Osteopathic Medicine: Working With Your Body to Heal Itself

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As readers of my blog know, I’m an osteopathic physician (DO), and proud of it. This philosophy of medical practice began in the late 1800’s as a new idea of how to treat certain conditions without using harmful drugs or surgery. Since then, antibiotics and sterile surgical practice are regular parts of medical practice, but it remains relevant that patients can be partners, rather than simply receivers of care.

The philosophy of osteopathic medicine has four basic tenets, as described in the book “Somatic Dysfunction in Osteopathic Family Medicine,” edited by Kenneth Nelson, DO:

  • The body is a unit consisting of mind, body and spirit
  • We are capable of self-healing and health maintenance
  • Structure and function are interrelated
  • Rational treatment is based on self-healing and structure and function

Osteopathic physicians are trained to touch and sense certain imbalances in the body’s structure through palpation of the spine and soft tissues. Nuances the physician feels tell him where a dysfunction may be in the bones and muscles, reflecting the inner workings of organs. Treatments are hands-on, and the patient actively works with the physician to achieve a good result.

The book eloquently compares osteopathic philosophy to holistic logic – as opposed to the type of logic traditional medicine uses. In traditional medicine, there is a linear progression to disease, as a singular event leads into another to produce a result. For example, bacteria can trigger an infection, which is then treated by an antibiotic. The holistic approach views the person as a unit, not as a sum of parts. Using the example, poor nutrition and bad habits, such as smoking, weaken the immune system. This makes the patient more susceptible to the infectious process.

rolfing_ARTTechniques such as cranial osteopathy involve improving the flow of immune cells in the cerebrospinal fluid. This works with the body’s own natural healing mechanism. Biochemicals in the cerebrospinal fluid also can improve mood. This field of “psychoimmunoneurology” is a fascinating, novel area about which I will write a later post.

In my practice, I try to help my patients feel better by using a variety of techniques. For example, a type of Eustachian tube drainage technique can improve getting rid of fluid produced in an upper respiratory tract infection. Or kneading a muscle out of its restrictive barrier can lessen tension.

What I love about osteopathic treatment is that the physician works with the body to supplement its inherent healing. Its elegance is in its sheer simplicity. Simply finding blocks to a particular area’s functioning and using gentle pressure to normalize the function makes manipulation a valuable tool in my practice.

Have you had an experience with osteopathic medicine? I am interested to hear.


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