What Is an Osteopath?
A doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) is a licensed physician that aims to improve a patient's overall health and wellness by treating the entire person, not just a condition or illness they might have. This includes osteopathic manipulative medicine, which involves stretching, massaging, and moving the musculoskeletal system. In all 50 states, DOs, also called osteopaths or osteopathic physicians, are licensed to prescribe medications, perform surgery, and use technological imaging to diagnose and treat illness and injury.
Several use hands-on, manual treatments to reduce pain, increase physical mobility, and improve the flow of blood and lymphatic fluids.
The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine approximates that 25 percent of all medical students in the United States are graduating from osteopathic medical programs.
How are doctors of osteopathic medicine trained?
Like a doctor of medicine (MD), a DO has to first get a bachelor's degree, followed by four years of medical school. In addition to this traditional education, a DO must receive training in manipulative medicine.
After graduating from medical school, DOs take a rigorous national licensure exam, which contains the same material as the exam to become an MD. Both kinds of doctors are licensed by state medical examination boards.
DOs must complete a residency that might last 1 to 7 years depending on the practice area. They must also complete another 200 hours of coursework that focuses on the body's musculoskeletal framework.
Although many medical students graduate from traditional medical schools, interest in learning osteopathic medicine is growing. Today, there are 37 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the U.S..
How do you determine whether to see a DO or an MD?
Although DOs are trained in conventional Western medicine, osteopathy is considered a complementary practice.
The primary difference between an MD and a DO is that while osteopathic physicians may use traditional medical treatments, some additionally use manual treatments, like massaging and manipulating the spine.
If you're more comfortable being diagnosed and treated by a doctor who is open to alternative treatments, a DO might be a good fit.
While a number of MDs also use alternative treatments, osteopaths receive unique training in treating individuals as a whole instead of targeting specific systems and symptoms.
What's the difference between a DO and a naturopathic doctor (ND)?
A naturopathic doctor (ND) attends a 4-year graduate program in naturopathic medicine and has to pass a rigorous exam given by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education.
Naturopaths are another field that is distinct from naturopathic doctors. Naturopaths have no governing body, are unlicensed, and may not be educated to the same degree as DOs.
Although DOs and NDs share a basic philosophical tenet-- that the body has the ability to heal itself-- what naturopathic doctors can and can not do varies widely from state to state.
In some states, a naturopathic doctor can be a primary care physician, diagnosing and treating individuals with natural and homeopathic methods. In other states, their responsibilities are much more limited.
A DO is licensed in all 50 states to conduct the same medical diagnostics and treatments as a medical doctor. Although some DOs use alternative and natural methods, several depend on traditional treatments and approaches.
What's the difference between a chiropractor and a DO?
Chiropractors and DOs both receive specialized training in the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and overall health. Both are trained in the manual adjustment of the spine.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, chiropractors focus primarily on manipulations that use controlled thrusts to adjust the alignment of the spine. They're more likely to "crack" your back in the course of treating you.
Unlike DOs, chiropractors aren't licensed physicians. They're generally not required to complete residencies in approved facilities.
Do osteopaths have specialties?
Yes. Several DOs are primary care physicians, but they can specialize in any area of medicine, including pediatrics and surgery.
What kinds of tests and procedures can an osteopath perform?
Osteopaths can perform the same exams and procedures a medical doctor can, including diagnostic tests, blood and urine tests, as well as biopsies. They can also prescribe medications, perform surgery, and treat individuals of all ages using a wide range of treatments that include both allopathic (Western) and osteopathic medicine.