Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine - what is it?

Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine - what is it?

Patients often ask me, "What is Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and how does it differ from chiropractic treatment and massage? What conditions can it be used to treat?"

I tell them that Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is a type of "hands-on" medical treatment based on an in-depth understanding of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems of the body used by D.O.s (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine). Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine are fully-trained, fully-licensed medical doctors who complete premedical undergraduate courses, 4 years of medical school, and 3 years or more of residency training in their chosen specialties after medical school. They must be fully licensed in their respective states before they can practice medicine.

Osteopathic Physicians (D.O.s) can diagnose and treat all conditions (like M.D.s), perform surgery (like M.D.s), and prescribe all medications (like M.D.s), but they are additionally trained in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (unlike M.D.s).

Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is not the same thing as chiropractic treatment (chiropractors do not go to 4 years of medical school and are not licensed as medical doctors). It is also not the same thing as massage (massage therapists also do not go to medical school for 4 years, and are not licensed to practice medicine).

Many M.D.s today are taking additional training after graduation from medical school to learn Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (because they believe it will and can benefit their patients, and because of the increased popularity of this treatment with health care consumers who have experienced it).

However, Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is not a regular or required part of the curriculum at allopathic (M.D.) medical schools. It is, however, a required and integral part of the curriculum at all 4-year colleges of Osteopathic Medicine throughout the United States, and it is something that D.O.s learn from the very beginning of their coursework in medical school. In fact, it is part of the very tradition and philosophy of Osteopathic Medicine, which began with Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., who founded the profession of Osteopathic Medicine back in 1874.

Not all Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine use Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy in their medical practices, and even if they do, Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is not the treatment of choice for every medical condition or problem. One way to think of it is an extra set of valuable tools that Osteopathic Physicians have to treat their patients should it be appropriate. That extra set of "tools" is their hands! (highly trained and sensitive hands, true, but hands nonetheless).

The basic difference between Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and Chiropractic is the basis of their philosophies. Chiropractic considers the nervous system the basis of health, whereas Osteopathic Medicine seeks to restore arterial, venous and lymphatic circulation, restore proper breathing, restore balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and increase or restore flexibility, mobility, and appropriate range of motion.

How do D.O.s differ from massage therapists? Massage therapists, as mentioned before, are not trained as medical doctors and cannot practice medicine. While it is true that some forms of massage are similar to certain techniques used in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (such as soft-tissue techniques), Osteopathic Physicians do not "massage" the skin, but rather work with deeper structures, such as the underlying fascia, organs, vessels, bones, joints, and ligaments.

The goal of the DO is to assist the body's natural ability to heal itself with all of the accepted medical treatments, including the hands-on approach, which we call Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. This philosophy and the use of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine are unique to the Osteopathic profession. Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine works best to improve circulation, decrease pain, improve mobility of a joint or muscular area that was/is in a state of spasm/pain, restore normal range of motion, and just in general to assist the body's natural ability to heal itself.

Andrew Taylor Still, M.D. once made a comment that "...The rule of the artery is supremeā€¦"

What this means is that restoring perfusion or circulation to a damaged area of the body by a D.O. utilizing his or her trained hands is advantageous to healing. It allows the patient to return to 'homeostasis' or normal functioning. D.O.s believe that the body has the inherent ability to heal itself, but sometimes it needs a little "hands-on help." We also believe that the basis of health is a proper balance between the circulatory and neuromusculoskeletal systems. Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy is often done in addition to what we are taught in traditional medicine (by way of medicines, physical, and surgical/invasive therapies). I must emphasize again that Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is not the only way. In some medical circumstances, in fact, it is not appropriate and should not be used.

I do not believe the word 'cure'. I think it's misleading. 'Successful treatment/outcome' is better as it protects one from giving 'guarantees' to a patient that something will be permanently effective. Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is extremely efficacious when added to the normal regimens of medicine today. It is also a philosophy/way of thinking/approach to the patient in a "Wholistic" (notice I didn't say 'Holistic' -- lots of people can call themselves this) manner.

I truly believe it completes the medically trained physician to be able to handle anything that walks in the door to his/her office today. After all, if you compiled a "TOP 10" List (like David Letterman does) of common problems people come in with everyday randomly, you'd see headaches, neck and back pain, common colds, bronchitis/flu, stress, sports medical, and "pain" of all sorts right up there.

I apply my Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and Osteopathic/Wholistic 'thinking' to these problems all the time. It just makes common sense and the patients love it -- they don't have to run out and see a chiropractor or be instantly referred to a physical therapist or Orthopedist (after all, most Orthopedists like to do surgery -- that's what they spent so long learning in their residencies).

In conclusion, Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is not the same thing as Chiropractic or Massage therapy, and D.O.s are not the same as allopathic (M.D.) physicians (although, as fully licensed physicians, they are considered equals in today's health care system, and work side by side with mutual respect).

Courtesy by "A Doctor"

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