The Osteopathic Approach to Pain Relief

We often take medicine to deal with pain, but there are other ways to get relief.

Osteopathic doctors practice a whole-body approach to health care. These are DOs -- for "doctors of osteopathic medicine” -- instead of MDs, or medical doctors. Both are fully licensed to practice medicine, but DOs have a slightly different approach. Instead of focusing on symptoms, like pain, they look at the whole person.

Osteopathic medicine considers how your body’s systems -- things like nerves, muscles, bones, and organs -- are related. It looks at how one part of the body affects another. DOs want to know what you eat or how you sleep so they can learn how those things -- and other aspects of your lifestyle -- may affect your health.

When You See a DO for a Routine Visit

It's likely you’ll have a complete physical, even if only one part of your body hurts. He’ll ask you lots of questions about what is going on in your life, everything from your diet, to your family life, to your sleep habits. He’ll learn about any changes that may affect your overall health.

The key belief is that this holistic approach will help uncover and address everything that could be contributing to your symptoms. The hope is that this will foster the body’s natural ability to heal itself and remain healthy.

Techniques DOs Use

One method often used by DOs is called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). Your doctor will use his hands to move your muscles and joints with stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance.

He’ll look for areas that hurt to help him diagnose problems. This "healing touch" can also help prevent problems and make you feel better right away. Some find that this natural treatment helps in place of drugs or surgery for some conditions.

The osteopathic belief is that OMT improves circulation, which may help trigger the body’s power to heal.

Some DOs use OMT to treat many types of illness and pain. It's often used to treat muscle pain, but it can be used to help treat a wide range of health problems, including:

  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Sports injuries
  • Repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Some headaches, including migraines
  • Asthma
  • Sinus problems
  • Menstrual pain

Because OMT may involve gentle pressure, stretching, and moving restricted joints, you may feel soreness for a day or two after the treatment.  There are usually no other side effects.

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Osteopathic Medicine as a Part of Treatment

Sometimes, your doctor might suggest a blend of osteopathic medicine and other treatments. Along with OMT, for example, he might recommend lifestyle changes like:

  • More exercise
  • A healthier diet
  • Better sleep habits
  • Stress relief

Depending on the type of pain and its cause, your doctor may also recommend one or more of the following treatments, as well:

  • Medicine
  • Physical therapy
  • Behavioral therapy or counseling
  • Procedures such as nerve blocks or other injections
  • Surgery

But OMT can lower the amount of medicine you'll have to take.

With osteopathic medicine, your doctor will look at what's going on in your body and in your life and work with you to come up with a treatment plan.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on November 25, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Piedmont Healthcare: "Your doctor: The difference between an M.D. and D.O."

Michigan State University, College of Osteopathic Medicine: "About Osteopathic Medicine."

American Osteopathic Association: "What is Osteopathic Medicine?" "Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment," "Chronic Knee Pain."

Cleveland Clinic: "Osteopathic Manipulation."

Chila, A. Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.

Lee-Wong, M. Journal of Allergy & Therapy, April 20, 2011.

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