Osteopathic medicine is mainly based on the theory that all of the body’s systems are connected. That’s why the focus is on treating the body as a whole instead of addressing individual physical issues in isolation. At present, there are over 114,000 Osteopathic practitioners in the US, with 1 in 4 medical students aspiring to become Osteopathic doctors soon.

The theory or idea behind Osteopathic medicine isn’t new. In fact, it dates back over a century, with founder Andrew Taylor Still hypothesizing that addressing issues with the body’s structure can help it heal on its own. Still was practicing during the Civil War era and mainly theorized that spinal issues lead to it sending nerve signals to all of the organs which make a person sick. That’s why he developed osteopathic manipulation treatments, which were meant to help restore normal bodily function by improving nerve health and promoting circulation. As a consequence of this approach, the body could heal itself.

Another idea or concept held by Osteopathic medicine doctors is that there are numerous diseases that can stem from issues associated with the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is comprised of the bones, nerves, and muscles. Osteopathic medicine doctors are trained to pay attention to how the body is working together to prevent and treat various health issues.

The so-called whole-body approach to Osteopathic medicine isn’t just about specific parts or perhaps symptoms. For instance, if you have knee pain, the doctor will examine more than just your knee.

Osteopathic medicine doctors believe that touch can heal. That’s why they are trained in osteopathic manipulative treatment, which is referred to as OMT or manual manipulation. The method helps to diagnose and treat various types of illnesses. However, not all Osteopathic medicine doctors use this as part of their regular practice. But it is a tool that’s used when and as needed.

What Training Does a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Receive?

The majority of students who apply to study at the Osteopathic medical school start by earning their bachelor’s degree, and then they may also be required to have a master’s degree. Many also apply with a doctorate.

The difference with osteopathic doctors’ training is that they receive extra instruction about the musculoskeletal system. That said, other aspects of their training are the same as modern medicine. In other words, they are taught more. That’s why they are licensed to prescribe medication, run tests, perform surgery, and do just about everything else a medical doctor can.

Once Osteopathic doctors complete 4 years of medical school, they need to do a residency in any area they want to specialize in. Like an MD, they can become a primary care doctor, dermatologist, cardiologist, or pediatrician.

Naturopathic vs. Osteopathic Doctors

Many people get confused between naturopathy and osteopathy, mainly because they sound similar. However, technically they are two different approaches. As the term hints, Naturopathic medicine offers natural remedies to heal the body.

Similar to Osteopathic doctors, naturopathic practitioners too are trained, but the training they receive will vary. Usually, Naturopathic doctors need to complete 4 years of graduate-level programs at a certified naturopathic medical school. However, naturopaths aren’t licensed because their training isn’t certified by the US Department of Education.

On the other hand, osteopathic doctors focus mainly on diagnosing the problem and treating it while prescribing surgery, medicine, and using technology. The goal of a naturopathic doctor is to heal the body using all-natural substances like water, herbs, food, etc. They may recommend making lifestyle changes like exercising and meditating to lower stress.

What Can An Osteopath Do For You?

An exam with a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) is similar to one with any other type of medical doctor in the US. As with most doctor visits, you will get a history and physical. However, the DO will also ask about your lifestyle, like what you eat, if you exercise, what exercise you do, and if you feel stressed, and if there are symptoms bothering you. Many DO’s perform osteopathic manipulation in their office to treat a variety of conditions as well.

The fact is that prevention is a major part of the osteopathic approach; that’s why DOs will advise you on how to help avoid injuries or various diseases moving forward. In addition, osteopathic physicians can also give vaccines that may be needed and even recommend a routine medical test such as a blood sugar test, mammogram, or screening for something.

Furthermore, your appointment with an Osteopathic doctor will be treated the same as it is with any other doctor by your Medicare provider or if you have private insurance.

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT)

The fundamental difference between a DO and an MD is that the prior will use osteopathic manipulative treatment or OMT, as it is called, to treat illnesses. DOs strongly believe that the tightness and restriction in the muscles and nerves lead to various other physical issues. That’s why the doctor will use their hands to move your joints and tissue to correct restrictions like if you have a problem with your range of motion.

DOs are trained to use around 40 techniques for myofascial release, soft tissue, osteopathic cranial manipulation, and muscle energy. Many people report that this natural treatment has helped them deal with pain and other issues without prescription medication. Many have also reported avoiding surgery. Speaking of pain, OMT is highly beneficial for treating muscle pain, but it can also treat many other issues like:

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Menstrual pain
  • Asthma
  • Sinus issues

Today, there are also many DOs that will treat earaches, colic, etc. At present, a relatively small number of studies have looked at using OMT in infants and children.

It is important to state that some people may feel sore a day or so after being treated. But there are no significant adverse effects associated with OMT. Currently, DO and MD practices are similar to conventional medicine. If you are interested in the OMT aspect for treatment of your ailments, check with your DO before making an appointment as not all DOs practice OMT routinely anymore.