There are some philosophical similarities between osteopathic doctors and chiropractors—but there are also distinctions.
Osteopathic Medicine Overview
Osteopathic physicians (DOs) practice a specialized form of medicine. While they are able follow modern medical care, such as providing prescriptions and surgery, they also can offer osteopathic manipulative medicine. The overall philosophy focuses on helping patients achieve wellness through prevention of disease and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The osteopathic doctor will look at the person holistically, not just as separate organs and body parts. In terms of training, osteopathic doctors attend medical school and take 200 extra hours in osteopathic manipulative medicine. This specialized practice is a “system of hands-on techniques” that not only restores motion, but DOs alleviate pain, and they help the body “function more efficiently”.1
Doctor of Osteopathy vs. MD
From the beginning of osteopathic medicine, Andrew Taylor Still rejected the medical mindset that medicine “treated effects rather than causes of disease”. He relied on joint and bone manipulation to treat illnesses. Modern osteopathic medicine is more mainstream now. Though they still use osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), not all DOs use this in daily practice. The distinction between DO and traditional MD is less than it used to be. Osteopathic medical students take the Osetopathic Oath, which suggests the person is a holistic unit (spirit, mind, and body), the body can self-regulate and self-heal, and structures and functions of the body are interrelated. This oath suggests DOs are similar in approach to holistic medicine; however, the training between DOs and MDs is actually very similar. Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) is sometimes still practiced by DOs, but a 2001 survey showed that it wasn’t used regularly and that prescriptions and surgery were more routinely used. Manual therapy, though, is a “safe and effective treatment modality”. OMM can be used to treat problems other than back pain. A particular technique is crano-sacral manipulation, for example.2
DO vs. Doctor of Chiropractic
While DOs and DCs are both doctors, their training does vary. Osteopathy is based on the theory that diseases are caused by the “loss of structural integrity”, which can be resolved by “manipulation of the parts supplemented by therapeutic measures”. Chiropractic suggests that disease comes from a “lack of normal nerve function”, which can be helped by “manipulation and specific adjustment of body structures”, generally focused in the spinal region. DOs take a state medical board exam, and they are licensed to practice like MDs. They are able to perform surgery and prescribe medication. In contrast, chiropractors have 2-4 years undergraduate and 4 years post-graduate studies, and the focus is more on manipulation and clinical sciences. They cannot perform surgery or prescribe drugs. The osteopathic manipulation involves myofascial treatment, and they also promote lymphatic circulation. They may use high velocity/low amplitude force techniques. Chiropractors often use HVLA as well.3 Chiropractors have many other techniques they can employ, such as electrical stimulation, physiotherapy, soft tissue mobilization, and joint adjustment.4 Some chiropractors also integrate alternative care, such as acupuncture and massage. Chiropractic, from the beginning of its founding with Daniel David Palmer in 1895, has held the belief that “the body will heal itself if the structure and function are corrected”. While chiropractors don’t prescribe medications, they may recommend herbal remedies and vitamins. They can treat sciatica, joint problems, low back pain, headaches, spinal disk conditions, osteoarthritis, tendon and ligament issues, sprains and strains, carpal tunnel syndrome, and more. Spinal manipulation, physiotherapy, and nutrition are all practiced in chiropractic care.5