What is a DO? Although this is a question I get asked frequently, I am always happy to explain. Everybody at some point in their lives pays a visit to their doctor, and whether it’s an appointment to see a heart doctor about blood pressure, having a knee looked at by an orthopedist, or time to see the family physician for a yearly checkup, patients usually know the reason for that visit. What many people may not notice, however, are the initials behind their healthcare provider’s name.
A DO, or Doctor of Osteopathy, is a physician who is fully licensed to practice medicine the same way a Medical Doctor (MD) does. So, what exactly is the difference?
Osteopathic physicians practice a philosophy based on the relationship between the body’s structure and its function with an appreciation of the body’s own capability to heal itself. For example, when your doctor prescribes an antibiotic for bronchitis, the effect wasn’t simply to interfere with the disease process but rather allow your body’s immune system to fight off the infection more effectively. In addition to this approach, one of the most recognizable characteristics of DO’s is the use of osteopathic manipulation, which is the therapeutic application of manually guided forces upon the patient with the goal to improve joint motion and muscle structure. Such techniques are not just limited to alleviating sore backs and neck pain, but are utilized in conjunction with what most people would consider conventional medicine.
Osteopathic manipulation is very similar to what a chiropractor or a massage therapist might do. It is effective in treating musculoskeletal pain by relaxing tight muscle, mobilizing stiff joints, reducing swelling, improving circulation and bringing the body back into a balanced alignment. Following the notion that structure is related to function, treating issues related to the musculoskeletal system aids in the healing process by normalizing the body’s involuntary functions such as heart rate, respiration and digestion.
The restoration of normal physiologic function through osteopathic manipulation has been successfully applied in practically all fields of medicine. For instance, people suffering from breathing disorders often have many tensions and restrictions in their ribcage. Whether they suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis, reduced breathing from old rib fractures, emphysema or some other chronic respiratory problem, osteopathy can improve the elasticity of the ribcage, easing muscle tension to reduce respiratory fatigue, helping the person cope with their condition more readily.
The goal of all healthcare providers, regardless of the acronym behind their names, is to assist the patient in finding that balance between body, mind and spirit in order to restore and maintain health. The osteopathic philosophy views the body as a unit. A human being is a dynamic unit of body, mind and spirit. This trifecta must be working together in unison if one is to be in good health.
So, What is a DO? Like any healthcare provider, regardless of whatever title they may have, a DO seeks to maintain and restore health to the best of their ability with the help of the most important person in health care – the patient.
For more information on Mount Nittany Physician Group Family and Internal Medicine, visit mountnittany.org/primarycare.
This article originally appeared in the June issue of Town & Gown