What is Osteopathy or Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment?

In 1874, Andrew Taylor Still MD, (1828-1917) discovered that health can be realized only when all of the tissues and cells of the body function together in harmonious motion. He named his innovative approach to restoring health “osteopathy.” He understood that the human body is composed of many parts, all intimately related as a functional whole. More than a hundred years ago, Dr. Still realized that human beings are more than just a physical body. He envisioned a totally new medical system that acknowledges the relationships of the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. As a physician living on the Missouri frontier, Dr. Still researched and developed osteopathy. He discovered that he had the ability to put his hands on patients, change their physiology and restore health. He developed a very practical way of treating people using his hands.

In the late 1800s none of today’s miracle drugs, such as antibiotics, were available. Out of necessity, Dr. Still looked first to nature’s own ability to heal and found a way to access this healing ability in the body. Still saw this self-correcting potential as a cornerstone of his osteopathic philosophy.

Today, osteopathic physicians continue to use their hands to treat their patients in the same tradition. Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is hands-on care. It involves using the hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. When combined with appropriate use of present day medical therapeutics, osteopathy offers a profound contribution to medicine.

Using OMT, your osteopathic physician (DO) will move your muscles and joints using techniques including stretching, gentle pressure and resistance. When appropriate, OMT can complement – and even replace – drugs or surgery. In this way, OMT brings an important dimension to standard medical care.

For more information about Osteopathy and Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment.

Osteopathic History

Osteopathic Medicine is based upon a science of healing discovered by Andrew Taylor Still, MD in 1874.  Dr, Still based this new science upon an absolute faith in a human being's innate capacity for self-healing and a belief that if the osteopathic could remove the obstructions in the system, nature would provide the healing.  It was his view that what we call disease is really disease is really just an effect of an abnormality or imbalance within a person’s body. “Disease in an abnormal body is just as natural as is Health when all the parts are in place.”

Osteopathic Profession

As with all medical schools, Osteopathic Physicians are trained in all branches of medicine and surgery in addition to their education in manual diagnosis and treatment.

After completing four years of medical school, Osteopathic Physicians then complete 3-8 years of internship and residency in their chosen field of specialty.

Today, there are more than 50,000 osteopathic physicians in the United States whose practices cover the entire range of specialties, such as neurosurgery, cardiology, emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, urology, dermatology, psychiatry, etc.

More than 65% of DO’s choose primary care specialties, such as family practice, internal medicine, obstetrics, and pediatrics, as opposed to only 25% of MD’s.

Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

A DO can also specialize in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) for which Board Certification became available in 1990. All DO’s are required to attend and document 50 hours of continuing medical education credits each year. For specialists in OMM, advanced training is offered by various organizations within the profession.

What does an “Osteopathic Treatment” consists of? Does it “hurt”?

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment consists of two parts; the structural exam and Osteopathic treatment. Typically, your first visit is a review of your medical history, medications, allergies, etc after which your Osteopathic Physician will perform a structural exam, which is an assessment of your posture, balance, spine, muscles, joints and ligaments. Through extensive training in manipulative medicine, your Osteopathic Physician can detect changes in the way your body feels; the bones, muscles, ligaments, etc. Once the structural exam is complete, a collaborative treatment plan is established. Using a variety of techniques, your Osteopathic Physician will address the changes found on physical exam and apply specific corrective measures to relieve the areas of joint restriction and tension. Osteopathic techniques are gentle “adjustment”, however some patients experience a “clicking” sensation which is rarely painful.


Cranial Osteopathy

Osteopathy in the Cranial Field (OCF) is an expansion of the traditional Osteopathy philosophy and approach, founded by Dr. Andrew Still, and arose out of the clinical research by Dr. William Sutherland. This form of Osteopathic Manipulation utilizes the inherent motion and mobility of the of the cranial (head) bones and sacrum (tailbone) and refers to the application of the osteopathy to the structures of the head.

William Garner Sutherland, DO (1873-1954), discovered, developed and taught Cranial Osteopathy in the early to mid 1900s. He was the first to perceive a subtle palpable movement within the bones of the cranium, and went on to discover the continuity of this rhythmic fluid movement throughout all tissues of the body.

As the lungs breathe and the heart beats with a rhythmic alternating expansion and contraction motion, the central nervous system also has its own involuntary rhythmic motion. Dr. Sutherland called this inherent activity the Primary Respiratory Mechanism because it seemed to have a respiratory-like motion, with “inhalation” and “exhalation” phases. The hands of a skilled osteopathic physician connect directly with this primary respiratory mechanism to initiate a therapeutic response. Primary respiration is the guiding principle; it is the inherent intelligence within. This primary respiratory motion actually expresses itself through every cell of the body, influencing all body functions. Physicians trained in cranial osteopathy can place their hands on any part of the patient to perceive and influence this important mechanism.

For more information about Cranial Osteopathy.

Cranial Osteopathy vs craniosacral therapy

The primary and most significant difference between the practice of Osteopathy in the Cranial Field and Cranio-Sacral therapy is the level of training of the practitioner. William Garner Sutherland, DO, introduced his cranial concept in 1929. Dr. Sutherland saw Cranial Osteopathy as a modality of diagnosis and treatment to be provided by licensed physicians as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. As such, it is not merely a therapy, but an integral part of the physician’s overall management of their patient’s Healthcare.

Cranio-Sacral therapy (CST) is described as a “light touch therapy” that can be provided by a practitioner with as little as 8 days of training by the Upledger Institute. The only prerequisites for entrance into the CST program are having read Dr. Upledger’s book and possession of any form of healthcare license, such as an audiologist or dietician or massage therapist, although people without any healthcare license or training are also accepted. It is left to the states in which the craniosacral therapist resides, to become aware of their practice and to develop standards for its regulation.

Dr. Upledger is an Osteopath who took courses from Dr. Sutherland’s students in Cranial Osteopathy in 1975, some 8 years before he established the Upledger Institute and published his first book on CST.  And although Dr. Sutherland’s concepts and techniques form the foundation of the CST model, it is Dr. Upledger’s contention that it was he alone who “pioneered and developed” CST. Dr. Sutherland, on the other hand, credits his “Cranial Concept” to Andrew Taylor Still, MD, the father of Osteopathy. Dr. Still, for his part, takes credit only for having discovered the science of Osteopathy, saying that "no human hand framed its laws".


What is the difference between Osteopathic Medicine and Chiropractic?

Although many Chiropractors relieve such ailments as low back pain and headaches, there are distinct differences between the two professions. To begin, Osteopathic Physicians (DO’s) are fully licensed Physicians having graduated from an accredited Osteopathic Medical College and fulfilling all requirements for unrestricted medical practice and licensure. Osteopathic Physicians are found within all specialty fields of Medicine and Surgery.

Although the majority of Osteopathic Physicians are Family Doctors, many are Obstetricians, Pediatricians, Surgeons, Neurosurgeons, Emergency Department Doctors, Cardiologists, etc. In addition to the 4 years of medical school training required by all physicians, Osteopathic Physicians are required to complete an internship and residency which varies between 3-8 years depending upon the area of specialization. Osteopathic Physicians perform surgery, prescribe medication and diagnostic testing when necessary and appropriate. Speaking specifically of the “manipulative” component, unlike Chiropractic which focuses mainly on spinal manipulation, Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine includes all parts of the body; spine, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and organs