Osteopathic Medicine

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 11, 2020

What Is Osteopathic Medicine?

Osteopathic medicine is based on the idea that all the body’s systems are interrelated. Osteopaths focus on treating the whole person. There are more than 114,000 DOs in the U.S. And more than 1 in 4 U.S. medical students are on the path to becoming a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).

Osteopathic medicine dates back more than 100 years. Its founder, Andrew Taylor Still, thought that correcting problems with the body's structure could help the body heal itself. Still, who practiced during the Civil War, believed that spine problems can send nerve signals out to all the organs and make you sick. He developed osteopathic manipulation treatments  with a goal of restoring the nerves to a healthy state and promoting circulation so the body could heal itself.

One key idea in this field is that many diseases result from, or cause, problems within the body's musculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, muscles, and bones. DOs pay extra attention to how all your body parts work together in order to prevent or treat health issues. And they get special training in that.


Osteopathic medicine is about your whole body, not just specific parts or symptoms. So if you come in with, say, knee pain, they’re likely going to look at more than your knee.

Osteopathic doctors believe touch can be healing. All DOs are trained in osteopathic manipulative treatment, sometimes called manual manipulation or OMT. That's a hands-on method to help diagnose and treat illnesses. Not all DOs use it regularly in their practice, though.

How Are Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine Trained?

Most students who apply to osteopathic medical school first earn a bachelor’s degree and many also have a master’s degree or doctorate. 

Osteopathic doctors get extra training in the musculoskeletal system. But they also learn all the other parts of modern medicine. They can prescribe medication, do surgery, run tests, and do everything else you would expect from a doctor.

Osteopathic vs. Naturopathic Practitioners

While osteopathy and naturopathy may sound similar, they’re different. Naturopathic medicine is a system that uses natural remedies to heal your body.


Like DOs, naturopathic practitioners are trained, but the type of training varies. Naturopathic doctors complete a 4-year graduate-level program at a naturopathic medical school. Naturopaths aren’t licensed and take training programs that aren’t certified by the U.S. Department of Education.  

DOs focus on hands-on diagnosis and treatment along with prescription medicine, surgery, and technology. A naturopathic practitioner’s goal is to heal you through natural substances like food, herbs, and water, plus lifestyle changes such as exercise and lowering your stress.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: ”General Admission Requirements,” "What is Osteopathic Medicine?"

American Association of Medical Colleges: "Results of the 2015 Meical School Enrollment Survey."

American Osteopathic Association: "About Osteopathic Medicine," "Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment," "What is a DO?" “What is Osteopathic Medicine?”

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine: "The DO Difference," "DO Education and Training," "Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment."

Indiana University Bloomington: "Two Kinds of Physicians: Allopathic and Osteopathic."

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Osteopathy."

Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges: “The Difference Between a Traditional Naturopath and a Licensed Naturopathic Doctor in North America.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Naturopathy.”

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