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“Part of our process is educating our patients and explaining to them exactly what’s going on and what it’s going to take for them to get better.” —Dr Matthew Cooper (Osteopath), President, Osteopathy Australia

Key points

  • Osteopaths (or osteos) take a whole-body approach to diagnosis and treatment. They can help you recover from acute injuries, such as a rolled ankle, or pain that builds up over time. They also focus on preventing injuries from occurring in the first place.
  • In a typical consultation, you’ll discuss your issue and your medical history, and your osteo will assess your movement. Following diagnosis, the osteo will treat the issue, which usually includes hands-on treatment.
  • Private health insurance can help to offset the cost of an osteo visit, with eligible Australian Unity health insurance customers able to claim between $100 and $300 per person per year, depending on their level of cover.

Injuries always seem to happen when you least expect it. Bending over to pick up an errant Lego block, the groceries or a sobbing toddler. Rolling your ankle on a Saturday-morning run. Or simply getting out of bed “the wrong way”.

Other times, issues build up slowly. We’re all guilty of spending too many hours hunched over a computer screen, for example.

No-one is invincible, but help—in the form of an osteopath—is at hand. Whether it’s joint stiffness, back pain, migraines or a sports injury, an osteopath can help you treat and prevent injuries from head to toe.

We spoke to the experts to learn more about the role of an osteopath and the simple things you can do—like moving more and making the most of your health insurance—to help you enjoy better health and wellbeing.

A whole-body approach

While physiotherapists focus on your function and movement, and chiropractors deal with the body’s mechanics, an osteopath (or osteo) takes a holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment.

“The difference is that an osteo is really focused on the person as a whole,” explains Dr Matthew Cooper (Osteopath), President of Osteopathy Australia. “It’s not just a person’s anatomy or musculoskeletal system, for example. It might be talking to them about all aspects of health, like mental health or social connections. We really do take a whole-body approach.”

This approach also means that an osteo may treat multiple parts of your body—not just the part that’s sore or injured.

As “manual therapists”, osteopaths work one-on-one with their clients—from babies to the elderly and everyone in between—to treat a range of musculoskeletal complaints, injuries and conditions. They need a degree to practice: all osteopaths are university-trained, government-registered healthcare professionals.

To understand whether an osteopath is the right healthcare professional for your needs, check out Osteopathy Australia’s Body Map, which provides a handy breakdown of what they treat.

When to visit an osteopath

The good news is that you don’t need a medical referral to visit an osteopath—so if you’re suffering, it’s time to make an appointment.

Muscle aches and pains are one reason to visit, but “most people seek out an osteopath after suffering an incidental injury,” says Matthew. “It might’ve happened around the house, or in the workplace, not just on the sporting field. If it’s an acute episode, we recommend seeing an osteo as soon as possible.”

If you’re looking to prevent those injuries from happening in the first place, then an osteopath is an integral part of your healthcare team. They’ll look for ways to help your body function at its best—like addressing lifestyle factors, or helping you prevent little niggles from becoming bigger problems.

Another example of when an osteo can help? Before you start training for a sporting event like a marathon, particularly if it’s your first time. “People come and visit us as a preventative measure to see if there’s any sort of problems—maybe in their feet or their legs, hips or knees—that may impede their training and affect their performance,” says Matthew.

Looking to make an appointment? Here’s a list of Australian Unity–recognised osteopaths.

What to expect from an osteopath appointment

Expect your first osteo consultation to take 30 to 60 minutes, advises Matthew. You’ll be asked about the problem you’re seeking treatment for, along with questions about your medical history to understand whether any medication or chronic illness could be affecting your body.

Next, a general assessment takes place. “We’ll take you through some movements to see what your movement capacity is,” says Matthew. “This might involve moving your back or hips in certain ways to see if we can reproduce that pain point in order to achieve an effective and accurate diagnosis.”

Once you’ve been diagnosed, your osteo will explain what treatments they’ll use. This typically includes hands-on treatment, such as soft tissue work, stretching, joint mobilisation and articulation. It may also incorporate some exercises and rehabilitation movements that will help you get into a pain-free state, or better manage the problem.

Whether you need one session or 10 will depend on the severity of your problem. “Part of our process is educating our patients and explaining to them exactly what’s going on and what it’s going to take for them to get better,” says Matthew.

The power of private health insurance

According to Shelby Dale, Product Manager of Retail (Health) at Australian Unity, the average cost of an osteopath consultation for Australian Unity members in 2023 was $79.95.

“But the good news is that Australian Unity’s health insurance cover can offset the cost of those visits, with members receiving either 60 percent back on osteopath appointments, or a set benefit per consultation,” says Shelby. Members requiring osteopathy can claim between $100 to $300 per person each year. And, like chiropractic, osteopathy is included in almost all Extras and Combination products.

Choosing the right osteo is important, says Shelby, because you need to feel comfortable that you’re in good hands. “We don’t have preferred providers for osteopathy, so our cover gives you the freedom to choose the best osteo for you as long as they are registered with Australian Unity. ”

Move it

Chiropractic and Osteopathy visits were Australian Unity’s fourth most-claimed service in 2023. The key issue causing that uptake? Our sedentary lifestyle. It may be a reality of modern working life, but it turns out we aren’t designed to sit for hours on end.

“As humans, we’re designed to move. The body thrives on movement. So when we stop, which often happens in our late 20s to 40s, we end up with things that creep up on us and all of a sudden become really acute for no apparent reason,” says Matthew. “People are always looking for reasons, but a lot of the time, it’s lifestyle factors [that cause pain].”

To reduce the risk of injury, Matthew suggests incorporating some form of movement into your everyday life. A good place to start? Getting up from your desk every 45 minutes and walking or stretching.

It’s simple advice, but it’s these sorts of changes that can help you to avoid needing to visit the osteopath at all. If you do find yourself concerned about your health, however, don’t suffer in silence—your osteo can help to get you back on track.


Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. All names and titles are correct at the time of interview.