Legal framework | The International Academy of Osteopathy IAO

Legal framework

There are only a few countries in Europe that have a legal framework for osteopathy.


Belgium is one of the few countries in Europe to have passed a law in relation to osteopathy. In 1999 the Colla Law was approved by the Federal Parliament. Marcel Colla, the then Minister for Public Health, wanted to have practitioners of four non-conventional therapies, including osteopathy, registered. A law that, to our great regret, has still not been implemented. Committees of osteopaths, doctors, teachers and legal experts have spent years poring over the details. However, this procedure will take some time. By way of comparison: in Great Britain it was around 10 years before all aspects of osteopathy were regulated.


A second country with a law on the recognition of osteopathy is France. A framework law was passed there in 2001. In 2014 these laws were changed radically, and 2015 will be a crucial year. More than 70 osteopathy schools were given until 15/02/15 to adapt their curriculum to the new legislation. In June 2015 the French authorities will decide which schools are in line with the new legislation and which are not.

Great Britain

Great Britain was the first country in Europe where osteopathic medicine is fully recognised and regulated by law. There, osteopathy studies consist of a four- or five-year full-time course. This course can be followed at one of the five British schools, each of which works together with a university. The diploma is therefore validated by these universities. Among others, these schools include the renowned British College of Osteopathic Medicine (BCOM), with which the IAO works closely. Graduates in Great Britain are awarded a Bachelor Diploma in Osteopathy or in Osteopathic Medicine. To work as an osteopath, you must become a member of the General Osteopathic Council (GOSc), a public authority. In Great Britain, osteopathy is an independent medical discipline and not a specialisation within another medical discipline. Osteopaths diagnose and treat independently, without supervision or a referral from a medical doctor.


In May 2016, the Italian Senate voted a law which states that osteopathy is a health profession.

A procedure can now be started in Italy, to regulate the profile of the osteopath and the required studies. It will most likely take a few years before this procedure is executed.


Since May 2018 the osteopathic profession & osteopathy is regulated by law in Denmark.

How do things stand with the recognition of osteopathy in the rest of Europe?

The answer is paradoxical: as regards the training of osteopaths, the EU can influence things, but in terms of the practice of osteopathy in its Member States, the EU has no impact. The medical professions are the only exception to the principle of the free movement of persons within the EU.
In the future, therefore, laws and provisions for medical professions will remain under the sovereignty of the country. It is, however, possible, by harmonising training, to ensure similar professional standards within Europe. This may ultimately lead to freedom to carry on a profession across Member States' borders. However, this is a long and difficult road. In the beginning there was the Bologna Declaration in 1999, designed to harmonise studies in the various Member States. The Declaration rests on two essential pillars, the Bachelor-Master structure (BAMA) and the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). The first pillar brings uniformity to the final diplomas, which to date have varied from country to country. The second fixes the requirements for Bachelor (180 ECTS) and Master diplomas (120 ECTS). Only then can there be equivalence between the various final diplomas, which is a condition of recognition in other countries. In Belgium and the Netherlands almost all universities and colleges now operate according to the Bachelor and Master structure, based on the ECTS system (coefficient of contact hours, examinations and individual preparation). It is, however, impossible to assess the quality of a course by only reference to the number of teaching hours. Too many questions remain unanswered:

  •     How competent are the teachers?
  •     What is the quality of the courses?
  •     Which teaching tools are used?
  •     How good are the syllabuses?
  •     Is there external quality control?
  •     What value does the diploma obtained have?
  •     Is the training in accordance with the Bologna Declaration?
  •     Etc.

And what is the situation like in non-EU countries?

On 7 June 2016, Switzerland adopted a law that acknowledges osteopathy as a health profession as well as providing for a master´s degree to become an osteopath.

After the Council of States, on 7 June 2016 the Swiss National Council approved - by a vote of 181 to 5 - a new law aimed at improving the quality of the care and safety of patients. This is a new evolution for osteopathy in Switzerland, after recognition of the profession by the protection of the title of osteopath since 1 January 2013. This new law introduces a directory of the health professions, on the model of that of the medical professions which already lists the doctors, dentists, chiropractors, pharmacists and veterinarians.
Concerning osteopathy, in accordance with the opinions of the Federal Council and the Council of States, the National Council decided that osteopathy will now benefit from a master’s level training. The definition of clear and uniform competencies should also permit recognition of foreign degrees and encourage intercantonal mobility.



More than ten years ago the IAO began adapting its curriculum to the ECTS system, in accordance with the requirements of the Bologna Declaration, and offering a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Osteopathic Studies and a Master of Science in Osteopathy (MSc. Ost.).
Since 1997 the IAO has had an ISO 9001 certificate and is monitored academically by Buckinghamshire New University and the University of Applied Sciences Tyrol (fhg). Students have the right to participate and cooperate in internal quality controls through the class representatives and annual surveys.
The training at the IAO is recognised by all European professional associations and also entitles graduates to practice osteopathy in Europe.