What's an Osteopath?

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It's easy to recognize physicians just by reading their names. After all, they have the letters MD after their names, right? But what if you see the letters DO? You might be surprised to learn that this is an abbreviation for another type of physician.

Perhaps you aren't sure whether your child currently sees a DO (a doctor of osteopathic medicine; an osteopathic physician) or an MD (a doctor of medicine). Your main concern is that your child receives excellent medical care, and both MDs and DOs are good choices when it comes to your child's health.

What's a DO?
According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), osteopathic medicine is a complete system of healthcare with a philosophy that combines the needs of the patient with the current practice of medicine. Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) practice a whole-person approach, which means they consider both the physical and mental needs of their patients.

This "holistic" approach to healthcare was actually developed by an American MD. Dr. Andrew Taylor Still feared that 19th-century medicine was doing more harm than good. Disgusted at the ineffectiveness of fellow practitioners during the Civil War, he decided to focus on the body's ability to heal itself and began to stress preventive medicine. He also identified the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health, stressing that muscles, nerves, bones, and organs are all interrelated. In 1892, Dr. Still founded the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri.

Manipulative Medicine
A key part of osteopathic medicine is a technique called OMT, or osteopathic manipulative treatment. OMT allows physicians to use their hands as a primary tool to diagnose and treat illness and injury. This form of manual medicine lets DOs examine the back and other parts of the body, such as joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles, for pain and restriction during motion that could signal an injury or impaired function.

Although they sometimes focus on the back, these physicians are not chiropractors. OMT is a treatment very specific to how and where humans injure themselves and how that injury can manifest itself as symptoms.


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