Open Access Open Badges Research article

A profile of osteopathic practice in Australia 2010–2011: a cross sectional survey

Sharyn R Burke1*, Ray Myers1 and Anthony L Zhang2

Author Affiliations

1 Discipline of Osteopathy, School of Health Sciences, RMIT University, Plenty Rd, Bundoora, Australia

2 Discipline of Chinese Medicine, School of Health Sciences, RMIT University, Plenty Road, Bundoora, Australia

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:227  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-227

Published: 1 August 2013



There is limited evidence available to describe a profile of osteopathic practice in Australia. The purpose of this study was to describe the current activities of Australian osteopaths, using an internationally-developed standardised data collection tool.


A voluntary national paper-based survey using a modified UK-developed standardised data collection tool was distributed to and completed by osteopaths across Australia between June 2010 and June 2011.


Fifty four osteopaths participated in this study and returned a total of 799 patient records. Two thirds of patients were female, with a median age of 39 years and age range of 7 days - 89 years. Almost three quarters of people seeking osteopathic care were employed and the largest source of referral was by word-of-mouth.

The majority of presenting complaints were acute musculoskeletal in nature. Approximately 38% of patients presented with a coexisting condition; the highest incidences were found in the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, along with mental health disorders.

Main treatment approaches were soft tissue (22.3%), muscle energy technique (14.6%), articulation techniques (14.3%) and education/advice (11.9%). Improvement or resolution of the complaint was experienced by 96.2% of patients within a small number of treatments. Complications of treatment were minor and of low frequency.


In this study, Australian osteopaths mainly see patients with acute or sub-acute musculoskeletal problems which are predominantly spinal conditions. A significant proportion of these patients have one or more co-existing condition, largely of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, along with mental health disorders. The majority of patients have a significant improvement within few treatments, with infrequent and minor adverse events reported. These findings should be tested through multi-centred pragmatic trials of osteopathic practice.

Osteopathy; Osteopathic medicine; Cross-sectional survey; Scope of practice; Clinical presentations