Osteopathy is an alternative system of medicine that combines elements of conventional medicine with an alternative therapy known as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). Using OMT, a doctor physically moves muscles and joints to improve alignment and restore balance to the musculoskeletal system, which, in turn, is said to help all the body's systems function optimally. OMT is performed on many areas of the body, and is even used to manipulate joints of the cranium (cranial osteopathy). Osteopathic care encourages a natural form of self-healing.
Osteopathic care is sometimes compared to chiropractic care, because both use hands-on physical manipulation to treat problems. The principles of osteopathic care were established in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, who believed that effective medical care should promote the body's ability to heal itself. Using this principle, osteopathic care focuses on treating the patient as whole, rather than simply treating specific symptoms of an illness or condition. Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) work in partnership with their patients to break down barriers that inhibit quality healthcare. DOs also stress the importance of preventative care.
Applications for Osteopathic Care
Osteopathic care combines medicine in its conventional forms, such as prescription medications and surgery, with techniques, such as OMT and nutritional counseling, to alleviate pain, prevent illness and restore strength. Osteopathic care may be helpful for treating various conditions, including the following:
- Lower-back pain
- Neck pain
- Ankle injury
- Tennis elbow
- Postoperative pain
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Irritable-bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Menstrual pain
- Chronic migraines
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Sinus disorders
- Spinal problems (such as spinal disc injuries)
Osteopathic care is also used to treat trauma caused by car accidents or sports injuries.
Benefits of Osteopathic Care
The physical-manipulation techniques used in osteopathic care may be effective in reducing pain and restoring strength. Osteopathic care may also provide patients with the following benefits:
- Reduced tension within the body
- Healthy flow of bodily fluids
- Restoration of muscle and tissue balance
- Relief from chronic migraines
- Relief from back and spinal problems
- Increased range of motion in the joints
- Decrease in stress placed on the joints
- Improved mobility of the cranial bones
Osteopathic care may also increase blood circulation and lower blood pressure.
Risks and Complications of Osteopathic Care
Osteopathic care methods usually have few risks or side effects, although not every patient is helped by them. Patients with broken or dislocated bones, joint or bone infections, damaged ligaments, osteoporosis or bone cancer should avoid osteopathic care methods, especially OMT. Osteopathic care methods are also not recommended for patients who are pregnant or taking blood-thinning medications, or who have recently had joint surgery.
Following osteopathic care treatment, a patient may experience a slight headache, fatigue or mild discomfort, although these side effects are temporary and usually disappear within 24 hours. Stroke and spinal injuries have been reported following OMT performed for neck pains, although such complications are considered extremely rare.
Outcomes of Osteopathic Care
The outcome of osteopathic care depends on the specific therapy used and the needs of the patient being treated. Many patients have reported successful results from osteopathic care, although scientific evidence of its efficacy is lacking. Patients often prefer osteopathic care to conventional treatment because it is usually less invasive, and less likely to cause serious side effects or complications.