Since its establishment 130 years ago, the osteopathic profession has overcome a considerable amount of opposition and resistance to become one of the most impactful and influential contributors to the U.S. healthcare system.
In 2022, a total of 141,759 osteopathic physicians were practicing in the United States, which is a tremendous increase from the 30,990 osteopathic physicians practicing in the 1990s. Osteopathic physicians strive to treat the person as a whole, encompassing the mind, body, and spirit.
Osteopathic Medicine, or osteopathy, was founded by Andrew Taylor Still, who viewed the body as a machine – a machine that would function at its optimum level only when all its parts were in proper relationship to one another. He identified the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health, determining that the maintenance of proper structure by occasional manipulation, enabled the body to function properly and to resist disease by empowering the immune system.
In 1892, Dr. Still obtained a state charter to establish the first osteopathic medical school in Missouri, which is now known as A. T. Still University Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.
What stands out for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is the underlying philosophy composed of four principles:
1) the body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit; 2) the body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance; 3) structure and function are reciprocally interrelated; 4) rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function. In summary, the osteopathic concept of health embraces the harmonious and unrestricted motion of the body and all the body systems allowing the body to heal itself.
In addition to traditional allopathic teachings, osteopathic medical students are also trained to diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases with their hands. This manual therapy is called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatments, or OMT, which aims to treat conditions that affect every system in the body, including the musculoskeletal system, digestive system, nervous system, and immune system.
Common techniques include but are not limited to soft tissue, myofascial release, strain-counterstrain and balanced ligamentous tension. Using this hands-on approach, DOs realign your body, and restore balance to achieve optimum health.
Osteopathic Manipulative treatments tend to be well tolerated and may be applied to the beginning of life to the end of life. For example, if a 12-hour baby boy has trouble breastfeeding, osteopathic physicians may properly diagnose and treat the somatic dysfunctions to improve latching.
As for those in hospice, osteopathic physicians may use their touch and palpatory skills to provide comfort and ease their suffering. Commonly, OMT can treat or improve conditions such as sinus infections, constipation, migraines, neck pain, back pain, or sciatica. OMT is also very beneficial during pregnancy for low back pain, broad ligament pain or migraines.
Currently there are a few DOs within the UW Health system practicing OMT, along with prolotherapy and trigger point injections. To look for a local osteopathic physician, the American Osteopathic Association provides an updated registry of practicing osteopathic physicians.