Osteopathy is an increasingly popular and widely used form of complementary therapy.  Many people receive osteopathic therapy concurrently with conventional medical treatment.  This can be especially helpful for those who have specific conditions, especially ones directly related to the joints, bones, and muscles (the musculoskeletal system).

Qualified practitioners in osteopathy are called osteopaths, and must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOC).  This will ensure that they are properly trained and fully qualified.  The GOC also requires osteopaths to be insured and to comply with specific standards of practice.

The practice of osteopathy is based on one fundamental principle: that the proper functioning of the ligaments, muscles, connective tissue, and bones are essential to a person’s overall well-being and health .  An osteopath will manipulate your muscles and bones in carrying out your treatment.  The massaging, stretching, and moving of bones and muscles is the osteopath’s way not only of treating problems but also detecting and preventing them.

Some of the osteopath’s aims are to:

  • Promote healing in the body
  • Increase the volume of blood supply to the tissues, and generally improve circulation
  • Alleviate muscle tension
  • Increase joint mobility
  • Restoration of movement
  • Reduction in inflammation
  • Pain relief

Among the techniques used by osteopaths are:

  • High velocity thrusts (short sharp movements). These may be advised against by your doctor if you have certain medical conditions.
  • Massage
  • Manipulation of the muscles
  • Stretching of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles

Conditions Treated by Osteopaths

Below are some of the conditions that are commonly treated by osteopaths:

  • Sports injuries
  • Lower back pain
  • Issues with the legs, hips, and pelvis
  • Arthritis
  • Posture problems caused by pregnancy, or activities like work or driving
  • Shoulder pain
  • Neck pain

While it is true that there are osteopaths that imply that their treatments can address conditions that are not directly related to the musculoskeletal system (such as, for example, depression, digestive disorders, and headaches), there is a lack of evidence that this claim is a valid one.

One of the problems for which osteopathy is an especially effective treatment is lower back pain.  It tends to be so useful that osteopathy is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a treatment for lower back pain.

It is possible that osteopathy will be somewhat helpful if you have problems such as pain in the lower limbs, shoulders, or neck.

Osteopathy and Cancer Patients

You should be aware that evidence that osteopathy could help with cancer simply does not exist.  However, many cancer patients find that osteopathy treatments are useful with regard to tension and pain.  They also create a stronger sense of well-being.  It is essential that you consult with your doctor before considering osteopathy, however.  He or she might advise against it if you have certain kinds of cancer or other conditions.

Situations In Which Osteopathy is Advised Against

If you have any of the below conditions, your doctor will have to take extra time to evaluate whether osteopathy is right for you.  In some cases, he or she will conclude that it could cause adverse effects or even be dangerous.

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Bone cancer
  • Any type of cancer that involves the bone marrow such as lymphoma, myeloma, and leukaemia
  • Bleeding disorders (for example, haemophilia)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infections
  • Fractured or broken bones
  • Arthritis and other inflammatory joint diseases

Other situations in which you’ll probably be advised to stay away from osteopathic treatment include:

  • If you’re pregnant, especially between 8 and 12 weeks
  • If you are on a medication that thins the blood (anticoagulants)
  • If you’re undergoing radiotherapy
  • If you’re having a course of chemotherapy


“Osteopathy”, NHS Choices, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Osteopathy/Pages/Introduction.aspx

“Osteopathy”, Cancer Research UK, http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/osteopathy