It may not be as well known as some other forms of healthcare, but osteopathy has an important role to play in helping people to manage their health and wellbeing. It is one of 14 Allied Health Professions recognised by the NHS in England and offers a flexible and rewarding career for those interested in supporting the health of others.
So what do osteopaths do?
It is often said that osteopaths treat people, not problems. This is because they take a holistic approach to healthcare, looking beyond just the physical symptoms of a condition and using a range of approaches to promote the long-term health of patients.
Osteopaths consider the biological, psychological, and social factors that cause ill health and create a treatment plan tailored to an individual’s unique physiology and needs. This usually includes manual therapy, as well as advice around exercise, diet and lifestyle.
Osteopaths are highly trained professionals with particular expertise in the musculoskeletal system – the muscles, joints and their relationship with other systems of the body. Hands-on therapy by osteopaths helps to improve mobility, relieve tension, increase blood flow and optimise physical function. It includes manipulation of the joints, spine and connective tissues, as well as massage and stretching of muscles and ligaments.
Who do osteopaths treat?
People often visit osteopaths for back, neck, joint and muscle pain, for short-term issues such as sports injuries and for help with conditions such as migraines, headaches or digestive issues. But many patients visit osteopaths on a regular basis to help manage chronic conditions such as arthritis and to maintain their overall wellbeing. This is because osteopaths are highly people-focused, taking the time to understand every patient as an individual. Building long-lasting, health-improving relationships with patients is one of the pleasures of the profession.
"They take into consideration your lifestyle. I like the way they take time to find out about me to treat me and not just my pain." ~ osteopathy patient
What to expect from a career in osteopathy
For most osteopaths no two days are the same. Patients come from all walks of life with unique sets of circumstances, and for the osteopath the challenge and reward comes from working with a patient to support their individual needs.
Many osteopaths will work in general practice, seeing a wide variety of patients ranging from office workers to fitness enthusiasts, and expectant mothers to older people, but others choose to specialise in particular fields, working with children and babies or offering dedicated care for professional sportspeople.
Osteopathy is also a great option for those seeking a flexible career. Most osteopaths are self-employed, allowing them to shape their career around their personal commitments and interests and dictate their own working hours and earning potential. Others are employed within larger practices and occassionally the NHS, often working within multi-disciplinary teams. UK graduates also have lots of opportunities to practice abroad.
As well as building successful practices and careers as osteopaths in their communities, UCO graduates have gone on to work in the professional sports arena with British Cycling, GB Olympic and Paralympic athletes, professional football clubs, national rowing teams and in motor racing and develop and practice in humanitarian and community outreach organisations, including working with Medicin Sans Frontiers and providing osteopathy to communities in Tibet, Burma and Africa as well as in the UK.
Osteopathy at a glance
- Osteopathy is a regulated health profession, just like nursing and general practice. In the UK osteopaths must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) to legally work with patients.
- Registration with the GOsC is dependent on completing a recognised qualification such as the UCO's Master of Osteopathy undergraduate degree, which typically takes between 4-5 years to complete, and includes a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours.
- Osteopathy is one of 14 Allied Health Professions (AHPs), alongside physiotherapists, podiatrists, occupational therapists and diagnostic radiographers. AHPs are primarily concerned with managing and improving health and wellbeing so that their patients can live full and active lives, from birth to end-of-life.
- Once qualified, osteopaths can take any number of career paths. While most choose to be self-employed, others work in the NHS, in professional sports, with animals or in research and academia.
- The average income for established osteopaths in the UK is £44,750, with 11% earning in excess of £100K.
- Average income per role: Associate £31,360, Principal £59,360*
- There are currently 5,771 registered osteopaths in the UK, and 40% of these trained at the UCO.**