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What is Osteopathic Medicine & OMT?

by Dr. Michael Verrilli, DO


The Historical Antecedents of Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic Medicine, or Osteo-pathy, is an original field of Western holistic medicine founded by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, a country physician and surgeon, in Kirksville, Missouri, in 1874. His personal experience led Dr. Still to become dissatisfied with the ineffect-iveness of the conventional medicine of his time: several of his children died tragically from untreatable spinal meningitis, and he saw other people injured or die as a result of toxic drugs and rudimentary surgery. According to Dr. Still, both divine inspiration and his long and comprehensive study of human anatomy and physiology helped him to create, practice and teach Osteopathic Medicine, which is now recognized worldwide and considered part of mainstream medicine.

The Key Concepts of Osteopathic Medicine

Dr. Still chose the term Osteopathy because, as he said, "we start with the bones." The Greek word osteo includes the idea of cause as well as bone, and the Greek word pathos means suffering, so he meant the idea of treating the patient’s root cause of suffering. The bones are the foundation of our body, and they also hold our ancestral origins, wisdom and DNA. Dr. Still saw Osteopathy as a science informed by Spirit, that is, having scientific, as well as spiritual foundations. He further recognized and developed the following concepts that form the other foundations of Osteopathic Medicine:

1. The human body has a natural tendency towards health, as well as the capacity to resist disease and heal itself.

2. The body’s musculoskeletal system is central to the patient’s health and self-expression.

3. Palpation (touch) and manipulation of the body are essential to gaining patient confidence, as aids to the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and for reestablishing and developing health.

4. Preventative medicine, such as proper nutrition, exercise, and reducing health risks, is essential.

Osteopathic Medicine Today

As a result of Dr. Still’s pioneering work, there are twenty-three accredited Osteopathic Medical Schools and over 52,000 actively practicing Osteopathic physicians today. The training of Osteopathic physicians consists of four years of college premedical study followed by four years of Osteopathic Medical School with a complete curriculum that also includes an additional 500 hours in the study of the body’s neuromusculoskeletal system. After completing Medical School and a one year Internship, Osteopathic physicians become fully licensed physicians who can provide an unlimited range of medical services in all 50 states, including medical diagnosis and prescriptions, surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, and laboratory and X-ray testing. They can also give a unique, natural form of hands-on treatment developed by Dr. Still known as Osteopathic Manipulation or Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT). This form of treatment includes Cranio Sacral Therapy and Cranial Osteopathy. The primary care orientation of many Osteopathic physicians, their emphasis on preventative medicine, and their ability to provide Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment represents a holistic approach to medicine that is becoming increasingly popular among prospective medical students and the general public.

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT)

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) is a natural hands-on treatment of patient’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies. It is unique in treating the spiritual body where the root cause of most illness is located today. Performed by a trained and fully licensed Osteopathic physician, OMT is one of the most comprehensive forms of bodywork available.

Osteopathic physicians are taught to touch patients with their hands in a kind and caring way in order to create a relationship with the patient and to diagnose and give treatment. Through their trained sense of touch, Osteopathic physicians can feel the patient’s entire history of health, illness and physical injury since conception and birth as restrictions or strains in the patient’s body that prevent normal movement. These restrictions are areas in the body where the tissues are twisted, tight, compressed or stuck. During an OMT treatment, the patient lies fully clothed on a massage treatment table with the physician seated at their head or to the side. The physician first properly positions the patient, and then very gently applies a precise amount of force or movement to their restrictions. The patient’s body responds by slowly releasing or unwinding the restrictions so that energy and fluids can flow, and their tissues, bones, joints and organs can move properly. Patients typically leave the office after an OMT session feeling relaxed, calm, balanced and energized. They also notice lessening or dis-appearance of their symptoms for a period of time or permanently. During the office visit, the physician may also give the patient nutritional counseling and advice about stress management and lifestyle changes.

Medical Conditions Treated by OMT

OMT is very effective for both acute (recent) and chronic (long-standing) medical conditions. It is especially helpful in treating chronic or degenerative medical conditions that modem conventional medicine has difficulty in treating. Almost any illness can be treated with OMT as primary or supportive therapy, but people most often receive OMT for headaches, migraines, neck and back pain, sciatica, TMJ syndrome, arthritis or joint pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, learning disorders, stress, anxiety, depression and traumatic injuries and sports injuries. Most health plans today, including Medicare, will cover office visits plus OMT for patients.

References for this article are available upon request.

Dr. Michael R. Verrilli, DO, MS is a Board-Certified Osteopathic physician who maintains a practice devoted entirely to Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine in Northampton, Massachusetts. He can be reached at (413) 584-5921 or email: apuausangate@hotmail.com.


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