Osteopathy—as distinct from osteopathic medicine—is a type of alternative medicine that emphasizes the physical manipulation of the body’s muscle tissue and bones. Its name derives from Ancient Greek “bone” (ὀστέον) and “disease of” (-πάθεια).
Osteopathy as practised in Europe and other countries around the world differs greatly in scope and approach from osteopathic medicine in the United States, where a branch of the medical profession called osteopathic physicians is trained and certified to practice all modern medicine. Elsewhere osteopaths are trained only in manual osteopathic treatment, generally to relieve muscular and skeletal conditions. In the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand osteopaths are registered and regulated by law as therapists but may not practice medicine (although Germany, like Canada, allows US-trained osteopathic physicians to practice). The two branches of osteopathic profession are distinct and function as separate professions.
Thus Britain’s National Health Service advises that, while there is “good” evidence for osteopathy as a treatment for low back pain and “limited evidence to suggest it may be effective for some types of neck, shoulder or lower limb pain and recovery after hip or knee operations”, there is no, or insufficient, evidence that osteopathy is effective as a treatment for health conditions unrelated to the bones and muscles, “such as headaches, migraines, painful periods, digestive disorders, depression and excessive crying in babies (colic)”; an explicit reference to the claims of osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopaths are not certified for medical practice in Britain, while European osteopaths are not allowed to practice in the USA lest they be mistaken for physicians who are still commonly called osteopaths there. Hence studies prepared in different countries must be applied with care in reference to one another.
Furthermore, although there have been several studies and data meta-analyses according to different criteria, research on osteopathic treatment is unable to employ double-blind, placebo-controlled trials since researchers are unable to blind both the practitioner and the patient.