What the heck is Osteopathic Medicine?

5 Mar

As a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine I thought I’d offer my take on what makes up the “osteopathic part” and how it’s different from allopathic medicine.  I’ve struggled over the last few years in being able to really thoroughly explain what osteopathic medicine is to those that have never heard of it in a brief and succinct way. So let me share with you my non-brief, yet thorough, description: 

  • Background: Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine was started a little over 100 years ago thanks to A.T. Still, an MD who wasn’t happy with the way medicine was going and didn’t feel that the whole person was considered when treating the patient.  His teachings included the idea that every little piece and part in the body can affect everything else and must be considered when treating a patient.
  • Technicalities: The biggest difference between Osteopathic Medicine (a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, D.O.) vs. Allopathic Medicine (Doctor of Medicine, M.D.) is the extra training in identifying and treating problems with the muscles, bones, joints, and connective tissue of the body, which is called Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM).  So students of osteopathic medicine get the same training as an MD student, however, they also get about 400 hrs on top of that of training in OMM.  I know for certain MD students aren’t hurting in their training hours as many MD schools are more research oriented and are probably dedicating that time to research or something just as important… it’s just an added bonus for DO students that they actually know more about how the musculoskeletal system functions and learn treatments that involve using hands, stretches, and exercises.
  • First hand: I’ve experienced the effectiveness of OMM myself and have seen many patients, family, friends and co-workers successfully treated.  I find it very useful as a good first step less-invasive option to treating bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, etc. before jumping into trying drugs and surgery if the patient is willing to take the time to be treated, work on range of motion, stretching, and perhaps some exercises for strength training.  It can take longer sometimes to get the desired effect with this style of treatment and in our society that’s not always the desired method of treatment since we’re so ‘go, go, go’ and often want an instant fix. The good news is some people do get an instant fix and, I’m finding that if taking the long route is what’s needed and treatment is given, the problem is fixed for a longer period of time, if not completely. Whereas surgery and drugs may fix the problem now, often by masking the root cause, which may  lead to bigger problems later.
  • Variability: So there are many different modalities of OMM treatments; some are more like what the chiropractors do (but with MUCH more training and understanding of western medicine), cracking and popping- this is taking the tissue (muscles, ligaments, fascia) where it doesn’t want to go, like what we do when we pop our necks or backs- you move your spine the way it is restricted to get it to free up. Some are more like voodoo mind tricks and don’t really involve much contact or moving- this is called indirect and involves taking the tissue where it wants to go, so holding everything to the point of maximum freedom and the theory is that if your body is so tight and never really gets to relax once you find that point of freedom and balance everything it just sort of unwinds itself.  Anyway, I like indirect because I’ve found that the treatment lasts longer, usually helps more and isn’t as scary as a big crack and pop – easier on the patient and the physician!
    So, just like in most of medicine, there will be a difference in treatment and possibly outcome depending on the provider that you see. Bottom line is don’t give up on OMM if your first experience isn’t perfect, give it another shot and you may just get what you’re looking for.

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