An osteopath is a medical doctor with the D.O. designation following the name, rather than M.D. This means a DO is a doctor licensed to practice medicine, but with a slightly different approach to diagnosing and healing. People sometimes confuse an osteopath with a chiropractor or physiologist. However, a chiropractor's scope is limited to the spine and joints. A physiologist works with the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments and is not able to write prescriptions.
Osteopathic practitioners often see patients in offices similar to those of MDs. They may often work with MDs in the same office or hospital. The main distinction is that DOs are trained to health the mind, body, and spirit in unison. They can write prescriptions, order laboratory and diagnostic testing, and perform the same procedures MDs perform. However, they can do quite a bit more. They can align the spine through osteopathic manipulation. Many people find relief from this type of procedure, in reduced muscle and spine pain, as well as improved digestion and cognitive function. This type of intervention can increase blood flow and improve circulation in troubled areas.
An osteopath completes the same premedical requirements in college. However, this is where the difference begins. MDs complete different training programs than DOs, though the time is about the same. DOs receive additional training in osteopathic manipulation as part of the program. They may even do medical residencies in the same facilities, side by side. Because DOs take a different approach to healing, they may also encourage and take part in additional services to patients beyond osteopathic manipulations. DOs may provide:
- Dietary counseling
As part of the whole body healing process, nutrition is important to many DOs. They may offer dietary guidance on healthier food choices as well as ideas for sound weight loss plans.
- Treatment for whiplash and workplace injuries
Osteopathic manipulation is often part of the treatment DOs will offer to those who have been injured. They can perform manipulations to maintain correct alignment of the spine. This is important after sustaining a whiplash injury in an accident. They may also offer ultrasonic wave deep tissue treatment and alternative pain management treatments, either with or without conventional pain treatments.
Most insurance companies will pay for office visits to DO practitioners. Sometimes, they will either limit or refuse to pay for services considered different than conventional treatments, such as manipulations. However, many insurance companies are beginning to see the value of such treatments in health prevention and disease management. DOs understand the physical aspects of illness and healing the same as MDs. The approach they use to healing is where most people will see the difference. Many DOs will combine conventional with more natural healing methods like manipulation.