A doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) is a physician licensed to perform surgery and prescribe medication. Like an M.D., an osteopath completes 4 years of medical school and can choose to practice in any specialty of medicine. However, osteopaths receive an additional 300 to 500 hours in the study of hands-on manual medicine and the body’s musculoskeletal system.
Osteopathic medicine is dedicated to treating and healing the entire patient as a whole, rather than focusing on one system or body part. An osteopath will often use a treatment method called manipulation - a hands-on approach to assure that the body is moving freely. This free motion ensures that all of your body’s natural healing systems are free to work unhindered.
Osteopaths hold to the principle that a patient’s history of illness and physical trauma are written into the body’s structure. The osteopath’s highly developed sense of touch allows the physician to palpate (feel) the patient’s “living anatomy” (the flow of fluids, motion and texture of tissues, and structural make-up).
The osteopath’s job is to “set” the body to heal itself. To do so, the Osteopath gently applies a precise amount of force to promote healthy movement of tissues, eliminate abnormal movements, and release compressed bones and joints. In addition, the areas being treated require proper positioning to assist the body’s ability to regain normal tissue function. This process is called osteopathic manual medicine (OMM) or osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).
Over the years, the gap between “conventional” medicine and osteopathic medicine has narrowed, as M.D.s have embraced many of the premises of osteopathic medicine (such as recognizing the impact of stress on the immune system or posture on various body systems). In addition, D.O.s have incorporated the diagnostic and treatment techniques common to conventional medicine.
Doctors of osteopathic medicine may be found in nearly any health care setting, from community clinics and private practices to academic medical centers.
Like M.D.s, osteopaths are licensed at the state level. Osteopaths who wish to specialize may become “board certified” (in much the same manner as M.D.s) by completing a 2- to 6-year residency within the specialty area and passing the board certification exams.
by Armen E. Martirosyan, M.D.