Osteopaths are healthcare specialists that provide a niche form of complementary and alternative medicine that focuses on the muscular and skeletal systems in the human body.
The main objective of osteopathy is to treat and manipulate these systems, thereby facilitating overall health and wellbeing and treating illnesses and disorders of the circulatory, nervous and digestive systems.
This area of healthcare is driven by the principal that our bodies’ tissues, organs and organ systems are interconnected, and that problems in one area can have a domino effect on the rest of the body.
Osteopaths work with people of all age groups, from infants to elderly patients, providing relief for a variety of disorders and illnesses, such as colic, flexibility problems and back, neck and shoulder pain.
If you choose to work in this area, you’ll be examining patients, identifying areas of the body with problems and treating these problems through a structured process of palpation, massage, joint manipulation and stretching. You may also use specialist equipment such as ultrasound, spinal analysis machines and balance boards.
In addition to the hands-on treatment you provide, you’ll also be responsible for recommending overall lifestyle, dietary and exercise routines to prevent future problems. Furthermore, you’ll be monitoring improvements over the course of treatment and maintaining detailed records of your patients’ progress.
In the course of your professional life, you’ll frequently be working alongside other medical professionals, receiving and making referrals and combining other treatment plans and techniques to provide a single, holistic care plan for your patients.
Salary & benefits
The majority of osteopaths work on a freelance basis in a private practice and charge on an hourly or session-by-session basis, usually charging between £35 and £50 for an hour-long session.
Salaried osteopaths are typically new entrants, working as assistants with little or no experience. Salaries for these guys are usually around £15,000 to £18,500.
Osteopaths usually work between 45 and 50 hours a week, and may work some evenings and weekends to fit around their patients’ schedules.
Primarily, osteopaths’ practices are based in healthcare or medical facilities, exercise and fitness centres, high street practices, large pharmacies and their own homes.
Entry to the osteopathy profession is regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC), which also prescribes the eligibility requirements for enrolment in a recognised osteopathy course. At present, there are eight accredited schools offering a BSc or MSc in osteopathy.
If you are already a qualified physiotherapist, the course will only take about a year to complete, but otherwise it can take up to five years.
To get onto an osteopathy course, you will need five GCSEs (or equivalent), including English and maths, and a handful of A-levels (or equivalent) in science subjects (biology, chemistry, maths or physics). Candidates who have already done a relevant scientific, medical or healthcare-related degree are also eligible.
Finally, you will need to pass medical and fitness checks to register with the General Osteopathic Council.
Training & progression
Osteopaths typically work on a freelance basis and therefore training and development is predominantly self-initiated. However, the General Osteopathic Council and the British Osteopathic Association do offer courses, seminars and other training programmes for osteopaths that want to develop their skills and improve their treatment techniques.
Since most osteopaths are freelancers, career progression does not follow a predefined structure. As you progress, though, you may choose to specialise in a niche area of osteopathy, such as paediatrics or sports osteopathy. This will help you build up your client base and reputation in the industry, which, in turn, will increase your earning potential.