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You know what an MD is, but have you ever been treated by a DO (a doctor of osteopathic medicine)? While both degrees mean your doctor is a licensed physician, their training differs slightly and each has a unique perspective on care. Brown & Toland osteopathic physician John A. Selle, DO,  discusses the osteopathic approach to care and what you can expect if you choose a DO as your primary care physician.

What’s a DO? And what’s the difference between a DO and an MD?

The degree DO stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Both DOs and MDs are fully qualified physicians licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery in all 50 states. Both complete four years of basic medical education and then pursue graduate medical education through, now combined, DO/MD-accredited, post-graduate internships, residencies and fellowship programs. This training lasts between three and eight years depending on specialty (pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, cardiology, surgery, obstetrics, and so on).

According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), there are more than 121,000 DOs practicing their distinct philosophy of medicine throughout the U.S. today. With approximately 25 percent of medical students enrolled in colleges of osteopathic medicine, the profession is one of the fastest-growing segments of health care.

 The main differences between doctors of medicine and osteopathic medicine include:

  • A majority of DOs specialize in primary care fields such as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics, with a focus in preventative health care and health optimization.
  • Osteopathic medicine places a strong emphasis on “whole person” approach to medicine, not focusing specifically on symptoms but regarding the entire body as integrated whole – think “mind, body, spirit.”
  • Extra training in the musculoskeletal system and its interconnectedness to illness/disease, with training in hands-on manipulation to correct musculoskeletal dysfunction. Many DOs specialize in this hands-on treatment called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT).

 How does this affect the way a DO approaches patient care?

I believe this training allows DOs to take a broader look a patient’s condition, from many different angles, and have extra “tools” for diagnosis and treatment, regardless if they actively practice OMT or not.

Where did osteopathic medicine originate?

Osteopathic medicine originated in 1874 with Andrew Taylor Still MD, who was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine. He developed a philosophy, based on Hippocratic ideas, that focuses on the connection between health and the musculoskeletal system, which is the body’s network of muscles, nerves and bones. He also recognized the body’s innate ability to heal itself, stressed preventative medicine, eating properly and keeping fit.

Can you tell me more about Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT)? What exactly do you do with your hands?

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment, or OMT, is a set of hands-on techniques used by osteopathic physicians to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. Using OMT, a D.O. moves a patient’s muscles and joints using techniques that include stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.

As part of their education, DOs receive special training in the musculoskeletal system. This advanced training provides DOs with a keen understanding of how the body’s systems are interconnected and how each one affects the others.

When appropriate, OMT can complement, and even replace, drugs or surgery. In this way, DOs bring an important dimension to standard medical care.

Is there any condition or ailment that osteopathic manipulation is particularly suited to resolve?

Yes.  OMT can help people of all ages and backgrounds. Through OMT, physicians manually apply a specific amount of pressure to different regions in the body to help treat structural and tissue abnormalities, relieve joint restriction and misalignment, restore muscle and tissue balance and promote the overall movement of blood flow throughout the body.

The treatment can be used to ease pain, promote healing and increase overall mobility. Although often used to treat muscle pain, the treatment can also help patients with a number of other health problems from asthma and sinus infections to carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines and menstrual pain.

Source:  American Osteopathic Association