Osteopathy—History & Philosophy

The philosophy of Osteopathic Medicine is based on a holistic approach to the practice of medicine. It emphasizes that all systems of the body are interrelated so that any change in one part of the body may alter the functioning of other systems. Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.’s) are taught to treat the body as a whole, stressing the underlying cause of an ailment when treating a patient. Osteopathy also stresses preventive medicine and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle and diet.

Osteopathic medicine was founded in 1874 by a Civil War surgeon named Andrew Taylor Still, MD. After losing three of his children to spinal meningitis, he looked unfavorably upon western allopathic medicine. Dr. Still developed a theory based on the concept that the body’s structure and function are integrally related and the best way to combat disease was by naturally stimulating the body’s own immune system. In 1892, Still founded the American School of Osteopathy, which is currently the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Different Theories On How It Works
It is often said that the Osteopath’s function is to “set” the body up to heal itself. This treatment modality, called Osteopathic Manual Therapy (OMT), restores the body’s normal function in order to promote well-being.

The main principles of osteopathic medical treatment include the following:
The human body is a unit in which no part functions independently. Abnormal structure or function in one part of the body exerts unfavorable influences on the other parts and, therefore, on the body as a whole. This holistic view accentuates the idea that the body is not a compilation of independent compartments, but is a “community” of interrelated organs and systems that work intricately with one another.

When faced with stress and disease, the body is able to regulate and heal itself and adapt to the situation at hand. The body’s ability to fluctuate and adapt to stress determines the degree and state of its own health.

Proper functioning of all body organs and systems depends on the integrating forces of the nervous and circulatory systems.

Conditions It Works Best For

Osteopathic medicine is not limited to osteopathic manipulative therapy, but includes the same medical and surgical therapies as conventional medicine. Therefore, any and all medical conditions can be treated by a DO.

Treatment of a disease entity may include the same treatment that an allopathic doctor would advise, including medication and surgery, with an additional emphasis on osteopathic manipulative treatment. Treatment is not aimed at the disease itself, but at the body’s structural problems which in turn affect function. Since the treatment is based on the philosophy that the body is a unit whose parts are integrally interrelated, treatment of a structural problem accelerates the body’s own ability to positively affect the underlying causes of the disease itself.
After a thorough evaluation, the physician may opt to implement OMT (Osteopathic Manual Therapy) in addition to or instead of surgery and/or the prescribing of medication.

Various techniques can be implemented:

High Velocity Low Amplitude: a “thrusting” technique used to reposition misalignments in bodily structure.

Myofascial Release: a technique used to release restriction of the muscle and fascia in order to restore a functional balance and improve lymphatic flow.

Muscle Energy: a form of OMT used to relax muscle groups and increase range of motion.
Counterstrain and Facilitated Positional Release (FPR): a technique used for areas of tenderness usually located near bony attachments of tendons, ligaments, or muscle bellies.

Lymphatic Drainage: a technique used for numerous problems such as lung congestion, edema of the legs, congestive heart failure, bronchitis, etc., to help the lymph fluid drain in its natural path and therefore promote circulation and healing.

Craniosacral Osteopathy: established by William Sutherland, DO, this technique is based on the idea that the central nervous system (CNS), the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and the dural membranes surrounding the CNS function as a unit. Any motion of the dura will influence the cranial bones, allowing freer flow of the CSF, influencing disturbances in the neuromuscular system.

Education

DOs and MDs are both fully licensed physicians who are authorized to prescribe medication and perform surgery. DO’s, however, in addition to receiving the same medical training as their MD counterparts, also receive an additional 300 to 500 hours in the study of the body’s musculoskeletal system. Osteopaths have a different version of board examination than their allopathic counterparts. Their exams, in addition to including the same material that allopathic exams consist of, have question regarding OMT and the implementation of osteopathic philosophy. Many DOs choose to take the allopathic licensing boards as well. There is no difference in the level of difficulty.

Physicians who wish to pursue the field of cranial osteopathy must train an additional five years in practice to be certified in this area of expertise. Note that this is not the same as craniosacral therapy, which can be pursued by non-osteopathic healthcare providers.
Upon completion of medical school, the osteopathic physician is required to undertake an osteopathic internship for one year. Upon completion, they formally pursue a residency program in either an allopathic or osteopathic residency training program. They can choose from programs ranging from family practice to neurosurgery. After residency, physicians may choose how much OMT they want to incorporate into their practice.

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