About Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM)

Osteopathic medical students spend approximately 200 hours of training in the art of osteopathic manipulative medicine in addition to their other medical school courses. This system of hands-on techniques helps alleviate pain, restore motion, support the body’s natural functions and influence the body's structure to help it function more efficiently.

One key concept osteopathic medical students learn is that structure influences function. Thus, if there is a problem in one part of the body's structure, function in that area and in other areas may be affected. For example, restriction of motion in the lower ribs, lumbar spine and abdomen can cause stomach pain with symptoms that mimic irritable bowel syndrome. By using osteopathic manipulative medicine techniques, D.O.s can help restore motion to these areas of the body, thus improving gastrointestinal function, oftentimes restoring it to normal.

Another integral tenet of osteopathic medicine is the body's innate ability to heal itself. Many of osteopathic medicine's manipulative techniques are aimed at reducing or eliminating the impediments to proper structure and function so the self-healing mechanism can assume its role in restoring the person to health.

There are several different types of techniques aimed at resolving a variety of issues. Osteopathic manipulation is applicable to all areas of the body and to virtually every illness and injury. Anytime the body is not functioning at its peak capacity, osteopathic manipulation may be used to help restore the body to normal and to help the person heal.

OMT: Hands-On Care

Nearly everyday, medical science unveils new discoveries, from brain scans to anti-cancer drugs. In the midst of these wonders, it's easy to forget that sometimes what patients really need is a healing touch.

Osteopathic physicians haven't forgotten.

What Is OMT?

Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is hands-on care. It involves using the hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. Using OMT, your osteopathic physician (D.O.) will move your muscles and joints using techniques including stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.

Who Can Benefit From OMT?

OMT can help people of all ages and backgrounds. It can:

  • ease pain
  • promote healing
  • increase mobility

OMT is often used to treat muscle pain. But it can also help patients with a number of other health problems, among them:

  • asthma
  • sinus disorder
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • migraines
  • menstrual pain

When appropriate, OMT can complement—and even replace—drugs or surgery. In this way, OMT brings an imporatant dimension to standard medical care.



What Is a D.O.?

The physicians who practice OMT are called Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.s). In many ways, D.O.s resemble medical doctors (M.D.s). Both D.O.s and M.D.s are fully licensed physicians. They provide a full range of services, from prescribing drugs to performing surgery. And they use the latest medical tools.  But D.O.s offer something special-their unique approach to patient care. They:

  • teach patients how to prevent illness and injury by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • look at the whole person to reach a diagnosis. They don't just focus on symptoms.
  • help the body to heal itself.
  • believe that all parts of the body work together and influence one another. They get special training in nerves, muscles, and bones.
  • are trained to perform osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). They provide the best care that medicine has to offer.

What Is an Office Visit Like?

If you've never been to a D.O. before, you may wonder what to expect. A typical office visit includes four parts: interview, exam, diagnosis, and treatment.

The D.O. will talk with you about your medical history. In addition, you will be asked about such factors as your home, work, and family life.

Your D.O. will do a complete physical exam. If necessary, tests will be ordered.

The physician will do a structural exam, which starts by checking your posture, spine, and balance. The D.O. will then use fingers to feel your back, hands, and feet. Also, the physician will check your joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The D.O. will consider the results of the interview and exam and will tell you what may be causing your symptoms.

The D.O. will suggest a treatment plan. This may include such options as drugs and surgery. It may also include OMT. Depending on how severe your problem is, you may need more than one OMT session.

Carol’s Story

"I went to a D.O. because I had a sharp pain in my side. Plus, I was having trouble moving.

"The D.O. asked some questions about the pain: How strong it was, when it started, and how long had I felt it? We also talked about my medical history.

"He ordered some tests to find out if the pain was caused by disease. The tests showed that it wasn't.

"Then he asked me about my lifestyle, including my job. When I described my workstation, he said the pain might be caused by sitting and moving in unhealthy ways.

"The D.O. recommended using OMT to reduce the pain and help me become more mobile. And he gave me some tips for changing my workstation to prevent future problems."

Mike’s Story

"I had a cough, stuffy nose, fever, and headache. After feeling sick for a while, I visited my D.O.

"She thought I might have chronic sinusitis. To make sure, she first did an exam and ordered tests. It turned out she was right on target.

"Then she gave me a prescription for an antibiotic to get rid of the infection. Plus, she used OMT to help drain my sinuses and relieve my headache.

"After just one OMT session, I felt a lot less stuffy. And the antibiotics cleared up the problem for good."

Does OMT Work?

Consider the results of a study published in a 2003 issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Researchers observed the effects of OMT as an added treatment for children suffering from frequent ear infections. Patients were divided into two groups. One group received routine care for the infections while the other received routine care plus OMT.

The results found a potential benefit of using OMT as an added treatment by possibly preventing or decreasing the need for surgical interventions or the overuse of antibiotics.

In addition, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in November 1999. In the study, researchers looked at how well OMT works to treat low-back pain.

Patients were divided into two groups. One group got standard treatments, such as hot and cold packs, physical therapy, and drugs. The other group received standard care plus OMT.

Twelve weeks later, patients in both groups felt better. But those in the OMT group used less medication and less physical therapy. That meant they had fewer side effects and lower health care costs.

What Credentials Does a D.O. Have?

Upon receiving a college degree, D.O.s complete four years of training at an osteopathic medical school.

After graduation, D.O.s serve internships and residencies.

Internships expose D.O.s to all areas of primary care medicine- family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, as well as obstetrics and gynecology.

All D.O.s serve residencies, consisting of two to six years of training. Residencies are available in the primary care medicine as well as other specialties such as surgery, radiology, psychiatry and sports medicine.

To go into practice, D.O.s must pass a national licensing exam and be licensed by the state in which they will provide medical care.

When Did Osteopathic Medicine Start?

Physicians have been using their hands to treat patients for hundreds of years, at least. But osteopathic medicine traces its official start to the year 1874. That's when Dr. Andrew Taylor Still founded the discipline.

More than a century later, osteopathic medicine is among the fastest-growing sectors of health care. By the year 2020, it's projected that approximately 100,000 D.O.s will be practicing in the United States.