Osteopathic Medicine

What is Osteopathic Medicine?

Osteopathic medicine works to treat and heal the patient as a whole, rather than focusing on particular system or body part. Doctors of Osteopathy (DOs) most often use a treatment method called osteopathic manipulative treatment (also called OMT or manipulation for short), which is a hands-on approach to make sure that your body is moving freely. One of the core beliefs of osteopathic medicine is that when your body has free range of motion then all of your body’s natural healing systems are able to properly function. A DO is a physician who is licensed to practice medicine, perform surgery, and prescribe medication, and some work in integrative healthcare settings alongside medical doctors (MDs).

Origins in History
Osteopathic medicine was developed in the late 1800s by a doctor named Andrew Taylor Still. Through his experience he decided there was a better way to treat patients than with the medical practices of the time. Dr. Still’s philosophy, written in his book Philosophy of Osteopathy, focused on three concepts:

1. The parts of the body make up a unified whole.
2. The body has a natural ability to self-regulate and self-heal.
3. The musculoskeletal system is a key element in maintaining health.

Varieties/Types

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT)
Osteopathic physicians use various manipulative treatments to help ease pain and restore health. The doctor applies a pressure in specific areas to put muscle tissue at ease or engage them at their functional limit. By doing so the DOs aim to:

  • treat structural and tissue abnormalities
  • relieve joint restriction and misalignment
  • restore muscle and tissue balance
  • promote the movement of body fluids


Other common forms of manipulation include:

  • Cranial-sacral
  • Counterstrain
  • High velocity-low amplitude (HVLA)
  • Muscle energy
  • Myofascial release
  • Ligamentous release
  • Lymphatic pump
  • Soft tissue techniques

What is care like?

Health Benefits
While DO’s are typically known for treating back pain with OMT, they practice in all specialties of medicine, ranging from surgery to primary care to emergency medicine to psychiatry.

Actions & Experiences During a Visit
At a typical examination, the doctor of osteopathy will want to review your complete medical history. Any significant trauma, falls or accidents will be valuable information for the DO. The initial exam will emphasize a complete evaluation of your musculoskeletal system. This includes a visual assessment of your posture, balance, and muscles, physical assessment of the quality and motion of tissues and structural make-up, and movement to check for joint restriction or pain. After the initial examination, the DO will decide what course of treatment is best for you. This may include OMT (see Varieties/Types), various types of injections, and in more severe cases, back surgery.

Duration of Care
The duration of care is dependent upon the examination and diagnoses. The most common time frame for improvement in pain or functional abilities from OMT can be seen within 5 to 6 treatments. Treatment may be twice a week and follow-up treatments are typically no more frequent than once or twice a week for a certain period of time.

Resources & References

American Osteopathic Association

Medline Plus: Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

Spine-Health

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine

What next?

Search Find Wellness to find a registered doctor of osteopathy in your area.