Careers in Medicine in Africa: Osteopathic Physician


By: Rukhsar Jabbar. M.Sc. Physiotherapy. Freelance Health Writer and Datelinehealth Africa (DLHA) volunteer. Medical review and editorial support provided by the DLHA Team.

A black Osteopathic Physician

A black Osteopathic Physician



What is Osteopathy?


Osteopathy or Osteopathic Medicine is a form of medical practice that emphasizes the body's natural ability to heal itself and maintain balance. It involves techniques like tissue manipulation and bone adjustment to aid in the healing process [1].


In simpler terms, osteopathy involves using movement, stretching, and massage to address health issues related to muscles and joints [4].


Osteopathic medicine aims to support the body's self-healing capacity, guided by four core principles [1]:

1. The body is a unified entity, encompassing the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects.

2. The body can regulate itself, heal, and maintain health.

3. The structure and function of the body are interconnected.

4. Effective treatment is based on understanding and applying these first three principles.


A significant aspect of osteopathic practice involves paying close attention to both the patient and their body. This involves understanding somatic dysfunction and mastering physical diagnosis skills taught in osteopathic schools. Consequently, osteopathic training equips physicians with enhanced abilities in active listening from the start of their medical careers. Although osteopaths receive similar training to allopathic physicians, they also learn additional techniques such as osteopathic manipulative treatments (OMTs) and emphasize compassionate care to address the patient's overall well-being rather than solely focusing on treating specific organs [1].



Who is an Osteopathic Physician?


An Osteopathic physician is one that is trained in and practices Osteopathic Medicine or Osteopathy.


Osteopathy is a complimentary hands-on therapy that aims to enhance overall health by manipulating and strengthening the body's musculoskeletal system without the use of medicines or surgery. They focus on joints, muscles, and the spine to positively influence the nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems [6].


In the United States, however, Osteopathic Physicians are licensed to practice medicine as Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and can issue prescriptions and undertake limited surgical procedures to support their holistic manual treatment. Many Osteopathic Physicians function as primary care physicians in fields such as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. [6]



What conditions can an Osteopathic Physician treat?


Many individuals consult osteopathic physicians for care with conditions affecting muscles, bones, and joints, including:

  • Lower back pain.
  • Headache.
  • Nerve related pain (neuralgia).
  • Non-traumatic neck pain (excluding whiplash-related neck pain).
  • Shoulder and elbow discomfort (e.g., tennis elbow).
  • Foot, ankle, hip, and knee pain.
  • Neck pain, and sciatica
  • Arthritis.
  • Issues with the pelvis, hips, and legs.
  • Sports injuries.
  • Muscle and joint discomfort related to activities like driving, work, or pregnancy.
  • Digestive issues.


If you're pregnant, it's advisable to consult with a GP or midwife regarding your symptoms before seeking treatment from an osteopath. Additionally, ensure that you visit an osteopath specializing in muscle or joint pain during pregnancy. [4]



What are Osteopathic techniques?


An Osteopathic physician's goal is to enhance joint function and stability, aiding the body's natural healing processes. They employ manual techniques, applying a blend of gentle and firm methods tailored to each patient and their specific symptoms. These techniques may involve:

  • Massage to relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation.
  • Gentle stretching to increase flexibility in stiff joints.
  • Articulation, guiding joints through their natural movements.
  • High-velocity thrusts, quick and precise movements applied to the spine, often resulting in a cracking sound akin to knuckle cracking.[3]


These methods aim to alleviate pain, enhance mobility, and promote better blood circulation. Osteopathic treatment typically isn't painful, though it's common to experience some soreness or stiffness in the days following, especially if you're addressing a painful or inflamed injury. Your osteopath will discuss any potential reactions you might experience, so it's important to communicate any discomfort during or after the session.


You may receive guidance on self-care techniques and exercises to aid in your recovery and prevent symptoms from recurring or worsening. Initial appointments generally last about 45 minutes to an hour, with subsequent sessions lasting around 30 minutes. The duration of your treatment will be determined by the nature and severity of your symptoms. [3]



What can I expect during an Osteopathic session?


