What Is Osteopathic Medicine?

With its big focus on preventing health problems, this field of medicine is on the rise. Never heard of it? You’ll want to get to know it, because there’s a chance that a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) will help take care of you.

One of the keys to this field is the idea that many diseases are due to, or cause, problems within the body's musculoskeletal system, which includes the 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.

It’s hands-on. Osteopathic doctors believe that 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.

But there's more to it than that. 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.

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

It’s on the rise. There are more than 108,000 DOs in the U.S. And more than 1 in 4 U.S. medical students are on the path to becoming a DO.

But it’s not new. 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, the aim of which was to help restore the nerves to a healthy state and promote circulation so that the body could heal itself.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on November 26, 2018



American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: "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?"

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."

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