Frequently Asked Questions

Q:     What is osteopathic medicine?

A:     Osteopathic medicine is an indigenous American medical system whose practitioners are fully licensed physicians and surgeons in all fifty states. There are also osteopaths in England, France, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

     While Allopathic (or M.D.) medicine focuses philosophically on the treatment of disease, (allo or other; pathic, disease) osteopathy has traditionally focused on enhancing the body's ability to heal itself. This dovetails quite nicely with many of the recent advances in alternative and nutritional medicine.

     During the latter half of the 19th century, Osteopathy developed along with the young American democracy, reflecting ideas of self sufficiency and the underlying goodness of man. They would "facilitate the body's ability to heal itself", and this body if, properly cared for, had all the internal resources to overcome diseases from without. Early osteopaths felt that the "rule of the artery was supreme", meaning that normalization of body functions could only come about by free commerce of life sustaining blood throughout the transportation system of the body, and commenced to develop a number of manual treatment systems that facilitate removal of structural blockages in the body.

     During the great pneumonia plague of 1918, osteopaths gained the loyalty of a generation of Americans by use of a variety of lymphatic pump techniques used on patients with pneumonia in the hospitals. Reported mortality rates were lower in the Osteopathic hospitals. Eighty years later, published research has shown these techniques to enhance immune function.

     Upon the death of the founder Andrew T. Still, Osteopathy moved to incorporate pharmacology into their medical training, after it was clear that the germ theory could not be ignored and that vaccinations held great promise for minimizing morbidity and mortality from some infectious diseases.

     Over the last 100 years Osteopathy has developed a variety of manual techniques to treat somatic dysfunction, from active mobilizations to very gentle indirect myofascial or craniosacral techniques. A skilled physician will select a technique or approach that is specific for the patient's physical problems, the degree of pain, their level of anxiety, and facilitate that specific person's ability to heal themselves, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach. In our office, an initial visit includes a thorough history and physical, and where appropriate, x-rays and blood work. A series of interventions will be recommended that may include physical therapy modalities, trigger point injection work, exercise rehabilitation, nutritional supplements and medicines where appropriate. Treatment always includes osteopathic treatment.

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Q:     How does Osteopathy differ from Chiropractic?

A:     Chiropractic developed as a parallel offshoot from Osteopathy, initially focusing on spinal mechanics. Unlike chiropractors, osteopathic physicians are licensed to prescribe drugs, perform surgery and to practice the full scope of medicine. Chiropractors rarely have formal post doctoral training.

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Q:     What is somatic dysfunction?

A:     Somatic dysfunction is defined as impaired or altered function of related components of the somatic body system; skeletal, joint, or myofascial structures with their related vascular, lymphatic and neural elements. The criteria for diagnosis includes:

  • Asymmetry of bony or musculoskeletal components
  • Restriction of motion
  • Tissue texture changes that often occur where excess sympathetic outflow causes first hypertonicity and tenderness, and ultimately fibrous adhesions and degenerative changes. Skin overlying the affected area is often cooler or warmer than surrounding areas.

Q:     Where does Osteopathy work best?

A:     Understand that there are board certified Osteopathic physicians in all major fields of medicine from Orthopaedics to Obstetrics to Internal Medicine, with subspecialties in Gastroenterology, Neurology, Nephrology, Cardiology, and Geriatrics. Where Osteopathy works best is where a physician incorporates osteopathic thinking into their particular specialty.

     The AMA, which is the political arm of the allopathic medical guild, has tried numerous times to destroy Osteopathic Medicine as a coherent alternative, but osteopaths have prospered in part because in the area of primary care, they have saved many patients from  operations, unnecessary disability, and practiced preventive medicine.

     Take the case of herniated lumbar discs. Numerous published studies have shown with MRI that "asymptomatic" persons in their 50's have bulging or protruding lumbar discs, which used to be a primary indication for surgery. Joel and Jeffrey Saal among others have published prospective papers looking at persons with symptomatic painful herniated discs. A large % of these persons recovered from their back pain and even resorbed their protruding discs. These results were obtained without osteopathic treatment, which would have improved their results significantly.

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Q:     Are there any breakthroughs in Osteopathy?

A:     The cranial work of Viola Fryman and others in the treatment of infants, and the work of Benjamin Sucher on the non-operative treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome would fit the bill. Our office features state-of-the-art leg length evaluation and treatment. Over 60% of the group of persons with low back pain have a significant leg length difference. Chronic low back pain can often be stabilized with sacral base leveling.

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Q:     How would an Osteopath treat osteoporosis differently?

A:     Osteoporosis is first and foremost a condition of the musculoskeletal system. Various published studies have shown that it is possible to increase Bone Mineral Density, to reduce kyphosis of the back and to reduce the rate of compression fractures using various combinations of nutrients, exercise, manual treatment and medication where appropriate. The most important thing is that a specific treatment plan be developed for each individual rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.

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Q:     What about fibromyalgia?

A:     Again, FMS is first and foremost a condition of the musculoskeletal system. We have covered a lot of ground today. For those interested in our unique approach to management of FMS, I would recommend reading my article "Fibromyalgia and the Serotonin Pathway", Alternative Medical Review, V3#6, 1998, p.367-75. Then we could talk further.