Osteopathy and its history - Part 2

R. L. Grech B.Sc. (Hons.) Ost. (UK) - Registered Osteopath

The General Osteopathic Council in the UK defines osteopathy as follows:

‘Osteopathy is an established, recognised system of diagnosis and treatment which lays its main emphasis on the structural and functional integrity of the body. It is distinctive by the fact that it recognises that much of the pain and disability which we suffer stems from abnormalities in the function of the body’s structure as well as damage caused to it by disease.’

Osteopathy is distinct and is not related to Physiotherapy or any other healthcare profession. It is not a specialisation of medicine and is a complete system of healthcare in itself. Contrary to common perception, it does not pertain only to problems in bones but rather, it focuses on the bony structure of the human body as one of the possible factors leading to disease.

Osteopathy’s main concept is that the body has innate mechanisms to heal itself. The job of the osteopath is to identify dysfunctions in the mechanical system of the body which may be compromising this ability, thus restoring a better capacity to deal with disease.

Osteopathy has evolved differently in the US and is different from that in Europe: in the US, Osteopathic Physicians are fully fledged physicians with prescription rights. In Europe, Osteopaths are highly skilled manual practitioners and do not prescribe medicine or perform surgery. In Europe, therefore, Osteopaths rely on manual techniques only and often complement the work of standard medicinal care.

Regulation and recognition

Osteopathy is regulated throughout Europe and this is increasingly being emphasised. Registration ensures patient protection by allowing only individuals who have fulfilled the minimum academic requirements to become an osteopath. Osteopathy is regulated under Maltese law by the Council for Professions Complementary to Medicine and it is illegal for someone to use the title ‘Osteopath’ unless he/she is registered.


There are eleven teaching institutions in the UK alone, offering education in Osteopathy. The minimum standard is a Bachelor of Science degree and is now upgraded to an integrated Masters, typically of 4-5 years duration.

Osteopaths need to clock a minimum of 1000 hours of supervised clinical practice within a specially set up osteopathic clinic in order to obtain their qualification. In these 1000 hours, students are exposed to primary care consultations involving all members of the population: from newborn infants, pregnant women, the elderly, sports people, children and adults.

A referral is not needed to see an Osteopath. Osteopaths are fully trained to diagnose, and will refer to a specialist when necessary.

What conditions do they treat?

Osteopaths focus on the treatment of the person, not the condition. Every individual is different, so in Osteopathy there may not be a recipe for every ailment, but rather, a tailor made approach to the individual. Common complaints include lower back pain and ‘sciatica’, neck pain and tension headaches, repetitive strain injuries and occupational injuries. Patients may range from newborn babies, to sportspeople and the elderly.

Some osteopaths tend to specialise, for example in the treatment of infants and children (paediatrics). They may be particularly helpful in managing colic in babies, and there are currently ongoing clinical trials to investigate the efficacy.

Is it safe?

Osteopaths are required to undergo a series of clinical competence exams in order to be issued a warrant to practice the profession; therefore they need to be highly trained in diagnosis in order to identify patients in need for further tests or evaluation. Some may be concerned that one should need to visit the doctor first. Whilst it is always advisable to keep in close contact with your GP, one can safely see an osteopath directly, as treatment would not be performed in cases where the examination warrants referral to another professional.

It is very important to keep in mind that only Osteopaths registered with the Council for Professionals Complementary to Medicine (CPCM) in Malta or another regulatory council in the respective country are ones who satisfy the criteria above. It is not advisable to visit any healthcare professional if you are not sure of the qualifications and license to practice.


  • Hayden C, Mullinger B. (2006) A Preliminary assessment of the impact of cranial osteopathy for the relief of infantile colic.Complement TherClinPract. May;12(2):83-90.
  • General Osteopathic Council Website: http://www.osteopathy.org.uk/home/
  • Osteopathy Malta website www.osteopathymalta.com
  • Robert L. Grechinfo@osteopathymalta.com