Osteopaths believe that our health and well-being depend on the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues working smoothly together. They use touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage to try to relieve muscle tension, enhance blood and nerve supply to tissues, and help the body's own healing processes.
Osteopaths see patients of all ages, including older people, pregnant women, children and sports professionals. People go to osteopaths for help with a wide variety of conditions, including:
- back pain
- repetitive strain injury
- changes to posture during pregnancy
- postural problems caused by driving or work strain
- pain caused by arthritis
Most people see an osteopath without being referred to one by their GP (this is 'self-referral'). However, patients are encouraged to keep both their GP and osteopath fully informed, so that their medical records are up to date and complete.
In a first consultation, an osteopath will put together a full case history of the patient's symptoms, as well as information about their lifestyle and diet.
Osteopaths examine areas of the body using touch ('palpation') to diagnose conditions and identify the body's points of weakness or excessive strain. They might watch the patient doing some simple movements to help them make a diagnosis.
The osteopath will discuss with the patient the most appropriate treatment plan, estimating the likely number of sessions needed to treat the patient's condition effectively. If the osteopath believes that the condition is unlikely to respond to osteopathic treatment, they advise the patient on how to seek further care.
Personal Qualities and Skills
- an interest in science and medicine
- to be sympathetic, tactful, reassuring and a good listener
- good observational skills
- sound judgement
- the ability to give clear explanations and advice
- physical fitness.
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of osteopaths
Most osteopaths are self-employed. There are opportunities for osteopaths to join an established practice. Osteopaths can also work in health centres and large companies, providing staff care and advising management teams.
Osteopaths can work in the NHS as private contractors, delivering services to patients. However, this varies depending on the policy of local NHS Trusts.
Occupational health within companies and organisations is a growth area for osteopathic practice.
Entry routes and training
To practise as an osteopath, you must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). To register, you must complete a course that is accredited by the GOsC.
A list of accredited schools and colleges is available on the GOsC website. Qualifications are usually bachelors degrees in osteopathy - a BSc, BOst or BOstMed, or a master's degree in osteopathy (MOst), which is also undergraduate. Courses are usually four years full-time or five years part-time, or a mixture of the two.
Degree courses include anatomy, pathology, pharmacology, nutrition and biomechanics, plus at least 1,000 hours of clinical training.