What is an Osteopath? Everything You Need to Know

What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a non-invasive form of manual therapy that aims to improve the health of all the body systems. Osteopaths use a range of hands-on Osteopathic techniques to achieve and promote health in the body and take a holistic approach to the treatment and management of your injury and symptoms.

As Osteopaths, our focus is on the musculoskeletal system, which is made up of the muscles, joints and the spine. An Osteopathic approach to treatment is to focus on the musculoskeletal system with the aim to improve the function of the body’s nervous system, circulatory system and lymphatic system so our bodies can function at their optimal capabilities and promote health and healing of the body.

Osteopathy was developed in the 19th Century by an American physician, Andrew Taylor Still. Dr Andrew believed in the treatment of a variety of diseases with the manipulation of the musculoskeletal system sparing patients the negative side-effects of drugs, this linking to the a principle of Osteopathy the body has self healing mechanisms; promoting the natural healing capabilities of the human body. The name ‘Osteopathy’ comes from two greek roots osteon – bone and pathos – for suffering.  The name Osteopathy reiterates the theory that disease and physiological dysfunction can be found in the musculoskeletal system.

Osteopathic medicine is based on four principles that encourage a holistic approach to treatment. The four Osteopathic principles are:

The body as a single unit:

The first principle of osteopathy is the human body is a unit and no part functions independently. Abnormality of a structure or function in one part of the body may have a disadvantageous influence on other parts of the body.

The body has self regulating mechanisms:

The second principle of Osteopathy is the body has the capacity to maintain its own health and to heal itself. Still believed the body has all it needs to either be healthy or that it needs to overcome illness. The role of the Osteopath is to utilize the body’s self healing mechanisms to overcome disease and maintain health.

Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated:

The third principle of Osteopathy is structure and function are interrelated. This means that the musculoskeletal system can mirror changes in other body systems as well as may also produce changes in other body systems.

Rational treatment is based on the first three principles:

The fourth principle of Osteopathy is the rationale to treatment is based on the first three Osteopathic principles.

What Do Osteopaths treat?

Osteopathy focuses on the musculoskeletal system, which is made up of the muscles, joints and the spine. Osteopaths can provide relief and treatment on a wide range of conditions. Osteopaths treat people of all ages this includes; seniors, adults, school aged children, pregnant women and everyone in between. Osteopathy may help you with a wide range of conditions and symptoms from head to toe, some of the reasons why people may go to see their local Osteopath are for:

  • Foot pain, ankle pain, hip pain and knee pain
  • Back pain, neck pain and sciatica
  • Shoulder pain, hand pain, elbow pain, wrist pain
  • Headaches
  • Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow
  • Sports injuries
  • Postural issues
  • Jaw pain
  • Muscular sprains and strains
  • Scoliosis and Low back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Workplace injuries
  • Repetitive strain injuries (RSI)

Osteopathic treatments and interventions may vary from person to person due to everyone’s conditions and injuries being unique to them. Your Osteopath will assess your presenting complaint, for example neck or back pain and provide you with a personalised treatment plan for your  specific reason for your Osteopathic treatment. When treating your Osteopath may include a combination of manual therapy, exercise prescription, movement advice, lifestyle advice and education/advice on your condition or injury.

Manual Therapy

Osteopaths have a large range of hands-on techniques that they may use to treat your condition. Osteopaths may use a combination of hands on Osteopathic techniques during your consultation. These include soft tissue massage, joint articulation, muscle energy techniques, stretching, HVLA -high velocity low amplitude, manipulation, taping or dry needling.

Your Osteopath will determine  a management plan for you to help you recover, reduce pain and get long term relief from your symptoms. To do so your Osteopath will consider external factors that may be having an affect on your symptoms or condition to determine a management plan specific to your circumstances. This may be in the form of exercise prescription, movement advice, lifestyle advice, education/advice on your condition or injury and ergonomic advice.

How are Doctors of Osteopathy trained in Australia?

Osteopathy as a profession is a well established allied health service in Australia. Osteopathy has been practiced in Australia for over 100 years.

All Osteopaths in Australia must be registered with the Australian health practitioner regulation agency (AHPRA) and may be a member of an osteopathic association. Osteopaths in Australia are University-level trained. Osteopaths trained in Australia complete 4.5 to 5 years full time study at University. Every year Osteopaths complete a minimum number of hours of continuing professional development (CPD) to keep up to date with the latest research and health news to provide you with the most up to date research and evidence to care of their patients.

