What Is Osteopathic Medicine?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Osteopathic medicine focuses on treating the whole person. It combines traditional medicine and osteopathic manipulative medicine, which is a hands-on technique to prevent, diagnose, and treat injuries and illnesses. These techniques involve the use of stretching and pressure on your joints and muscles. Osteopaths receive additional training in how the body's bones, muscles, and nerves work together.

In some cases, osteopathic manipulative technique (OMT) can reduce or replace the need for drugs or surgery. Osteopaths use OMT to treat a variety of issues involving pain in the musculoskeletal system as well as other conditions. 

The philosophy of osteopathic medicine was developed in 1847 by Andrew Taylor Still, MD. He felt traditional medicine at the time didn’t work well. After 10 years of research and practice, he developed the osteopathic approach to focus on prevention and the whole patient. In 1892 he founded the first osteopathic medical school, the American School of Osteopathy. 

What Does an Osteopath Do?

Osteopaths are trained and licensed physicians who follow a whole-person approach to health and wellness. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) practice across all specialties, although many DOs focus on primary care. Osteopathic doctors can do anything an MD (Doctor of Medicine) can do. 

You may notice a slightly different approach to healthcare with a DO, since they treat the patient as an integrated whole instead of focusing on symptoms. However, DOs also get the same training MDs do and practice in the same areas. They work in acute care, primary care, and specialty clinics. 

Osteopaths may use osteopathic manipulative techniques to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. These techniques can be applied to all areas of the body to promote self-healing. They include moving muscles in a specific manner to relieve tension and pain. 

Education and Training

An osteopathic doctor has the same training as a medical doctor and must graduate from an osteopathic medical school. Next, osteopaths have to do a residency in their area of specialty. They must pass the same licensing exam as MDs do before they can treat patients and prescribe medication. The main difference between traditional and osteopathic training is that osteopathic medical schools require 300 hours of osteopathic manipulative medicine. 

Reasons to See an Osteopath

Osteopaths work in many different specialties, including anesthesiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, orthopedics, neurology, and proctology, as well as many others. If you’re having medical issues and are interested in a holistic treatment that focuses on prevention and wellness, you might benefit from seeing an osteopathic doctor. 

You can find DOs practicing in hospitals and independent practices in all 50 United States and around the world.

What to Expect at the Osteopath

If you’re visiting an osteopathic physician for the first time, you’ll discuss your medical and family history and any symptoms you may be having. The osteopath may give you an exam that moves your body so they can feel for any stiffness or tightness in your muscles or joints. Then the doctor will make a diagnosis and discuss a treatment plan with you. It may involve further appointments for manual manipulation as well as exercises you can do at home. 

If OMM isn’t the best treatment for your condition, your osteopathic doctor may prescribe medication or other treatments. 

WebMD Medical Reference



American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: "What is Osteopathic Medicine?"

American Osteopathic Association: "DO Education and Training."

American Osteopathic Association: "OMT: Hands-On Care."

American Osteopathic Association: "Specialties and Subspecialties."

The Institute of Osteopathy: "What to Expect From a Consultation."

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: "A Brief History of Osteopathic Medicine."

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: "Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine: Optimizing Patient-focused Health Care."

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.