Osteopaths, are they .O.D.’d MD’S?

Osteopaths (OD or DO0seem to be physicians with an excess of training. Who needs to be able to manipulate the spine if you are suffering from asthma?  How could the muscles and spine be connected to the lungs?

I have always been aware of Osteopathic medicine, but never understood why the fuss. Ever since medical school I came across Osteopaths who were treated just like MD’s.  Yet In some states the two groups did not talk to each other and even had competing hospitals across the street from each other.

Why is Osteopathic medicine different from Medicine?

In the 1800’s Health care was not as organized or regulated. A young person would seek out an older and respected physician and learn from that practitioner. Where were schools as well, in fact at the University of Maryland we attended lectures in a building that had been used since colonial times.

Anyway, in 1874, Andrew Taylor MD started treating patient with spinal and muscular manipulation.  In those days surgeons and medical doctors often trained and worked separately. The various medical sciences were in their infancy. If you were ill there were very few truly effective therapies, at least not by today’s standards. The principles of medical science were beginning to be set down. (Actually they are still evolving.)  Much of the science consisted of trial, error and observation and conjecture.  There are some well-known experiments that would be respected today, but most would not be accepted for publication.

The students of Dr. Taylor went two ways. Dr. Taylor insisted that his students also be MD’s, but others just taught the muscular skeletal approach. Their practice became much like Chiropractors. In most parts of the world and Osteopath practices just like a Chiropractor. In most parts of the US they are treated just like MD’s.

Osteopaths are not MD’s

Osteopaths differ from in MD’s not just in name. The thinking of Osteopathy is that they approach their patients with four principles in mind. First, the mind, body and spirit are one. Second, the body has self-regulatory mechanisms that seek to return the body to best function. Third, structure and function are related, a tight muscle indicates a dysfunction. And fourth, no one of the first three principles operates alone.

This sort of approach was not taught in my medical school. We attended many courses that thought the medical science. The idea of a mind – body connection was not talked about. Spiritual aspects of health were not mentioned. The idea of prayer healing was weird.

I remember a colleague mentioning a patient of his who had had cancer. He had little to offer her. She had taken herself to a prayer healer. When she returned the cancer was gone. We did not understand it, but if it worked for her, Great! However, it would have been malpractice to refer other patients her prayer healer.

In recent years studies on prayer and other forms of spiritual therapy often appear in the medical literature. Duke University has a Center dedicated to this. Other centers also exist.

As I retrained in Public Health, I became aware that for many the spirit was the source of illness not the other way around. I was apt to encounter people who believed as such. In fact Native Americans have always believed in such. The old westerns seemed to emphasize the herbs and potions as much as any ritual. The native American Beliefs were not mentioned in those westerns.

So to whom do you turn for healing?

That depends upon what ails you. Unfortunately, your symptoms don’t always tell the whole picture. We easily recognize common illnesses because they are common. Many times they will bet better on their own. Physicians have to restrain themselves when faced with a cold. Antibiotics can actually make matters worse. They kill the common bacteria and leave the body open to uncommon bacteria. If a virus caused your cold, the antibiotic had no role in your recovery, even if you feel they did.

Other illnesses like stomach upsets can have many causes. They usually get better on their own with only Tender Loving Care and Time. So enjoy your chicken soup.

Inflammatory conditions are not well understood. The interplay and mind, body and other factors remain elusive. Understanding the body as an integrated whole is essential.

If the tried and true does not work for you, then try what has worked for others. It will take time and much work to generate the evidence we have for the tried and true to become mainstream. New ways to study them will need to be designed.

Taking charge of your health and deciding to get better, may just do that. So, decide to be healthy.

PS. Joy can help a lot.

As Always, Seek joy,

Coach Dr. Dave



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