by Ryan C. Bradley
When you had your last physical, chances are you didn’t notice the two letters after your primary care provider’s name. And those letters were most likely M.D., indicating a conventional medical doctor. But another option is becoming more common: D.O., or doctor of osteopathic medicine. D.O.s go through equivalent testing and board certification as M.D.s, but osteopathic medical schools claim to place more emphasis on holistic health and preventative medicine. The premise of osteopathy is that manipulating muscles and bones promotes structural integrity that could restore or preserve health. While according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, only 7 percent of the physicians in the U.S. are D.O.s, the American Osteopathic Association reports that one in four medical students in the country is attending osteopathic medical school. (Full disclosure: My significant other is in her third year of an osteopathic medical school, and my pediatrician was a D.O.) Sooner or later, a D.O. is coming to a neighborhood near you, and you should consider if one is right for you. Here are a few things to know about D.O.s:
1. D.O.s spend 200 extra hours training
In addition to the traditional four years of medical school—two years in the classroom and then two years of clinical rotations (shorts stints, often of six weeks, working with practicing doctors in different specialties)—D.O.s spend an additional 200 hours learning Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy (OMT), which the American Osteopathic Association defines as “a set of techniques used by Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine to diagnose, treat and prevent illness and injury.”
2. OMT is proven to work
In practice, OMT is “stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance.” For example, when I was suffering from lower back pain after a car accident, my D.O. pediatrician used OMT to relieve my persistent ache. I laid face down on the examining table, and he pressed the muscles around my spine away from it with his fingers. He moved slowly, holding for 20 seconds or so before he released the pressure. When he had finished going up and down my back, I felt an immediate relief. While OMT is most frequently used to treat muscle pain, it has also been proven to successfully treat carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, sinus disorders, and migraines.
3. OMT supplements conventional medicine
D.O.s prescribe medicines, recommend and perform surgeries, and use other conventional treatments, while employing OMT to augment or, if possible, to replace them. D.O.s specialize in all fields and while not all of them still practice OMT, learning how to manipulate different muscle groups—learning how to relax a whole person’s body by manipulating their feet—still leads to a greater understanding of how the human body works and, in turn, how to better treat their patients.
About the Author
Ryan C. Bradley has previously published work in The Missouri Review, The Rumpus, and many other venues. He is finishing his M.F.A. in fiction at Emerson College in May. You can find out more about Ryan at ryancbradleyblog.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @RyanB4890.
Doctor photo via Shutterstock