Osteopathy, also known as osteopathic medicine, is an alternative approach that considers health and wellness in relation to the body’s muscles, organs, nerves, and bones. Doctors of osteopathic medicine believe that all of the body’s systems are interconnected and use this principle to diagnose and treat illnesses. In osteopathy, the focus is on the functioning of the body as a whole and the prevention of diseases as opposed to the mere treatment of symptoms. Therapy is usually non-invasive and involves manipulative techniques, known as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). Osteopathy originated in the nineteenth century as an alternative to conventional medicine. The practice has since moved closer to conventional medicine, with the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) struggling to distinguish osteopathy as a separate field within medicine in the United States.


Visiting an osteopath for the first time is very similar to visiting a general practitioner or primary care physician. The osteopath takes the patient’s complete medical history and asks questions about his or her lifestyle, emotional status, and diet. The patient is encouraged to share all of his or her symptoms, ongoing conditions, and past accidents, illnesses, and injuries – even those that seem unrelated to the problem at hand. Following the initial assessment, the osteopath may observe the patient performing a set of prescribed movements. The osteopath then takes note of any postural problems or impairments. The osteopath may use a wide range of diagnostic tests, including blood tests, X-rays, or neurological tests, to identify the roots of the problem at hand. Treatment measures may include manipulation, massage, lifestyle changes, exercise regiments, and dietary changes. Treatment programs are tailored to the individual, so two people with the same ailment may not receive the same treatment.

Serious osteopath palpating the trapezius of a woman


Osteopathy may be used to treat a wide number of disorders, diseases, and illnesses. Pain is the most common complaint and includes both acute and chronic pain in areas such as the head, back, neck, feet, heels, sciatica, shins, and elbows. Osteopaths may treat repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) such as tendonitis. Other common conditions that osteopaths treat include whiplash, posture issues, digestive deficiencies, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, and arthritis. Injuries sustained at home, while playing sports, or at the workplace may also be treated by an osteopath.


There is little research on the effectiveness of osteopathy as a form of alternative medicine. The general consensus is that osteopathy is valuable in reducing the amount of pain experienced and improving posture. Scientific literature into the effectiveness of osteopathy in treating specific conditions is minimal and not entirely conclusive. Some scientific reviews indicate that osteopathy may be successful in treating musculoskeletal pain, in particular lower back pain.

Doctor and patient consultation in osteopathic office


Osteopathic doctors have a basic education in medicine. Their credentials are mandated by the United States Department of Education. Osteopathic doctors (D.O.s), otherwise known as osteopaths or osteopathic physicians, are given license to practice medicine across the United States and in sixty other countries, including Canada. Although osteopathy typically does not involve invasive procedures such as surgery or prescription medication, osteopaths have the same license freedoms as regular physicians.