Osteopathic Medicine and Osteopathy

Globally, two professional osteopathic streams have emerged, largely due to different legal and regulatory structures around the world: osteopathic physicians (practising osteopathic medicine) are doctors with full, unlimited medical practice rights and can specialise in any branch of medical care; osteopaths (practising osteopathy) are primary contact health providers with limited practice rights, and do not for example prescribe pharmaceuticals or perform surgery.

Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, developed osteopathic medicine in the United States in the mid- to late-1800s. An essential component of osteopathic health care is osteopathic manual therapy, typically called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).

Osteopathy and osteopathic medicine incorporate current medical and scientific knowledge in applying osteopathic principles to patient care. Scientific review and evidence-informed outcomes have a high priority in patient treatment and case management. Osteopathy recognizes that each patient’s clinical signs and symptoms are the consequences of the interaction of multiple physical and non-physical factors. Osteopathic care emphasizes the importance of the patient-practitioner relationship in the therapeutic process.

Osteopathic care incorporates a broad range of approaches to the maintenance of health and the management of disease. It embraces the concept of the unity of the individual’s structure (anatomy) and function (physiology). Osteopathy/osteopathic medicine is a person-centred approach to health care rather than disease-centred.

Osteopathic Style Guide

Osteopathic physician (DO) describes a physician who trained in the
United States and can prescribe medicine and practice in all specialty areas
including surgery. Osteopathic physician should be used in all written and verbal
communications instead of osteopath. Osteopath should only be used to describe a
health care provider trained outside of the United States.

Osteopathic medicine is preferred over osteopathy when referring to medicine
practiced by osteopathic physicians trained in the United States.
Osteopathy should only be used when referring to the occupation of non-physician
osteopaths or those trained outside of the United States.

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is the proper name for the degree granted
by osteopathic medical schools in the United States and is represented by the
acronym DO. Do not use Doctor of Osteopathy, which is an outdated term for the
degree. DO also may be used in place of osteopathic physician.

Who can benefit from osteopathy?

Osteopathic treatment can help people of a wide range of age and body types as treatment is modified for each individual.
The aims of any osteopathic treatment are to:

  • Ease pain
  • Promote tissue healing and repair
  • Increase mobility and function

While osteopathic treatment is often used for the alleviation of musculo-skeletal pain, it may also be effective for a range of other health conditions such as:

  • Asthma and breathing disorders
  • Sinus disorders
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Menstrual pain
  • Post-surgery rehabilitation
  • Infantile colic

Osteopathic treatment when appropriate, can complement, and in some cases replace, drugs or surgery. In this way, osteopathy brings an important alternative option to standard medical care.


Does osteopathy work?

Scientifically valid research is important to the osteopathic profession and studies are continually being published demonstrating osteopathic manual therapy as a safe and effective form of treatment.

What is a typical osteopathic consultation like?  
A typical osteopathic consultation visit includes four parts: patient history, examination, diagnosis, and treatment.

  • History: 
The case history is an important part of the information gathering process.  This allows the osteopath to understand a patient’s past health status and gather information that will aide making a correct working diagnosis


  • Examination:  
A structural examination will begin by checking your posture, spine, movement and balance. An osteopath will then use skilled hands to examine a patient from ‘head to toe’ including skin, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  If necessary, further tests may be ordered, such as x-rays or blood tests.  Systems such as cardiovascular, neurological and respiratory systems may also be examined.


  • Diagnosis: 
The osteopath will consider the results of the history and examination and will make a diagnosis and then tell you what may be causing your symptoms and suggest a treatment plan.


  • Treatment:  An osteopath will skillfully determine an area that is not functioning correctly and may apply a manipulative technique to reduce pain and improve function.  Depending on how severe your problem is you may require more than one osteopathic consultation.  Osteopaths are concerned with long term health and well-being and may also assist with post-consultation care such as specific stretches or exercise programmes, nutritional advice, postural guidance or ergonomic assistance.  If required, this may include such options as referral to another practitioner such as a GP or podiatrist.


What techniques do osteopaths use to treat patients?

An osteopath has a wide variety of manual techniques at their disposal.  The most commonly known technique involves joint manipulation.  This is a safe and gentle technique.  Other techniques include positional release techniques which involve a tender tissue being placed in a position of ease to allow pain reduction and improve tissue function, muscle energy techniques involving actively contracting a muscle against resistance, stretching and direct soft tissue techniques akin to massage.  Some osteopaths may use gentle cranio-sacral treatment which is a specialized form of osteopathic treatment. Osteopaths will take care to assure the most appropriate treatment is applied for the patient’s specific condition.