Health Careers Journal

Osteopathic versus Allopathic Physicians: Do You Know the Difference (and Then There are Chiropractors)?

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The practice of medicine began with Hippocrates. It progressed from an education by tutelage to formal training in specialized schools.

In 1874 a physician grew wary of the treatments rendered and lack of success with most medications. Dr. Andrew Taylor Still founded a school that paralleled the teachings of medicine and added the concept of holistic health. He determined nutrition played a large part in the maintenance of well being; the body has the potential for healing itself, and the musculoskeletal system plays a role in good health. The best way, perhaps, to put the differences succinctly, is to say medicine tends to treat the individual ailments while osteopathy treats the entire being.

Perhaps the biggest difference though, is the osteopath’s use of Osteo Manipulative Treatment (OMT). It is literally using the physician’s hands to move muscle and joint by stretching, pressure, and resistance to relieve pain, increase mobility, and promote healing. The American Osteopathic Association credits this modality with relief of:

  • asthma
  • sinus disorder
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • migraines
  • menstrual pain
  • other

Although there are a considerable number of osteopaths that become board certified surgeons, more than 65% of osteopaths practice general or family medicine. Osteopathic patients are said to have reduced need for surgery (due to the benefits of OMT). It is a rapidly growing profession, given the recent surge of interest in natural remedies and holistic health.

The findings of OMT, by the way, are not to be disdained as self-promotion. The highly respected New England Journal has published results demonstrating the efficacy of OMT in several conditions.

And how does this differ from the chiropractor? The osteopath goes through four years of undergraduate, the same number of years for medical school, and three to six years in a post-graduate residency program, with a strong medical education. Chiropractors need take similar undergraduate courses in biology and the sciences, often completing a degree program, attend a four or five year program of chiropractics that specialize in spinal manipulation. They are known for their attention to ailments of the neck and spine, but address most skeletal injuries and illness that do not require surgery. Chiropractic care is similar to some forms of OMT and physical therapy.

Which is best between the three professions? From a patient perspective it depends on their needs and beliefs. Actually, the same holds true for those exploring the professions as a career. All are equally as difficult to obtain acceptance in American schools. Course curriculums are no easier in any of the three. All professions require state licensure and national certification exams. Allopathic and osteopathic physicians receive similar insurance reimbursements; chiropractics are less so. As a bit of trivia, it was not until the sixties that chiropractics were accepted as a licensed profession in all the states. Their educational requirements and training have come a long way since the days Dr. Palmer started his school in Davenport, Iowa. There are still naysayers regarding spinal manipulation as a valid treatment. However, there are critics of medicine and osteopathic as well.

Make up your mind by exploring the national associations that represent the professions. Read the negatives, as well as positives: no profession is perfect or pure. It will always be a matter of opinion.




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