top of page

What is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)

Osteopathic physicians, also known as a Doctors of Osteopathy (DO), and allopathic physicians, also known as Doctors of Medicine (MD), are both fully licensed physicians trained to diagnose, treat, and prevent illnesses / injuries. Both professions provide the full spectrum of medical and surgical services. However, there are important differences between the two professions:

1. Philosophy of Healthcare

Osteopathic physicians (DOs) learn a philosophy of healthcare that emphasizes the body's innate ability to heal itself as well as the interrelationships between the body's organ systems, uniquely appreciating the role of how musculoskeletal system malfunction may affect other organ systems as well as whole body function.

2. Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM)

Evaluation and treatment of musculoskeletal malfunction in the context of the Osteopathic Philosophy is known as Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM). Since its’ inception the Osteopathic profession has emphasized the importance of restoring optimal movement, not merely “alignment” of the body. A recent major advance in understanding impaired movement is found in A Treatise on the Functional Pathology of the Musculoskeletal System.

The techniques employed to treat musculoskeletal malfunction are known as Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT). Before performing OMT, osteopathic physicians conduct a thorough evaluation of the patient's medical history, symptoms, and physical examination findings to determine the most appropriate techniques to use. OMT sessions typically last between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on the complexity of the condition being treated and the specific techniques being employed.

3. Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT)

OMT is a hands-on approach to diagnosing, treating, and preventing a wide range of health issues by restoring optimal potential movement to the entire body. OMT encompasses a variety of techniques that osteopathic physicians use to treat and prevent a wide range of conditions, as discussed in future posts. Amongst others, the techniques Osteopathic physicians may use include:

a. “Soft Tissue”: stretching, pressure, and massage techniques to mobilize muscles, fascia, ligaments, and tendons. These techniques help improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and promote whole person relaxation, which in turn can alleviate pain and enhance healing.

b. “Articulation”: gentle rhythmic movements, traction, or passive motions through natural range of motion to alleviate restrictions of motion within a joint.

c. “Post isometric relaxation” (aka “muscle energy”): involve the active participation of the patient, who contracts specific muscles while the osteopathic physician applies gentle pressure or resistance. In addition to helping restore potential motion these techniques may improve muscle strength and coordination.

d. “Myofascial Release”: target the fascia, a thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds and supports muscles, bones, and organs. Gentle and/or forceful pressure and stretching release tension and adhesions in the fascia, promoting better movement and reducing pain.

e. “Counterstrain”: after finding tender points in the body, positioning the patient in a way that relieves the tenderness as well as tension and pain in accompanying regions. By holding the tender point in a position of comfort for a short period, some muscles relax while others stretch, allowing the body return to a state of balanced potential movement.

f. “Thrust”: a quick, short, comparatively forceful movement directed toward gaping a joint or joints, resulting in improved range of potential motion.

It's important to note that OMT is considered safe when performed by a qualified and trained osteopathic physician. However, like any medical intervention, there may be some risks and contraindications to consider. Patients should communicate openly with their osteopathic physician about any underlying medical conditions, concerns, or preferences they may have about OMT or other treatment options.

4. Training and Education

Both DOs and MDs complete rigorous medical education and training programs, including four years of undergraduate education followed by four years of medical school. Medical school curricula for both DOs and MDs cover basic sciences, clinical medicine, and practical training in the various medical specialties.

A significant distinction is that DOs receive formal training in OMM in osteopathic medical school and variably throughout their residency education. They may use osteopathic manipulative (mobilization) techniques in their practice. MDs do not receive formal training in OMM as part of their medical education and typically do not use OMT in their practice.

Both DOs and MDs are eligible to pursue residency and fellowship training in all the medical specialties, such as family medicine, radiology, internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, and psychiatry as well as subspecialties thereof. Residency programs for DOs and MDs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and offer similar training experiences and opportunities for specialization. The osteopathic profession also offers residency programs in OMM and specialty certification by the American Osteopathic Board of Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine.

5. Licensure and Practice

Upon completing medical school and residency training, both DOs and MDs must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) to obtain a medical license and practice medicine independently. DOs and MDs are licensed to practice medicine in all 50 states and the United States military. They are both held to the same standards of medical practice and ethics.

6. Summary

In summary, osteopathic physicians (DOs) and allopathic physicians (MDs) are both fully licensed physicians who undergo similar education and training to become skilled healthcare providers. While they share many similarities in their medical knowledge and clinical practice, DOs have additional training in OMM/OMT, which distinguishes them from their MD counterparts.

OMM is a holistic, hands-on approach to diagnosing, treating, and preventing a wide range of health issues. Rooted in the principles of osteopathic medicine, OMT techniques aim to restore balance within the body, promote optimal function, and enhance the body's natural ability to heal itself. With its emphasis on addressing the underlying causes of dysfunction rather than just treating symptoms, OMM offers a unique and effective approach to healthcare that can benefit patients of all ages and backgrounds.

William James Brooks DO

bottom of page