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What is Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine?

By Laura Evans
Updated May 17, 2024
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Osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) is literally a hands-on method of treating medical conditions. A doctor of osteopathy (DO) uses manual therapy, or the hands, to stretch, apply pressure, or provide resistance to muscles and joints. Doctors of osteopathy go through training similar to medical doctors. In addition, a DO receives extra training regarding how to perform osteopathic therapy.

Traditional medicine typically focuses on a disease or a part of the body. In contrast, osteopathic manipulative medicine strives to treat a patient as a whole. While the lines between traditional medicine and osteopathic medicine have blurred with the growth of preventative medicine, the philosophical differences remain.

Doctors of osteopathy and medical doctors (MD) receive similar training. A DO goes through four years of medical school and participates in a residency or internship program. Like an MD, a DO can train for a specialty such as surgery or gynecology. A doctor of osteopathy also receives additional hours of training that emphasizes the structural mechanisms of the body, and how to use the hands to manipulate and heal the body. As with an MD, a DO must pass licensing tests at both the state and national levels before being able to practice medicine.

Osteopathic manipulative medicine practitioners work to keep the body healthy by focusing on the structural problems of the spinal column in relation to the rest of the body. A DO may use one of several manipulative techniques to address these problems. One of these methods is called the soft tissue technique. When using soft tissue therapy, the DO will stretch and apply pressure to the muscles close to the spine. Another method is called the muscle energy technique, where a DO asks the patient to flex muscles in a specific manner while the DO uses the hands to counter the flexing.

A doctor of osteopathic medicine will not use manipulative techniques as a primary treatment for every type of illness. In fact, patients who have illnesses such as bone cancer or patients who have had spinal fusions should not receive manipulations at all. Conditions that can benefit from osteopathic manipulative medicine include sports injuries, lower back pain, and neck pain. In addition, people who suffer from migraines, asthma, and menstrual pain might benefit from osteopathic manipulative treatments.

Osteopathic manipulative medicine practitioners do not rely completely on manipulative techniques. These doctors will discuss how to eat healthy, recommend exercise programs when appropriate, and make other suggestions to improve a patient’s health. In addition, DOs use the same tools as do medical doctors, such as prescribing drugs or recommending surgery when appropriate.

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Discussion Comments
By kcmiller — On Oct 21, 2010

Surveys have shown that the use of OMM is diminishing among D.O.'s, perhaps because many D.O.'s have gone into specialties where drugs and surgery are used.

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