What is Osteopathy and What Does an Osteopath Treat?

An osteopath—also known as an osteopathic physician or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)—is a trained and licensed physician who focuses on improving a patient’s overall wellness and health.

Osteopathic physicians employ a specific type of treatment, called osteopathic manipulative medicine, to increase physical mobility and reduce pain.

In this article, we’ll answer all the questions you might have about osteopathy and osteopathic treatment.

What is osteopathy?

Generally, osteopathic doctors use hands-on treatments—such as massaging, stretching, and physical movement—to improve circulation and physical mobility while reducing pain.

To obtain a license to practice osteopathic medicine, DOs must earn a bachelor’s degree and complete four years’ worth of medical training. Osteopaths must also complete specific training in manipulative medicine.

After completing their training, osteopathic doctors must pass a national licensure exam. The doctor must then complete a one to seven-year residency and an additional 200 hours of coursework about the body’s musculoskeletal system.

What ailments can osteopathy treat?

Osteopathy may be effective in treating a range of conditions, including:

  • Ankle, hip, foot, and knee pain
  • Headaches
  • Neuralgia
  • Arthritis
  • Golfer’s or tennis elbow
  • Elbow, shoulder, and hand pain
  • Back and neck pain
  • Sciatica
  • Postural issues
  • Sporting injuries
  • Digestive problems
  • Sinus disorders
  • Menstrual pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

If your doctor decides osteopathy isn’t the best treatment for your condition, they will refer you to another specialist who can help.

How does osteopathy treat these conditions?

Your appointment with an osteopathic doctor will begin with a thorough physical examination. This process can take from one to two hours.

During the examination, your doctor will ask you to demonstrate simple movements and stretches—such as bending, reaching, and touching your toes—to determine your current mobility and assess any postural problems.

The osteopath will also assess your joint, ligament, and tissue health through palpitation (which means checking the body and diagnosing potential health issues through touch).

Following the assessment, your doctor will prepare a specialised treatment plan to suit your unique needs. You may need to attend multiple sessions with your osteopath as you progress through your treatment.

Depending on your needs, an osteopathic physician may use various techniques to treat your health issues, such as:

  • Massage, to relax muscles and relieve tension
  • Articulation, to move your joints through a natural range of motion
  • High-velocity thrusts, or short and sharp spinal movements
  • Stretching, to treat stiff joints

These treatments should not be painful, although you may feel stiffness or soreness for a few days afterwards. If you do feel pain, make sure to let your doctor know.

Because osteopathy focuses on self-healing, your doctor may instruct you to try a new home exercise program or make a few dietary adjustments. These changes will revolve around your unique needs. Each time you visit your osteopath, they will assess and record the effectiveness of these changes and adjust as needed.


Osteopathic treatment targets the whole body, improving a patient’s overall health and wellbeing. Using hands-on treatments such as massaging and stretching, your osteopath will help you achieve better mobility, reduced pain, and a healthier, happier lifestyle.

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