Excerpted from the American Academy of Osteopathy’s pamphlet “Osteopathic Medicine: A Distinctive Branch of Mainstream Medical Care”)
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) are fully licensed and recognized physicians and surgeons who stress the unity of all body systems. They bring a hands-on approach to medicine and view palpation and manipulation as aids to the diagnosis and treatment of various illnesses.
Osteopathic medicine was founded on the Missouri frontier in 1874. Dr. Andrew Taylor Still was an individualistic and strong-willed MD who was dissatisfied with the ineffectiveness of nineteenth-century medicine. He decried the rudimentary drugs and surgery of the day and saw many people, including his own three children, die from serious diseases. Concepts such as anesthesia, sterile surgery, antiseptics, antibiotics, and x-rays were not imagined in the 1870s.
In response, Dr. Still founded a philosophy of medicine that harkened back to Hippocrates, with its central focus on the body unity. He identified the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health. He recognized the body’s capability to heal. He stressed preventative medicine, eating properly, and keeping fit.
He identified palpation and the human touch as vital to gaining patient confidence and providing effective medical care. And he stressed manipulation as a less-intrusive form of diagnosis and treatment.
The Human Body is a Unified Organism
Osteopathic physicians emphasize that all body systems, including the musculoskeletal system, operate in unison- and disturbances in one system can alter functions of other systems. By recognizing the close relationship between body structure and organic functioning, the DO has a broader base for treating the whole patient.
Osteopathic physicians not only recognize the interdependence of all parts of that complex machine- the human body- but also consider the patient’s mental and emotional status. In addition, the DO pays attention to the relationship of the patient to his or her home environment, job, and other factors that affect health.
The Body’s Musculoskeletal System is Central to the Patient’s Well Being
This system includes the bones, muscles, tendons, tissues, nerves, and spinal column- about 60% of the body mass. The musculoskeletal framework is far more than an anatomical rack on which other organs are hung. It works in concert with all other organs. It may respond- properly or improperly- when a breath is drawn or body movement occurs. Besides being prone to mechanical disorders, the musculoskeletal system reflects many internal illnesses and may aggravate or accelerate the process of disease in the circulatory, lymphatic, nervous, or other body systems.
The body has a natural tendency toward health, as well s the capacity to resist disease and to heal itself
The body’s own healing power, vis medicatrix naturae, is a main principle of osteopathic medicine and a basic condition of all diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, osteopathic practice is designed to support, stimulate and, in some instances, initiate the body’s trend toward health.