by Robert S. Dinsmoor
An approach to the practice of medicine that incorporates the usual forms of medical diagnosis and treatment but emphasizes the role of the musculoskeletal system in health and disease. A doctor of osteopathy (DO), like an MD, is a physician licensed to prescribe medicine and perform surgery, has completed four years of medical school, and can elect to practice in any specialty of medicine (though many DOs are primary-care doctors). In addition to standard medical training, DOs have special training in manipulating the bones, joints, and muscles, and they generally strive to treat the “whole person” rather than a set of symptoms.
Osteopathic medicine was developed in the late nineteenth century by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, an American physician who believed that structural problems in the body’s muscles and bones, especially in the spine, were responsible for illness. He taught that physically manipulating the musculoskeletal system could cure disease.
Today, DOs employ the tools and techniques of mainstream medical practice but maintain a focus on the musculoskeletal system. They are taught to use their hands to palpate (feel) the flow of fluids, the texture and movement of tissue, and the body’s structure. DOs use soft tissue stretching, massage, and joint manipulation to ensure healthy movement of tissue, to release compressed bones and joints, and to reposition the body to regain healthy tissue function. In so doing, they seek to allow the body to regain its natural ability to heal itself.
The various techniques of manipulation used by DOs are known as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). OMT may be inappropriate for people with the bone-thinning condition osteoporosis or with rheumatoid arthritis in the neck. People who have recently had joint surgery may also be advised to avoid OMT.
Last Reviewed on September 19, 2012
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