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Health: Osteopathy

Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.

What is Osteopathy?

Osteopaths are trained in therapeutic approaches that are suitable for a broad range of individuals, including pregnant women, children and babies. Osteopathic care is delivered through a range of interventions which may include onward referral, health management advice, manual therapy, exercise therapy and others. Osteopaths adapt their therapeutic approach depending on the individual needs of the patient and their presenting complaint. Manual therapy techniques employed may include articulation and manipulation of joints and soft tissues.

Osteopaths have been regulated by statute since 1993 by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) and may refer to conditions for which medical supervision should be sought if they hold convincing evidence of the efficacy of their treatments.

Which medical conditions can osteopaths claim to treat?

Based on evidence submitted to CAP prior to November 2016, the ASA and CAP accept that Osteopaths can claim to treat the following:

Arthritic pain
Circulatory problems
Cramp
Digestion problems
Fibromyalgia
Frozen shoulder/ shoulder and elbow pain/ tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) arising from associated musculoskeletal conditions of the back and neck, but not isolated occurrences
Headache arising from the neck (cervicogenic)
Joint pains
Joint pains including hip and knee pain from osteoarthritis as an adjunct to core OA treatments and exercise
General, acute & chronic backache, back pain (not arising from injury or accident)
Generalised aches and pains
Inability to relax
Lumbago
Migraine prevention
Minor sports injuries and tensions
Muscle spasms
Neuralgia
Inability to relax
Rheumatic pain
Sciatica
Uncomplicated mechanical neck pain (as opposed to neck pain following injury i.e. whiplash)

If marketers use different medical terms to describe one of the above conditions, they may be asked to provide evidence to demonstrate that this description is generally agreed to have the same meaning as that approved condition. 

Which medical conditions can osteopaths not claim to treat?

Any conditions that are not reflected above are likely to be problematic unless the marketer holds robust clinical evidence to support their claims.

Are claims to treat babies, children and pregnant women acceptable?

As regulated health professionals, osteopaths may refer to treating specific population groups such as pregnant women, children and babies. However, at present there is a limited or negative evidence base for the effectiveness of osteopathy in treating conditions specific to those groups, such as colic or morning sickness.

Consequently, references to treatment for symptoms and conditions that are likely to be understood to be specific to babies, children or pregnant women are unlikely to be acceptable unless the marketer holds a robust body of evidence.  

Where an adequate evidence base has been established for the efficacy of osteopathic treatment for particular conditions in the general population, claims that do not materially depart from those already deemed acceptable by CAP and which describe interventions that are consistent with osteopathic practice, are likely to be acceptable.

The ASA has recently carried out a review of advertising claims in relation to the treatment of babies, children and pregnant women using osteopathy which explains in more detail the types of claims (including phraseology) that are likely to be acceptable and those that are not. Osteopathy: ASA review and guidance for marketing claims for pregnant women, children and babies.

Can I call myself a “Doctor”?

Claims such as “Dr” and “Doctor” are likely to be understood to mean that the Osteopath holds a general medical qualification.  As such, Osteopaths not holding such a qualification should avoid references to “Dr” or claims that are likely to have the same meaning.      

Updated on 2 December 2016.

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