Doctors of osteopathic medicine adjust a patient’s body tissues to restore balance in the body. Every human body encounters difficult times when the motor system doesn’t work as efficiently as it should. With osteopathic manipulation techniques, we’re trying to bring the body back into harmony so it functions as well as it possibly can for that particular person.
People often ask how osteopathic manual medicine differs from chiropractic treatment or massage therapy. There are many of bodywork systems out there. Massage is based on things like breaking up tissue adhesions and relaxing tight muscles. To some degree, there are techniques that a D.O. performs that are similar, but they're very specific and directed. Most chiropractors do what we call "thrust" techniques, where things crack and pop. Although we are trained in these approaches, it is not the majority of what osteopathic doctors do.
To me, the bigger difference in the osteopathic approach is what we’re trying to accomplish with manual medicine as opposed to differences in technique, because technique is just something someone can learn. We're not trying to treat disease. If you have a herniated disc in your back, you have a herniated disc. I cannot change that.
What we can do is change how the body functions around the problem area. Our goal is to improve how well a patient’s bodily systems work together, so the body can do the job of healing or managing disease to the best of its ability. This will look different for every patient and every health problem, so we adjust what we do to meet the needs of the individual.
What Health Conditions Can Osteopathic Medicine Treat?
Many patients who seek osteopathic care have musculoskeletal complaints, such as pain in the back, neck, hip or thoracic areas. Sometimes, it’s an ankle or elbow that’s bothering them. Neck and back problems are the most common.
We also use osteopathic manipulation on patients with chronic illnesses. For instance, if a patient suffers from COPD, I can't change the condition, but I can do manipulative treatments to help his ribs function better so he can breathe more easily. The same is true of someone with congestive heart failure or something similar. There are other parts of the disease process when dealing with a chronic illness that can be helped by improving the body’s function.
What Do Osteopathic Manipulative Techniques Feel Like?
The gentleness of OMT is the first difference people notice with osteopathic manual medicine versus other bodywork treatments. I do most of the treatments with the patient seated, but some D.O.s do it with the patient lying down, either on their back, front or sometimes on their side. It's a very gentle technique — or techniques, because there are a whole host of techniques that we use — but it may be at times uncomfortable for a brief period as you're being positioned.
It doesn't hurt. That's one of the big hallmarks of OMT: if it hurts, that technique is probably something we shouldn’t do now. However, there are a few osteopathic techniques that do cause some discomfort and those are similar to what you'd encounter in some forms of physical therapy designed to break up tissue adhesions. There's no way around that one, it just hurts, but the vast majority of techniques are very slow and painless.
How Often Should a Patient See a D.O.?
Patients ask how often they need to come in for osteopathic treatments, and that just depends on the person and why they're coming in. It really varies, but by being a direct primary care physician I’m not restricted on how often I can treat patients or how much time I can spend with each person.
The way appointments are scheduled in mainstream medicine nowadays, doctors are very limited when trying to get patients to return for regular treatments or they adjust their approach to get as much done in one visit as possible so the patient doesn’t need to return as often. That isn’t always the best way to do it, particularly with OMT. Sometimes we want to do a little bit of manipulation and then bring the patient back in soon after for another treatment, so their body has time to adjust. You don't want to change too many things at once.
In a direct primary care practice, because a patient isn't paying for each one of those appointments or relying on insurance to dictate how often they can get treated, it frees me to really respond to what an individual needs now. Very often when I treat someone, I don’t want to see them back for two or three weeks, but that depends on the person and what we're trying to accomplish on that day. My ultimate goal is to improve your health so you don’t need to come to my office. The whole idea behind helping someone get healthy is so that they don't need to see a doctor as often.
Why Did I Chose Osteopathic Medicine?
I decided I wanted to be a doctor in high school when I suffered a series of sports-related injuries involving my knee and back. It was a very frustrating situation. The only person who ended up helping me was a chiropractor. My original plan was to go to medical school to get a medical degree, then get to chiropractic school, and combine the two in my primary care practice.
Then I discovered osteopathic medicine. It combines these approaches from the very beginning. That desire to deliver medicine by treating the whole system drives my entire career and it’s why I'm so passionate about osteopathy. I fear we’re going to lose this approach in our profession as things continue to change in healthcare. I chose to start my DPC practice because I want to make sure we continue to offer patients a right to choose this type of comprehensive treatment, and ensure the public and medical students understand the benefits of osteopathic medicine.
If you think osteopathic manual manipulation might benefit you or you would like to talk to me first and see if I think OMT fits your health needs, please reach out via email, our contact form on the Schuster Family Practice and Osteopathic Manual Medicine website, or call us at 317-434-1750 so we can start a conversation about how osteopathic treatments may help your body heal and function better.