Osteopathic practitioners mainly work in private practice, however you may also find Osteopaths practice in a range of other professional settings. These may include aged care facilities, sport clubs, medical clinics, health clinics or research.

What will happen at my initial consultation?

On your first visit your Osteopath will introduce themselves to you and begin a conversation about the reasons for your visit. They will take a thorough case history and ask you questions about your current symptoms or injury, medical history, any medications you are taking or other factors related to your health and wellbeing that may be related to your concerns. This allows your osteopath to get a full picture of what may be causing your symptoms and other factors that may be influencing them, beginning the process of coming up with a treatment plan specific to you and your condition.

During the examination your Osteopath will go through a range of tests to help determine how to best treat and manage your condition. This may  include orthopaedic testing,  neurological testing, movement testing or postural assessments. During your examination your Osteopath may take you through some passive and active ranges of movement to examine the general movement and function of the area and how your musculoskeletal system function on a day to day basis. To ensure that the examination being performed can be achieved efficiently it is asked that you wear comfortable and appropriate clothing that will not restrict your movement.

Osteopaths take a holistic approach to treatment and doing so may assess areas of your body that aren’t specific to where you are experiencing your symptoms. For example if you come in with lower back pain your Osteopath may assess and treat your lower back as well as your pelvis, hips, knee and ankle as dysfunction in these areas may be related to you presenting complaint. Keeping in mind the first principle of Osteopathy ‘the body as a single unit’, sometimes we experience pain, discomfort or stiffness as a consequence of a body compensating with a previous injury or postural issue and it is your Osteopath’s job to identify this through your examination.

Your Osteopath can provide a large range of hands-on manual therapy techniques. This may include soft tissue massage to your muscles, joint or spinal articulation, muscle energy techniques, stretching, manipulation, taping and dry needling. In conjunction with hands-on treatment your osteopath may also prescribe exercises to do at home or work, ergonomic advice and lifestyle advice to compliment your in person treatment.

Do you need a referral to see an Osteopath?

Osteopaths are primary health providers meaning you do not need a referral from your general practitioner (GP) or other medical specialist to book in for an Osteopathic Treatment.

Your GP may refer you to an Osteopath if they believe your condition will benefit from Osteopathic treatment. If your GP has diagnosed you with a chronic condition you may also be eligible for a Chronic Disease Management (CDM) plan. If you are eligible for the CDM plan, your GP may write you a referral under this plan.

What is the difference between an Osteopath, Physiotherapist and a Chiropractor?

Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and Chiropractors are all allied health practitioners that use manual therapy for the diagnosis and treatment of many conditions and symptoms. They are registered under the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Association (AHPRA), are tertiary educated and complete ongoing continuing professional development (CPD). In many ways Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and Chiropractors are very different however they also do have their similarities.

The aim of Physiotherapy is to improve the function and movement of their patients. Physiotherapists use hands on techniques and exercise prescription to help a patient with their injuries. Physiotherapists work in a range of medical settings including hospitals where they may work with spinal injury, post surgery, stroke patients or a patient with cardiac problems to name a few.

Chiropractors believe that illness originates from the nervous system. Therefore their treatment is focused on the spine using manual adjustment and/or spinal manipulation (cracking), aimed at achieving health of the nervous system. Chiropractors may also prescribe exercises to be done at home.

Osteopaths take a holistic approach to treatment and assessment of the joints and muscles of the human body as well as the spine. Osteopaths use a range of hands-on techniques such as soft tissue massage, joint articulation, muscle energy techniques, stretching, manipulation, taping and dry needling. Osteopaths in conjunction with hands-on treatment may also give you exercise based rehab, ergonomic advice, postural advice and lifestyle advice to compliment your treatment.

Osteopaths, Physiotherapist and Chiropractors address similar presentations and injuries, the main difference between these health professions is how the treatment and management are approached. When choosing between Osteopathy, Physiotherapy or Chiropractic for treatment for your presentation it can be a very personal choice and can be dependent on what works for you personally.


Our Osteopath at Pillar Health wants to get you back to doing what you love as quickly as possible. Your treatment is likely to include a combination of hands on treatment as well as at home exercise, postural advice,  taping, or ergonomic advice. You do not need a referral to make an Osteopathy appointment.

You can make an Osteopathy appointment at Pillar Health by calling the clinic on (03) 8899 6277 or online via our website.