Osteopathy FAQ’s

Here are answers to our most commonly asked questions – if we’ve forgotten something, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

What is Osteopathy?
Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.  It works with the structure and function of the body, and is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues functioning smoothly together.
Osteopaths believe in the principle that structure and function are inter-related, so we work to restore your body to a state of balance, where possible without the use of drugs or surgery.
We use our hands to identify abnormalities in the structure and function of a body, and to assess areas of weakness, tenderness, restriction or strain.

We use touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage to increase the mobility of joints, to relieve muscle tension, to enhance the blood and nerve supply to tissues, and to help your body’s own healing mechanisms.

We work with your body’s natural ability to heal itself.  The treatment usually starts by releasing and relaxing muscles and stretching stiff joints, using gentle massage and rhythmic joint movements.  The particular range of techniques we use will depend on your particular problem, and we always discuss your treatment plan with you before we begin.

We may also provide advice on posture and exercise to aid recovery, promote health and therefore prevent symptoms recurring.

There is no ‘typical’ osteopathic patient – our patients include new-born babies to octogenarians (and beyond!), manual workers, office professionals, pregnant women, children and sports people – anybody really!

Patients generally seek treatment for a wide variety of conditions, such as:

  • back pain,
  • ’sciatica’,
  • hip and knee pain,
  • headaches and neck pain,
  • repetitive strain injury,
  • changes to posture in pregnancy,
  • postural problems caused by driving or work strain,
  • the pain of arthritis
  • sports injuries.

If your condition or symptoms do not appear above, we can probably still help – please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your case with you.

Can I see an osteopath through the NHS?
Currently, access to osteopathy on the NHS is limited, but services are becoming more widespread as commissioning authorities recognise the benefits of providing osteopathy to patients.  To find out if NHS treatment is available in your area, speak to your GP.

Can I claim on my private medical insurance?
Many private health insurance policies provide cover for osteopathic treatment.  It may be possible to claim for a course of treatment but you should check in advance with your insurance company before seeking osteopathic treatment, in order to confirm the available level of cover and whether you will need to have a referral from your GP or a specialist.

What should I bring with me to my first appointment?
We will take a case history from you on your first visit – this will include questions about any medical treatment you are currently having, including details of any medication you may be taking, including supplements. If you could bring a medication list with you, and any recent relevant scans or x-rays, this would be appreciated. If you wear orthotics, or support braces, please bring them along too.

What happens during a treatment?
During the initial consultation, we will take details of the history of your condition and of your medical history. We will then look at how your body moves, so we can see if there is any tension or restriction in the joints or muscles. We will palpate (feel) the muscles and joints as we move them to see if any pain or other symptoms are produced, and to gauge the range of movement. This process is very gentle, so if you are in acute pain, although we must examine the area, we will cause as little discomfort as possible.
After you have been examined, we will discuss our findings with you and discuss a treatment plan.   We will also try to give you an indication of the recovery period to expect.

Will I need to undress?
Osteopathic treatment and diagnosis involves observation and palpation – patients are normally asked to undress to their underwear. Your privacy will be respected at all times.  If this is likelty to be a problem, please discuss your needs with us before booking.

I have a preference to see a male or female practitioner – is this possible?
We have both male and female practitioners – please let us know at the time of booking. We will do our best to accommodate your needs.

Can I bring a chaperone?
You are welcome to bring along a friend or relative to your consultation – please remember that they will hear and see everything your practitioner will during the appointment. We do not accept patients under the age of 16 without a parent or guardian being present at all times.

Will treatment hurt?
As a general rule, not really. Osteopathic treatment techniques are chosen to suit the individual and their complaint. We aim to make treatment as comfortable as possible at all times during the treatment. Some techniques may be a little sore or uncomfortable, but not painful. If your tissues are particularly tight, it may be uncomfortable to have them stretched at first.

How will I feel after treatment?
The majority of patients feel greater ease after treatment. It’s not uncommon to feel slightly more uncomfortable later that day. This is usually a mild ache or ‘bruised’ feeling, and can last for 24 – 48 hours after treatment. The symptoms can be easily controlled by over the counter painkillers or anti-inflammatories, or by the application of ice or heat packs. The good news is that treatment reactions only usually happen after the first one or two treatments. If you are concerned about how you feel after treatment, please call us.

