What it's about...

In the United States, DO's (Doctors of Osteopathy) hold the same unlimited practice rights as MD's in all 50 states; they serve as commissioned officers in the medical corps, plus the Veterans Administration and Public Health Service and they are recognized by the AMA as full-practice physicians. They may prescribe drugs and perform surgery. Like MD's, DO's attend 4 years of medical school and then complete residency training in hospitals and clinics in their given specialty. Many DO's and MD's work as colleagues in a range of medical settings, and commonly refer to one another.


In addition to classic medical training, Osteopathic Physicians receive a foundation in Osteopathic Philosophy and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM), which is more holistic in orientation, by acknowledging the interrelationship of body, mind, and spirit.

Osteopathic Principles

  • The body is a unit
  • Structure and function are interrelated
  • The body is self-healing
Traditional Osteopathic Physicians use their hands to evaluate and treat a wide variety of conditions using gentle techniques to support the body's own self-healing mechanism. Osteopaths who specialize exclusively in this hands-on component can become Board Certified in OMM (also known as Neuromuscular Medicine or NMM). OMM evaluation and treatment can address problems in the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, fascia, and fluids that may cause pain or interfere with the body's optimal functioning. DOs, as well as MDs, and Dentists may also pursue training in the Cranial Field. Cranial work looks at the anatomy and physiology of the skull and central nervous system and can be helpful in a wide range of conditions, including headache, jaw strain, and fatigue. The musculoskeletal system is a central component to the patient's well being. This system includes the bones, muscles, tendons, tissues, nerves, and spinal column — approximately 60% of the body mass. In addition to being prone to mechanical disorders, the musculoskeletal system reflects many internal illnesses and may aggravate or accelerate the process of disease in the circulatory, lymphatic, nervous, and other body systems. It has been well-documented that diseases of the specific organs can produce pain in distant parts of the body. Stomach ulcers consistently cause areas of paraspinal pain and irritation just below the shoulders in the back. The radiation of pain to the loin from a diseased kidney is another common example, as is the radiation of pain to the left shoulder with heart disease. DO's also recognize that symptoms can be produces without actual disorder in organs to which pain has been referred. Conversely, disturbances affecting the musculoskeletal system can cause symptoms that simulate the onset of other illnesses. Among the most common causes of recurrent tension headaches, for example, are disorders of the (upper) cervical portion of the spinal column. Properly applied manipulative treatment, particularly directed to the neck and head, often provides relief of headache symptoms when all other remedies have failed.

Who Can Benefit from Osteopathic Treatment?

Osteopathy can help people of all ages with many different ailments. Treatment restores motion, improves vitality, and brings about a higher state of function. Because the focus is on health and the individual, rather than the disease, patients with virtually any condition may benefit. Each patient is unique with his or her own constitutional vitality and history of trauma. Consequently, each patient will respond differently to treatment. While osteopathic manipulation is not a cure-all, it often provides a valuable missing piece of the puzzle for many patients suffering from a wide range of symptoms that continue to challenge physicians in all specialties. Common reasons people see an osteopath include complaints of pain, including headaches, neck, shoulder, and back pain, as well as issues in the extremities such as carpal tunnel, knee and hip pain, and lower extremity issues such as ankle instability and plantarfasciitis. Presenting problems can be recent or chronic, and related to sports injuries, automobile accidents, falls, or other trauma. For example, in the evaluation and treatment of a sprained ankle, Xray imaging to rule out fracture, rest, and medicine to help with pain may all be warranted. Osteopathic manipulation can additionally aid the healing process by addressing alignment in the bones, fascial strains, and muscle imbalances, which in turn can result in improved circulation and decreased pain and inflammation. Osteopathic care can also assist with breathing problems (such as asthma, or rib pain associated with coughing), circulation, digestion, sleep, and chronic issues such as fibromyalgia and rheumatic conditions. Women during pregnancy can be made significantly more comfortable, and their labor and delivery eased considerably with osteopathic treatment. Women postpartum often find strain from the birth process (such as neck pain, low back pain, and sciatica) can be reduced or alleviated with OMM. Even in healthy "normal" deliveries, tremendous pressures are placed on infants, especially their heads. Thus, newborn babies can also benefit from OMM.

