated health profession that's distinct from nursing, medicine and pharmacy.
Regulation works in much the same way as regulation for medical doctors.
By law, osteopaths must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).
The GOsC only accepts registration from practitioners who have a qualification in osteopathy that's recognised by the GOsC and who comply with their standards of practice.
Osteopaths are required to renew their registration each year. As part of this process, the GOsC checks they have the correct insurance, are meeting professional development requirements, and remain in good health.
If you use an osteopath and they don't adhere to this standard of practice, you can complain to the GOsC. It has a duty to investigate the complaint.
The GOsC has a register of osteopaths you can use to find one in your local area.
Regulation aims to protect patient safety, but it doesn't mean there's scientific evidence that a treatment is effective.
What qualifications do osteopaths have?
Osteopaths complete a 4- or 5-year honours degree programme (bachelor's or master's), which involves at least 1,000 hours of clinical training. Some osteopaths are qualified to PhD level.
Osteopathy is generally regarded as a safe treatment, although you may experience minor side effects, such as:
- mild to moderate soreness or pain in the treatment area
These effects usually develop within a few hours of a session and typically get better on their own within 1 or 2 days.
In rare cases, serious complications have been linked to therapies involving spinal manipulation, including osteopathy.
These include the tearing of an artery wall leading to a stroke, which can result in permanent disability or even death.
These events usually occurred after spinal manipulation involving the neck.
Your osteopath should explain the benefits and any potential risks associated with having treatment.
When it shouldn't be used
Osteopathic treatment is tailored to the individual patient. It isn't recommended where there's an increased risk of damage to the spine or other bones, ligaments, joints or nerves.
This means people with certain health conditions may not be able to have osteopathy.
These conditions include:
- acute inflammatory conditions, such as some types of arthritis
- blood clotting disorders, such as haemophilia
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
Osteopathy is also not recommended if you're:
You can see an osteopath during pregnancy. But make sure you seek advice from your GP or midwife before you see an osteopath. You should also make sure you see an osteopath who specialises in muscle or joint pain during pregnancy.
Osteopaths are trained to use their clinical judgement to identify patients for whom osteopathic treatment isn't appropriate.
Page last reviewed: 29 May 2018
Next review due: 29 May 2021