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What is osteopathy?

Osteopathy emphasizes overall health and the relation among the body's nerves, muscles, bones, and organs. Doctors of osteopathy (DOs) base diagnosis and treatment on the idea that the body's systems are interconnected. Instead of treating specific symptoms or illnesses, DOs regard and treat the body as an integrated whole. Osteopathic medicine focuses on disease prevention and health maintenance.

Osteopathic doctors must complete basic medical education from an accredited college of osteopathic medicine. Accreditation is recognized by bodies such as the U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education. Like medical doctors (MDs), DOs must complete an internship and residency program after their basic medical education. DOs can prescribe medicine and do surgery. Currently, DOs are rare in Canada and have received their training in other countries, such as the United States.

What is osteopathy used for?

Doctors of osteopathy may serve as primary care providers. DOs can prescribe medicines, order medical tests such as X-rays, and do surgery. DOs often provide treatment in a hospital. More than half of all osteopathic doctors practice in primary care areas, such as with children (pediatrics), pregnant women (obstetrics), women's health (gynecology), or general adult health (internal medicine).

Some osteopathic doctors use hands-on manipulation of bones and muscles, or osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), in their training and practice. OMT allows osteopathic doctors to use their hands to diagnose injury and illness and to promote healing.

Is osteopathy safe?

Osteopathic medicine is a safe, established practice of medicine. Like MDs, DOs must pass a medical board examination to obtain a licence in order to enter practice. Each province sets its own requirements and then issues the licence for the osteopathic doctor to practice in that province.

If you are interested in choosing a DO as your primary care provider, check his or her education, licence, and experience. Recommendations from family members, friends, or other health professionals may be helpful.

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
Last Revised June 8, 2010

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