PEDIATRIC problems that can respond well to osteopathic treatment are:

  • Autism
  • Behavioral Problems
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Developmental Delays
  • Digestive Issues: colic, excessive spitting up, reflux
  • Ear Infections
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Feeding Difficulties: latching and suckling
  • Inconsolable Crying
  • Learning Disorders
  • Plagiocephaly (asymmetrical head shape)
  • Strabismus (Crossed-Eyes or Lazy Eye)
  • Torticollis (wry neck)
  • Teething Difficulties

CHILDHOOD problems that can respond well to osteopathic treatment are:

  • Injury and Accidents
  • Recurrent Infection
  • Asthma
  • Learning & behavioral difficulties
  • Developmental Delay
  • Headaches
  • Dental/Orthodontic problems
  • "Growing pains"
  • Bedwetting
  • Sleep Issues, including nightmares and night terrors
  • Anxiety
  • Scoliosis

ADULT problems that can respond well to osteopathic treatment are:

  • Pain—including neck, back, and sciatica
  • Injury and Accidents – including whiplash
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness and Vertigo
  • Dental/Orthodontic problems
  • Digestive complaints—including nausea, constipation & IBS
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Asthma
  • Pregnancy
  • Postpartum recovery
  • Mastitis
  • Breastfeeding difficulties
  • Menstrual and menopausal issues
  • Stress Incontinence & Bedwetting
  • Recurrent illness and infection
  • Scoliosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Rheumatic Conditions

History of Osteopathy

Osteopathy was founded on the Missouri frontier in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Still. Dr. Still was an individualistic and strong-willed M.D. who was dissatisfied with the ineffectiveness of nineteenth-century medicine. He saw many people, including his own wife and three children, die from serious diseases. At this time in history, concepts such as anesthesia, sterile surgery, antiseptics, antibiotics, and X-rays were unknown. In response, Dr Still dedicated himself to the study of body, mind, and spirit, and their relationship to health. He founded a philosophy of medicine that resonates back to Hippocrates, with a key focus on the unity of the body. Dr Still was one of the first physicians of his day to promote the idea of preventive medicine and philosophy that physicians should focus on treating the disease rather than just the symptoms. He recognized the body's self-healing capacity. Dr. Still also advocated for preventative health measures such as proper eating and fitness. He utilized less intrusive forms of diagnosis and treatment with an emphasis on manipulation as the primary method. A significant portion of his work involved the meticulous study of anatomy. After decades of study and practice, he founded the first osteopathic college in Kirksville, Missouri in 1892. He welcomed all interested and dedicated students, including women and minorities, which was not the common practice of the day. Graduates of osteopathic medical school's earned a degree, "Doctor of Osteopathy" or DO, and went on to practice with the same rights and privileges of all medical physicians. In addition to being a physician and surgeon, Dr Still also was an author, inventor, and state legislator. In the early 1900s, Dr. William Garner Sutherland, a student of Dr. Still's, expanded upon osteopathic concepts in depth study of the skull and central nervous system. This focused area of study within osteopathy is sometimes referred to as Cranial Osteopathy. However, many osteopaths contend that because "the body is a unit" and the head is not separate from the body, Osteopathy inherently encompasses Cranial Osteopathy and that it is not osteopathic to have such a separation. Practically speaking though, not all hands-on osteopaths work in the Cranial Field. Cranial work is relevant for many conditions, which include but are not limited to headache, ear infections, and pain following a blow to the head (for example, following a fall or car accident.) During World War II osteopathic physicians were prohibited from becoming fully commissioned medical officers. They were instead encouraged to stay home and care for their patients and communities at home. This led to a strong desire for equality with osteopathic medical colleagues and eventually in 1963 the military recognized osteopathic physicians as equivalent to allopathic physicians (MDs). By the mid-1960s all 50 states created full licensure for osteopaths in all aspects of medicine and surgery. Around this time, osteopathic education shifted to a curriculum nearly analogous to allopathic medical schools with only a small percent of the time devoted to traditional osteopathic principles and practices. Training beyond the second year of medical school often occurs in allopathic institutions with allopathic mentors or DO's who do not practice OMM. By the time DO's finish their training, most in traditional medical specialties such as family medicine or pediatrics, they have a strong medical foundation, but have "lost touch" with their "hands-on" osteopathic roots.