What is an osteopath

What is an osteopath?

If you have joined the millions of people wanting a holistic approach to their health, you might be wondering “what is an osteopath?” Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO) are licensed physicians with a whole-person philosophy. Their aim is to prevent disease and injury while increasing overall wellbeing.

Just like doctors of medicine (MD), osteopaths practice across the full medical spectrum, including for primary care, pediatrics, and OB-GYN. DOs rely on the latest conventional medicine, as well as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Adding stretching, massages and movement of the musculoskeletal system to their healing arsenal. They also consider their patient’s lifestyle and environment to promote balance between mind, body and spirit.  

In the USA, that’s about 11% of all physicians that practice osteopathic manipulative medicine. According to the American Osteopathic Association, interest is booming with 25% of all medical students enrolled in an osteopathic medical school.

Related: What is holistic medicine?

Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

Just like integrative healthcare, osteopathic medicine views the body as the sum of interrelated systems working together to achieve wellbeing.

Osteopathic medicine was founded by Andrew Taylor Still over 100 years ago. It’s hypothesis: correcting the body’s structural problems can help the body heal itself. With this premise, spinal issues can send nerve signals out to organs causing illness.

Still believed that many health issues came from issues with the body’s musculoskeletal system. That includes the bones, nerves and muscles. With that in mind, he developed osteopathic manipulation treatments to heal nerves and help circulation. Therefore helping the body heal naturally.

DOs look at the whole body. So if you are consulting for hip pain, your physician will also look at your spine and ankles. An osteopath considers how your whole system works together to pinpoint underlying causes.

Is Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine legit

It is the real thing. With osteopathic manipulative medicine, touch can literally be healing. 

Studies have shown that osteopathic manipulative treatments can safely and effectively relieve pain during pregnancy, as well as alleviate migraines and lower back pain.[1]Hensel KL, Buchanan S, Brown SK, Rodriguez M, Cruser dA. Pregnancy Research on Osteopathic Manipulation Optimizing Treatment Effects: the PROMOTE study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. … Continue reading

Cerritelli F, Caprari E, Di Vincenzo M, et al. Is osteopathic manipulative treatment effective in migraine? International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine. 2013;16(1):e1-e2. doi:10.1016/j.ijosm.2013.01.001[/ref][2]Licciardone JC, Gatchel RJ, Aryal S. Recovery From Chronic Low Back Pain After Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. … Continue reading

Although osteopathic medicine is considered as complementary care, a DO can use treatments that are both conventional and alternative.

What do doctors of osteopathic medicine study?

Like an MD, an osteopath starts with a bachelor’s degree followed by a medical degree. For a DO that includes an emphasis on preventive medicine and comprehensive patient care.

Then comes a residency where the DO can specialize in the field of his choice. Residencies in medical facilities can last up to 8 years. Their curriculum also includes 200 hours of coursework dedicated to the human musculoskeletal framework.

Osteopathic physicians can prescribe medication, perform surgery and use advanced technology to diagnose and treat conditions and illnesses. An osteopath must be licensed and board certified.

Which type of health practitioner should you consult?

Do you need a medical doctor or an osteopath?

Whether or not you’re interested in holistic medicine you can benefit from osteopathy. Unlike a typical MD, a DO will consider the patient as a whole person. Not just the condition itself, but also the underlying issues. He will have a preventative optic, rather than just supplying a prescription for medication.

Both types of physicians can use conventional medical treatments. An osteopath is also more likely to use alternative treatments too. In addition, he can use manual therapies, such as manipulations and massages.

The aim of the DO is to help balance the mind, body and spirit; promoting wellness over the long term.

Is a chiropractor the same as an osteopath?

Although both types of practitioners use manipulations, a chiropractor and an osteopath are quite different. It starts with their levels of training and the scope of their practice.

A chiropractor isn’t a licensed physician and doesn’t need to complete a residency in a medical establishment. Chiropractic does not include the use of drugs or surgery.

Globally, the chiropractor tries to influence the physiological aspect of organs and systems in the body by relying primarily on manipulations involving controlled thrusts to adjust misalignments of the spine. Hence the famous “back cracking” chiropractors are famous for.

In contrast, an osteopath works on the principle that the body has self healing mechanisms. In addition to osteopathic manipulations, an DO can use conventional medicine or alternative therapies, including chiropractic.

Is a naturopathic doctor different from an osteopath?

Not to be confused with naturopaths, naturopathic doctors (ND) have a similar view of health as osteopaths, with at its core the body’s self-healing abilities.

NDs graduate from naturopathic medicine schools and must be licensed by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education to practice. However, in the US what an ND is entitled to do varies greatly between states. In some states only, an ND can serve patients as a primary physician, giving diagnostics like a medical doctor and using natural and homeopathic treatments.

With a DO license however, an osteopathic doctor can practice to the same level across all 50 states. Furthermore, a DO isn’t limited to alternative or natural medicine and can use conventional treatments.

Do osteopathic doctors have specialties?

Yes, doctors of osteopathy can be specialized in different fields of medicine. For example as pediatrics, OB-GYN, psychiatry, or dentistry depending on the studies and residency they completed.

Related: Holistic Lifestyle – 5 habits to get you started

What conditions can an osteopath treat?

Depending on their specialization, here’s a partial list of medical issues that can be treated using Osteopathic manipulative therapy.


Autism, behavioral issues, cerebral palsy, colic, developmental delays, ear infections, misshaped head, spitting up, crossed-eyes or lazy eye, sucking difficulties…


Anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, sleeping issues…


Back pain, nausea, groin pain, varicose veins, labor preparation…


Constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease…

Ear, Nose and Throat

Chronic ear infections, tonsillitis, sinusitis, throat pain, tinnitus…


Dizziness, vertigo, head trauma, migraines, post concussion syndrome, whiplash, seizures, visual disturbances, dementia, Parkinson’s disease…


Orthodontics, temporomandibular joint syndrome, malocclusion…


Allergies, asthma, bronchitis, chronic sore throats…

Key takeaways

  • An osteopathic doctor is great for patients who want both conventional and holistic medicine.

  • A DO is a license and board certified doctor who can work in all 50 states.

  • Osteopaths use Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, which includes manipulations and massages of the skeleton, nerves and muscles.

  • The osteopathic philosophy is about the body’s self-healing ability.

  • Osteopaths consider the patient as a whole of interrelated systems.

  • Studies have shown the efficacy of osteopathic manipulative medicine, notably for alleviating pain during pregnancy, migraines and lower back pain.


*Be mindful about your health. This article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.