How many treatments will I need?
This is a difficult question to answer, as everyone responds differently to treatment. The majority of patients usually need between 3 and 6 treatments. Your osteopath should be able to anticipate your course of treatment, and give you a realistic idea on recovery time. Occasionally, with long term problems where there may be structural changes or old injuries, your osteopath may recommend that you have regular treatment over a long term basis to maintain the function you have and to minimise symptoms as much as possible.

What are the risks of having Osteopathic treatment?
Osteopathic treatment carries very few risks. Adverse reactions are not uncommon, and the most common of these are:
– a mild increase in pain and/or stiffness
– a mild headache
– feeling tired or ‘fluey’

Severe adverse reactions are very rare. Osteopaths medically screen their patients during the course of the case history taking and examination, and from this, assess the patient’s suitability for having osteopathic treatment. Techniques will be adapted as appropriate, or if the patient is not suitable for treatment at all, then we will discuss other treatment options and refer to other medical professionals as appropriate.

Severe reactions include:
Rib fracture – uncommon. When this has occurred, it’s normally in patients who have osteoporosis or thinning bones from other reasons, eg radiotherapy, long term steroid use, anorexia. Patients like this could easy get a fracture just by going about their normal daily life – it is therefore difficult to give treatment without the risk of fracture being present, but be assured, these patients are treated with the utmost care!

Damage to the vertebral artery as a result of neck manipulation – extremely rare.
Strokes, typically involving vertebral artery dissection (a tear in the internal carotid or vertebral artery), can follow cervical spinal manipulative therapy, and these types of stroke occur rarely. There is disagreement about whether a strong association between neck manipulation and stroke exists.(1)
A vertebral artery dissection can be caused by major as well as minor trauma – it is a significant cause of stroke in patients who are under 45 years of age.
So what is the risk? – 1 in 36,079 people, or to put it another way, 0.003% of patients could suffer a serious adverse event as described above.
There are other factors which may cause a vertebral artery dissection – these include doing yoga, martial arts, having your hair washed at the hairdressers, painting a ceiling, blowing your nose or turning your head to reverse the car. It is also more likely if you suffer with hypertension (high blood pressure), have recently sustained neck trauma, or suffer from migraines. It is not always possible to identify which patients are at increased risk of suffering a stroke as a result of neck manipulation – osteopaths are trained to evaluate how high a patient’s risk is likely to be, and therefore if there are any concerns, they will not perform certain neck manipulations.

Research undertaken by the national Council for Osteopathic Research (NCOR) in 2010 showed that spinal manipulation was much safer than taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines.

I’m pregnant – can I still have treatment?
Osteopathy is incredibly useful through all stages of pregnancy. It is important that you advise us if you feel you may be in the early stages of a pregnancy. The first trimester carries a naturally high risk of miscarriage. There is no proven link between osteopathic manipulation and increase in incidence of miscarriage, however, most osteopaths avoid manipulating the lumbar spine for the first 12 – 14 weeks. Other techniques may be used instead.
Osteopathy is a very safe and effective treatment for all pregnancy related aches and pains, especially in the later stages when the pregnancy places more strain on the body.

Do I need to see a doctor first?
This isn’t necessary, and we get many referrals from local GP’s where they believe our services to be of benefit to their patients. They have referral guidelines provided by the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association. If there is anything that requires further clarification such as the results of any tests, scans or x-rays, then with your consent, we will contact your doctor to gain copies of the results.
The majority of our patients self-refer for osteopathic treatment.

If you are claiming on a medical insurance policy, you may need referral to us from your GP or Consultant first – please read the small print before booking or you may not be covered.

What’s the difference between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractic?
Osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists are all regulated health professions, requiring practitioners to train to degree level, and then to maintain their clinical skills and professional standards. Whilst all three techniques involve manual therapy, they are all based on very different schools of thought and their approach to patients is different.