During your initial osteopathy appointment, the practitioner will inquire about your symptoms, overall health, and any ongoing medical treatments. Following this, a physical examination will be conducted, during which the osteopath will use their hands to assess for areas of weakness, tenderness, stiffness, or strain in your body, with particular focus on the spine.


You may need to partially expose the area, and simple movements might be requested. Afterward, you'll have the opportunity to discuss whether osteopathy can address your issue and, if so, what the treatment plan entails.


Osteopaths are skilled at recognizing when a patient requires a referral to a general practitioner or further diagnostic tests, such as MRI scans or blood tests, to aid in diagnosis. [3]


What are the risks of Osteopathy?


Like any treatment, osteopathy carries some risks. 


It's typical for patients to feel stiff, similar to after exercising, for about 24 to 48 hours following treatment. Some may experience temporary headaches. In older patients, less common side effects might include severe pain, rib fractures (especially for those with osteoporosis), numbness, or tingling.


If any of these occur, the patient needs to discuss them with their osteopath or physician.


In more serious cases, emergency medical attention may be necessary. These severe effects can include stroke, prolapsed disk, pain spreading to a limb, nerve damage, muscle weakness, or bladder and bowel issues. While most of these risks are rare, patients should be aware of them before starting treatment. [6]



Is an Osteopathic Physician the same as a Chiropractor?


Chiropractors can address back issues as well, but they tend to concentrate more on the alignment of the spine and joints to enhance nerve function and promote healing. They often employ techniques like joint popping or cracking, which is less common among Osteopathic Physicians.

Chiropractors typically target specific problem areas, while Osteopaths take a holistic view of the body. It's worth noting that an Osteopathic physician, who is a medical doctor, undergoes specialized training in this increasingly popular approach to healing and well-being. [6]



Education & Training of Osteopathic Physician in Africa


Individuals undertake a four or five-year medical degree along with rigorous clinical training. This comprehensive education allows practitioners to diagnose, treat, and when necessary, refer patients for imaging, testing, and specialized care. Unfortunately, South Africa and many other African countries currently lack osteopathy training programs, so all Osteopaths registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA) have received training in the UK or Europe [2].



Salaries of Osteopathic Physicians in Africa


In South Africa, the typical gross salary for an Osteopathic Physician is R1,355,698 (USD $72,914.05) per year, which equals about R652 ($35.07) per hour. On top of this, they usually receive an average bonus of R96,797($5,206.07). These salary figures are based on data collected from employers and anonymous employees.


For those just starting with 1-3 years of experience, the average salary is around R904,182 ($48,629.98), while more experienced osteopaths with 8 or more years of experience typically earn an average of R1,832,013 ($98,531.89). [5]





In summary, becoming an Osteopathic Physician in Africa requires extensive education and training. Aspiring OsteopathicPhysicians undergo a thorough four or five-year medical degree program coupled with rigorous clinical training. This comprehensive training enables practitioners to effectively diagnose, treat, and refer patients for additional imaging, testing, or specialized care when necessary. However, due to the absence of osteopathy training programs in South Africa and many other African countries, all registered Osteopathic Physicians with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA) for example have completed their training in the UK or Europe. This underscores the importance of addressing the need for local osteopathy education programs to meet the increasing demand for osteopathic care within Africa.




1. Roberts A, Harris K, Outen B, Bukvic A, Smith B, Schultz A, et al. Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine: A Brief Review of the Hands-On Treatment Approaches and Their Therapeutic Uses. Medicines (Basel) [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 May 6]; 9(5):33. Available from:

2. Osteopathic Association of South Africa. Training as an osteopath. [Internet, n.d.]. Cited 2024 May 6. Available from:

3. NHS UK. Osteopathy - How it’s performed. [Internet. Last reviewed 2021 Aug. 9]. Cited 2024 May 7. Available from:

4. NHS UK. Osteopathy [Internet. Last reviewed 2021 Aug. 9]. Cited 2024 May 7. Available from:

5. Salary Experts. Osteopath Salary South Africa [Internet, n.d.]. Cited 2024 May 7. Available from:

6. Felman, A. Everything you need to know about Osteopathy. Medical News Today. [Internet. Last reviewed 2017 June 22]. Cited 2024 May 7. Available from:



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Published: May 8, 2024

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