A Better Kind of Medicine?

I may be switching from a M.D. to a D.O. What is the difference?

– June 12, 2003

Updated 5/13/2005

You’re not likely to notice a difference between the treatment you’ll get from a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) compared to a medical doctor (M.D.). Both are physicians, and both receive essentially the same training. Osteopathic physicians as well as medical doctors specialize in various fields of medicine such as surgery, dermatology, internal medicine, gastroenterology, etc., and have all the privileges that medical doctors have. They can prescribe drugs, admit patients to hospitals, order all of the same diagnostic tests and medical treatments that MD’s use. Doctors of osteopathy make up about five percent of the total U.S. physician population.

Osteopathy traces its history to 1874 when physician Andrew Taylor Still focused on the manipulation of the musculoskeletal system for healing and the promotion of health. He developed manipulative techniques, which are still taught today in schools of osteopathic medicine. However, while all doctors of osteopathy learn the techniques, only 10 percent of them still rely on manipulation as a main method of treatment.

As you may know, I’m a great advocate of osteopathic manipulative technique (OMT), especially of cranial therapy. I’ve found it extremely useful for a wide range of problems, from headaches to hyperactivity in children, disturbed sleep cycles and asthma. It works through very gentle pressure applied with the hands to the head. The aim is to free up restrictions in the movement of the cranial bones and allow the subtle natural rhythms of the central nervous system to express themselves in a balanced fashion.

Unless you’re specifically looking for manipulative therapy, I doubt very much that switching to a D.O will make much difference in your medical care. Don’t confuse osteopathy with chiropractic. Although both use manipulation, chiropractors do not get the same medical training and do not have the same medical privileges that osteopaths do. To find a physician in your area trained in osteopathic manipulation look on the American Academy of Osteopathy’s Web site (www.academyofosteopathy.org).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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