The body, as we all know, has the capability to repair itself, and osteopathy is based on this principle.  As primary healthcare professionals, osteopaths have a broad base of training, allowing them to diagnose, treat and advise upon a wide range of conditions.  An osteopath will work to help your body return to normal function, using techniques such as movement, stretching, manipulation or deep tissue massage to help achieve the best outcome.

  • An osteopath will work with all of the muscles, joints and structures of the body, including the spine. Osteopaths use gentle, focused manipulation techniques to mobilise the spine and other structures and will continuously examine your body monitoring changes throughout treatment. A chiropractor will tend to focus on the spinal joints alone and use a quite different method of manipulation which some people may find more forceful.
  • Osteopaths tend to use a more hands-on and individualised approach to assessing and treating patients compared to physiotherapists. Osteopaths will seek to understand their patient in the context of their lifestyle, firstly by taking a full case history, and then using a combination of skilled observation and palpation to feel how well the body, including the muscles and joints, is functioning.  These all form an intrinsic part of developing a personalised treatment plan.

Some osteopaths specialise in many of the same areas as physiotherapists including breathing mechanics, rehabilitation and sports injuries.

Practitioners of all three disciplines vary in their treatment approaches and post qualification training, and may specialise in the treatment of specific patient groups or conditions. When seeking treatment you should discuss your symptoms and concerns with the practitioner, and be sure that their skills and treatment style will suit you.

What happens if I’m not happy with the care received in your clinic?
We work very hard to ensure we are providing excellent care, however, we realise that there may be occasions where a patient wishes to bring something to our attention. We would hate you to feel in any way awkward about this – it is important we know, so that we can address any problems and improve our services. Initially, please speak to your osteopath. If the complaint is against them, please contact Sharon Dempster or Paul Watson directly. We will take a note of your concerns and see that the appropriate action is taken.

Are all your Osteopaths registered?
All osteopaths in the UK are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).
We are required to renew our registration each year and the GOsC provide us with an annual licence to practise. As part of this process, the GOsC checks that we have current professional indemnity insurance, remain in good health and of good character, and have met the mandatory continuing professional development requirements.

Our title ‘osteopath’ is protected by law – it is against the law for anyone to call themselves an osteopath unless they are registered with the GOsC, who can, and do, prosecute individuals who practise as osteopaths when they are not on the GOsC Register.   The GOsC and its members want to promote a high standard of competency, conduct and safety.

You can look us up here.

What do the Statistics say?

Osteopathic profession

  • There are 5,110 osteopaths on the UK Statutory Register of Osteopaths. Of these, 2,536 are male and 2,574 are female [correct as of 1 October 2015].
  • The majority of osteopaths are aged between 31 and 50, although the profession includes all ages between 21 and 70.
  • Although osteopaths practise in all corners of the United Kingdom, the greatest number are to be found in England (4,371). The rest are in Scotland (159), Wales (135), Northern Ireland (24), and outside the UK (421).

Osteopathic training and professional development

  • Training to be an osteopath takes 4 years full-time or 5 years part-time. There are 11 osteopathic education institutions awarding qualifications recognised by the General Osteopathic Council.
  • Osteopaths must complete 30 hours of Continuing Professional Development per year.

Osteopathic patients

  • Around 30,000 people currently consult osteopaths every working day.
  • 54% of new patients are seen within one working day after contacting the osteopath; 95% are seen within one week.

Osteopathic treatment

  • Most osteopaths work in private practice. Treatment costs vary across the UK, but typically start at between £35 to £50 for a 30-minute session.
  • Osteopathy remains principally a form of private healthcare with more than 80% of patients funding their own treatment.
  • Most major private health insurance policies provide cover for osteopathic treatment. In 2007, private health insurance accounted for 10.4% of payments for osteopathic treatment.
  • Public opinion surveys show that 88% of respondents feel the NHS should provide osteopathic treatment, or believe that it is already doing so.

Sources: Statutory Register of Osteopaths; the GOsC Public Awareness Survey (2006) and the GOsC Osteopathic Practice Survey – Pilot Study (2006-07).



(1) – Assessing the risk of stroke from neck manipulation: a systematic review

M J Haynes, K Vincent, C Fischhoff, A P Bremner, O Lanlo, and G J Hankey
International Journal of Clinical Practice, Oct 2012, 66(10): 940-947