To qualify, osteopaths must complete a full-time four years undergraduate degree. This is similar to a medical degree, but more emphasis is placed on anatomy and musculoskeletal medicine. The degree includes more than 1,200 hours of clinical experience. The degree covers:
- Orthopedic assessment
- Neurology and neurological assessment
- Pathology and differential diagnosis
By law, osteopaths must register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) each year. To register you must have an osteopathic degree, CRB check, valid insurance and evidence of continual professional development. Osteopaths are primary healthcare professionals and have the same duty of care as doctors. It is an offence for anyone to call themselves an osteopath if they are not registered.
What we do
Most people think of us as ‘back pain specialists’ although osteopaths treat many conditions from head to toe. Osteopathic treatment does not target symptoms only but treats the parts of the body that have caused the symptoms. Osteopaths have a holistic approach and believe that your whole body will work well if your body is in good structural balance, Imagine, for example, a car that has one of its front wheels not quite pointing straight. It may run well for a while, but after a few thousand miles, the tyre will wear out. You can apply this example to the human body, which is why it is so important to keep the body in good balance.
Osteopaths use a wide range of techniques, it is not just cracking backs. Treatment may include massage, joint mobilization, manipulation, stretching and exercise therapy; this breadth of approach allows us to focus on every patient’s particular needs. Osteopaths assess and treat people of any age from the newborn to the elderly and from pregnant women to sports people.
How we do it
Your medical history
Before we start to treat you, we will make a full medical assessment. We take time to listen to you and ask questions to make sure we understand your presentation and your day-to-day routine.
We usually look at your posture and how you move your body. We may also assess what happens when we move your joints and muscles for you and see what hurts, where and when. We may also feel your pulse, check your reflexes and take your blood pressure. What examination received will depend on your case history and presenting problems. The medical history and examination is the most important part of the initial consultation. It allows your osteopath to accurately diagnose your problem and to treat your condition safely and effectively. We may sometimes feel that osteopathy is not appropriate for you and refer you to your GP or another specialist such as an orthopaedic surgeon.
Osteopaths use a wide range of gentle manipulations, depending on your age, fitness and diagnosis. Treatment is different for every patient but may include techniques such as different types of soft tissue massage and joint articulation to release tension, stretch muscles, help relieve pain and mobilise your joints.
We may discuss exercises that you can do to improve your posture and movement in your workplace and everyday life.
Conditions osteopaths treat
The most common conditions osteopaths treat are:
- Back and neck pain
- Shoulder and arm problems
- Pelvis, hip and leg pains
- Sports and other injuries
However, patients have found osteopathic healthcare helpful for many other conditions. Simply ask your local osteopath if treatment can help, they will be happy to talk to you.
Do I need to see my doctor first?
You do not need to see your doctor first, osteopaths are medically trained healthcare professionals. They have more training and experience in musculoskeletal medicine than GP’s. However, some insurance companies still require you to see your doctor first, if using private health cover to pay for your treatment.
How about sports massage?
Osteopathy and sports massage are poles apart. Sports massage is not a regulated profession, there is no training in musculoskeletal medicine, orthopedic examination, neurological examination or differential diagnosis. Because of this sports massage therapists are not primary healthcare professionals; this means they are not qualified to assess or diagnose, are not required to train and do not need to be insured.
Sports massage is excellent for relaxing muscles, muscle sprains and for maintaining healthy muscles when they are being stressed regularly. Sports massage was developed to help maintain athletic performance, osteopathy and physiotherapy is there to assess and treat injury. If you have pain or difficulty moving, an osteopathic assessment will be the most appropriate course.
Article adapted from British Osteopathic Association