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.
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.
Based on evidence submitted to CAP prior to November 2016, the ASA and CAP accept that Osteopaths can claim to treat the following:
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 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
Minor sports injuries
Tension and inability to relax
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?
Are claims to treat babies, children and pregnant women acceptable?
The ASA 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.
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, including 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.
In 2017 the ASA ruled against an osteopath’s website which included a page titled “Infants and children”. The website stated that during consultations, parents expressed their concerns for their children in terms of symptoms or conditions including “inconsolable crying and distress, colic, reflux, unsettled child, poor feeding, wind, sleeping problems, glue ear, painful ears, breathing difficulties, nasal congestion, recurrent infections, poor concentration, disruptive behaviour, aggression, head pain, misshapen head, plagiocephaly, Down's syndrome”. The ASA considered the webpage would be understood to mean that osteopathic treatments could treat the listed symptoms and conditions in babies and children. It upheld the complaints on the grounds the marketer had not supplied documentary evidence to support the implied efficacy claims (Nicholas Handoll, 26 July 2017).
Similarly, in 2021 the ASA ruled on website claims that osteopathy (and cranial osteopathy) was an effective treatment for constipation and infections. The website also claimed that “birth caused stresses and strains to babies’ bodies which could be effectively treated by osteopathy or cranial osteopathy” and included multiple other treatment claims including “moulding that had not released, poor latching to the breast, irritability and behavioural issues, mucus build-up or scoliosis in babies”. The ASA upheld the complaints on the grounds the treatment claims were not supported by robust documentary evidence (Kane & Ross Clinics Ltd, 6 July 2022).
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.