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A Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.), more correctly called a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, is very much like a traditional medical doctor (M.D.), but receives additional training in the body's musculoskeletal system. This training teaches D.O.s to examine, diagnose and treat the body as a whole, rather than treating a single illness or symptom. A doctor of osteopathy takes a more holistic approach to medicine by looking at the body as a complete system, instead of placing emphasis on one particular part.
The father of the osteopathic movement is Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., an American doctor practicing in the late 19th century. By 1874, he had become disillusioned with the "modern medicine" of the time and its useless medicines and treatments. He felt strongly that the body had its own powerful ability to heal itself. Dr. Still was one of the first proponents of "wellness" and a healthy lifestyle through focusing on preventative medicine.
D.O.s are trained and licensed to examine patients, prescribe medicine and perform surgery like an M.D. To become a doctor of osteopathy, one must complete four years of undergraduate work, usually in a science field, followed by four years of medical school. D.O.s complete an extra 300 to 500 hours studying the body's musculoskeletal system and learn hands-on methods of diagnosis and treatment. D.O.s are licensed by the region in which they live, and in many areas can become board certified after a two to six year residency and completion of board certification exams. D.O.s can also choose to specialize in a particular field, as M.D.s do.
A doctor of osteopathy is trained to palpate, or to feel out what is sometimes called the body's living anatomy. The D.O. is concerned with how fluids flow throughout the body, the texture and movement of tissues, and the structure of the body. The emphasis is on the musculoskeletal system, which is the body's system of nerves, muscles, and bones. A doctor of osteopathy attempts to determine how disease or injury to one particular system or body part affects another.
Many D.O.s use a technique called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) in addition to traditional medicines and treatments to treat their patients. They believe that stress and posture can affect the systems of the body and hinder their proper functions, thus causing disease and illness. Through OMT, they manipulate the body in certain ways to assist it in utilizing its natural healing system freely, with no hindrances. If the body is in the correct position, it can work to heal itself. D.O.s can release bones and joints that have become compressed, thereby affecting other systems.