Osteopathy and Our Secret Health

Brought to you by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain

Dr. Sylvia Orozco Silberman DO, MS
November 14, 2022 / 5 mins read

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) is a well-kept secret, one that deserves to be shared.

For those unfamiliar with osteopathic medicine, in the United States, there are two schools of medicine: Allopathic (Medical Doctor, or MD) and Osteopathic (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO).

Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still, a physician who served as a surgeon for the Union in the Civil War. His experiences treating wounded soldiers -- and later, losing his wife and several children -- led him to re-evaluate conventional medicine. Dr. Still founded the first osteopathic medical school in 1892, and devoted his life to studying anatomy and alternative pathways for treating disease.

The scientific paradigm is reductionist: isolate and treat. Doctors focus on specific genetic markers and unique proteins. Reductionist practitioners intentionally do not focus on the whole body, and consequently, do not consider its functional capacity as a whole. Reductionist paradigms can be successful, but lead to specialized practitioners focused on individual organs or functions, rather than considering that the body’s health is more than the sum of its parts.

Osteopathy invites both patients and practitioners to consider our basic foundation and our human biological process, with its inherently miraculous physiology and capacity to function and heal.

Osteopathy returns the focus to the whole body. The tenets of osteopathy are that first, the body is a unit composed indivisibly of mind, body, and spirit. Second, the body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance. Third, structure and function are reciprocally interrelated. Finally, rational treatment is based on understanding these three principles.

An osteopathic medical education teaches physicians to palpate different tissues in the body, and centralizes touch as a vital part of the physical exam. Our palpatory skills are used to diagnose and treat using a range of techniques. Osteopathic physicians, on average, have over 200 hours of hands-on training just within the first two years of medical school. Those physicians who choose to focus on hands-on manipulation take additional, advanced, hands-on courses to improve their palpatory skills and treatment techniques.

Every body has a history which affects anatomy ­- birth trauma, breastfeeding history, sports injuries, concussions, abuse, car accidents, repetitive motions -- even just sitting at your desk several hours a day repeatedly.

Osteopathic physicians palpate different tissues of the body to find restrictions and unhealthy lack of motion. The osteopathic inquiry asks: “Why now? What has prompted a complaint?” “Why does this patient have this specific complaint?” “What prevents the body from resolving the issue on its own?”

Osteopathic physicians who practice OMT are applied anatomists. DOs work within and through the anatomy, through the structure of the body. If the structure is “off,” the function will be “off” as well. Bringing motion back to the structure improves functioning. To an osteopath, function describes the healthy processes of the lymph system, blood flow, toxin removal, and the balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic rhythms of the nervous system.

For example, if a patient’s vertebra is restricted, could we assume that it is affecting nerves and blood flow? Absolutely! Osteopathic physicians have an immense background in anatomy, and an understanding of how the immune system and autonomic nervous system work through the anatomy. Manipulating tissue at restricted areas impacts the functioning of the nervous system and the immune system, and helps the patient return to optimal functioning.

Conceptually, osteopathy is intuitive. So why is it, as I have stated, a well-kept secret? Perhaps because MDs are not trained in OMT, and in fact, most DOs occupy the same specialties in medicine as their MD counterparts. Only a handful of DOs who graduate each year continue to study, practice, and use OMT.

Reductionist paradigms have strengthened our understanding of the body and led to new, groundbreaking, and highly successful treatments. However, inherently, our body is not a collection of organs, bones, and tissue -- it is a physiological and fundamental whole. Our practice of medicine should reflect this irreducible truth.

“The first step in Osteopathy is the belief in our own bodies.” Dr. A.T. Still