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Table of Contents > Articles > Osteopathy: The Misunderstood ...
Osteopathy: The Misunderstood Medicine

Many people do not realize that a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) is very similar to a "regular" medical doctor. Nor do they know that there are about 45,000 D.O.s currently practicing in the United States. Like an M.D., a D.O. has four years of medical training. D.O.s are also licensed to prescribe medication and to perform surgery. In many provider networks and health care facilities, D.O.s work along side their M.D. colleages to provide primary care to their patients. There are, of course, some differences between M.D.s and D.O.s. One is that D.O.s are trained in manipulative therapies, and use this approach frequently. Another difference is their basic understanding of health and healing.

Doctors who practice osteopathy emphasize that all parts and systems of the body are connected. They all think that good health comes from sound body structure. The body's structure is made up of the skeleton, muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues. When there are troubles in the body's structure, health declines. For example, anxiety causes muscle tension, which then may lead to further disease or illness. Bones injured during sporting activities eventually disrupt the health of other areas of the body. Osteopathic treatments have been effective for numerous kinds of health problems, especially back pain, neck pain, joint pain, and headaches. It has also been helpful for conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and digestive difficulties. Osteopathic medicine also stresses preventive health care.

If you visit an osteopathic doctor, keep in mind that a D.O. treats the whole person. Therefore, he or she will begin by asking lots of questions. After that your posture and joint movements will be examined. The doctor will also look for tissue tenderness or pain. If necessary, X-rays may be taken. He or she will likely prescribe manual manipulation, medicine, or surgery. An osteopathic manipulative treatment session can last from a few minutes to an hour or more, depending on the cause of illness. The number of visits required for manipulative therapy also varies; chronic problems usually take longer. If there is no improvement after three treatments, most osteopaths will refer patients to a specialist.

Many health insurance policies will pay for osteopathic treatment. To find a D.O., you can call the American Academy of Osteopathy at 317-879-1881. You can also visit the AAO's Web site at Another resource is the American Osteopathic Association at 800-621-1773 or online at


Chronic: refers to an illness or disease that develops slowly and is persistent (often lifelong)


An Integrative Medicine Primer by IMC

Alternative Medical Therapies for Pain by IMC

The Integrative Medicine Consult, May 15, 1999

"What Is a D.O.?" and "Osteopathic Medicine" from the American Osteopathic Association's Web site, located at

Review Date: February 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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