Osteopathy, this unknown

Ever heard about osteopathy? Whether it’s the first time you hear about it, whether you are not sure if it has something to do with magic or medicine, or whether you know a bit but would like to know more, you ended up in the right place. Maybe you are in perfect health and you will never need osteopathy. But you never know… plus, knowledge is power, isn’t it?

What is osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a philosophical way of looking at medicine, in which the focus is not the disease but the patient himself. The ultimate job of the osteopath is indeed to help the patient be truly healthy in mind, body and spirit (not just free of symptoms), and to educate him to take care of himself. Also known as Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM), osteopathy is based on the idea that the human body is like a machine that works well only if all the parts are in proper mechanical relationship. For this reason, compared to modern medicine OMM presents an extra element of touch, which serves not only for the diagnosis but also for the treatment. Yep, osteopaths fix patients’ problems with their hands more often than with medications! It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?

The human body is like a machine: it works well only if all the parts do their job.

The origins

Osteopathy was founded in 1874 by Dr Andrew Taylor Still as an alternative method for healing to traditional medicine. Dr Still believed that medications and treatments used at his time were often more harmful than good (arsenic, mercury… who would blame him?!) and recognized the importance of treating illness within the context of the whole body. A kind of pioneer of wellness, whose philosophy was based on the idea that all body’s systems are interrelated and dependent upon one another for good health, and that a correction of the body’s structure can improve the body’s ability to function and heal itself.

The philosophy

The osteopathic philosophy is based on 4 principles, aka the 4 tenets of osteopathy, that every osteopath follows in his/her approach to patient care.

1. The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind and spirit. 

Anatomically, our body is completely surrounded by the fascia (connective tissue), which makes our organs, muscles and bones interconnected. Physiologically, the synergy of the body’s functions is ensured by the nervous system and the circulatory system, that allow the communication and the interaction between the various parts of the body. Moreover, the endocrine system, the immune system and and the muscoloskeletal system interact and react to internal and external events as a unit.

Less technically and more intuitively, everything that is going on in our life contributes to the health or lack thereof. How we feel emotionally and mentally, the stress, the joy… all leads to the things we can measure with medical exams. And vice versa, if the body feels bad also the mind doesn’t feel good.

2. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.

Most of the time the reason why we take medications is to reduce the amount of pain associated with the healing process, or to decrease the symptoms. Let’s keep in mind that in ideal conditions, body, mind and spirit work together to keep us healthy and let us heal. That’s why left by itself the body would often heal on its own.

3. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

It’s no secret that abnormal structure affects people’s ability to function correctly. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the pains we have are the result of a body not working “as designed”. Just think of a callus under the foot, that forces you to modify your walk to avoid the bother, causing a bigger pain in the lower back.

4. Rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function. 

Any care always comes with risk, whether it is a natural or a synthetic alternative, whether it is physical therapy or surgical intervention. The task of the osteopath is to come up with the best treatment plan possible for a specific patient, taking into account that the patient comes first and his health, goals and believes have the priority.

Example of manipulation.

False myths

Osteopaths don’t make use of medications. WRONG. This is a misconception that most likely comes from the early times of osteopathy, as its founder rejected the use of medications and proposed osteopathy as an alternative method to the traditional medicine. Nowadays osteopaths can prescribe medicines and perform surgery as any other doctor. However, they use the rule “the less the better”, considering their side effects.

Osteopaths are not doctors. WRONG. Osteopaths, or more accurately Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs), are fully licensed physicians who practice in all areas of medicine. Their education consists of 4 years of college plus 4 years of training in the muscoloskeletal system, the body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones.

A bit of numbers

Osteopathic medicine has been growing very fast in the last 50 years, and there are currently 34 accredited colleges (6 public and 28 private) in the United States, with a total of 49 teaching locations in 32 states. In the current academic year, these institutions are educating ~29000 future physicians (more than 20% of all U.S. medical students) and ~5000 doctors in osteopathy graduate every year. Nowadays there are over 85000 osteopaths practicing in the U.S. and 60% of them practice in primary care. Currently osteopathy is a recognized profession and, as such, regulated in only 8 European countries: Finland, France, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Malta, Portugal, Switzerland and the UK.


Both American osteopathic physicians and European osteopaths call themselves DOs. However, American practitioners have a Degree of Osteopathic Medicine, while European practitioners have a Diploma of Osteopathy. As a consequence, osteopaths trained outside U.S. are not  physicians and, as such, cannot prescribe drugs and perform surgeries.

My experience

I don’t have much experience with osteopaths, but the impression I got from the few appointments I had is absolutely great. With no doubt, the humanity and the way of approaching the problems, oriented to find the root cause of the problems instead of curing the symptoms, are what I like the most. You know why? Because they made me feel in good hands. And then, the feeling of being “known” with only the touch is totally incredible. It really feels like magic.

So, in conclusion, if there is even only something tiny bothering you, don’t neglect it and take an appointment. It’s worth it, trust me!

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