If you’re basically comfortable with conventional care, but wish your physician relied a little less on prescription drugs and a little more on hands-on healing, a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) or osteopathy may be the way to go. Osteopathic physicians (osteopaths) graduate medical school, complete residencies and pass certification exams just like MDs. They can prescribe drugs and perform surgery. What DOs have that MDs don’t have is specialized training in osteopathic manipulation-techniques for manipulating ligaments, muscles and connective tissue, which osteopaths say can help the healing process.
Osteopaths believe that when it comes to health and healing, our musculoskeletal system gets short shrift. But by making sure all of your bones, vertebrae, ligaments, and tendons are lined up and working properly, say osteopaths, you can prevent and treat a host of conditions.
There’s evidence that osteopathy may be effective for treating back, neck, and injury pain, headaches and menstrual cramps. It may also help other diseases like high blood pressure, arthritis, and digestive problems, though we need more research.
Unfortunately, research on osteopathy’s effectiveness against any one specific ailment is in short supply. Osteopaths also admit that some people have more success with osteopathic manipulation than others, so you should be prepared to give it three to five treatments before you decide whether or not it works for you.
Since DOs have the same training as MDs, you can see an osteopath for any problem you would call your family doctor for. If you go, expect your doctor to check the texture of your connective tissue, your posture, your range of motion and other factors that reflect your skeletal health, and take your medical history. And he or she may prescribe anything from prescription drugs and manipulation to at-home exercise as your treatment.
Qualifications: Look for a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
Licensure: Osteopathic physicians are licensed in all 50 states.
Number in U.S.: About 42,000.
Cost: $55-$95 per session.
Insurance coverage: Osteopathic medicine is generally reimbursed the same as allopathic (MD) care.
For more information: American Osteopathic Association, 142 E. Ontario St., Chicago, IL 60611; 800-621-1773.