Guide to Osteopathic Medicine

Doctor examining patient's knee
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Osteopathic medicine is practiced by osteopathic physicians who graduate from accredited osteopathic medical schools in the United States. Osteopathic physicians undergo four years of medical school, like Doctors of Medicine (MDs), and are licensed to practice medicine and perform surgery.

In osteopathic medicine, a whole-person approach and preventative care are emphasized, as is the idea that optimal functioning of the musculoskeletal system is essential to health. Osteopathic physicians receive 300 to 500 hours of training on the musculoskeletal system and hands-on manipulation, among other techniques, to treat problems of the musculoskeletal system, which includes the nerves, muscles, and bones.

Like MDs, doctors of osteopathic medicine can become "board certified" in a specialty (such as anesthesiology, psychiatry, emergency medicine, radiology, obstetrics/gynecology) by completing a residency and passing board certification exams. An estimated 60% of osteopathic physicians serve as primary-care practitioners.

Outside of the United States, education, regulation, and scope of practice may vary by country. Today, only about 10 percent of osteopathic physicians use manipulation as their primary form of treatment.

What to Expect From a Visit

In the United States, a visit to an osteopathic physician may be the same as a visit to an MD, including the same diagnostic procedures and treatments.

If manual medicine is used, the osteopathic physician may check your posture and balance and assess the health of your spine, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments (in addition to performing routine tests, such as reading your blood pressure).

In order to promote healing from illness or injury, the osteopathic physician may use manipulative treatment to restore proper mobility and function to the body's framework. Techniques may include stretching, applying gentle pressure, and slowing pulling a joint in the direction it's resisting.


Osteopathic manipulative treatment is often used to treat conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine, asthma, TMJ syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

Research suggests that osteopathic medicine may be effective for soothing back pain. In a 2005 review of six previous studies, for instance, scientists concluded that osteopathic manipulative treatment significantly decreased low back pain and that the pain reduction may persist for at least three months.


Osteopathic manipulative treatment may not be appropriate for people with injured or infected ligaments or bones, osteoporosis, or bone cancer, as well as anyone who has recently undergone joint surgery.

Although some people experience pain, headache, or fatigue following osteopathic manipulative treatment, symptoms tend to disappear within a day.

How to Find a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

For help finding a D.O. near you, contact the American Osteopathic Association. If you're outside the United States, this map suggests international practice rights, but be sure to check with your local medical boards for more information.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstance or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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Article Sources

  • American Osteopathic Association. "About Osteopathic Medicine."
  • Licciardone JC, Brimhall AK, King LN. "Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment for Low Back Pain: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials." BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2005 4;6:43.