A doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) is a licensed physician who aims to improve people’s overall health and wellness by treating the whole person, not just a condition or disease they may have.

This includes osteopathic manipulative medicine, which involves stretching, massaging, and moving the musculoskeletal system.

In all 50 states, DOs, also called osteopaths or osteopathic physicians, are licensed to prescribe medications, perform surgery, and use technological imaging to diagnose and treat illness and injury.

Many use hands-on, manual treatments to reduce pain, increase physical mobility, and improve the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids.

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine estimates that 25 percent of all medical students in the United States are graduating from osteopathic medical programs.

There are more than 114,000 practicing osteopaths in the country today.

Like a doctor of medicine (MD), a DO must first earn a bachelor’s degree, followed by four years of medical school. In addition to this traditional education, a DO must receive training in manipulative medicine.

After graduating from medical school, DOs take a rigorous national licensure exam, which contains the same material as the exam to become an MD. Both kinds of doctor are licensed by state medical examination boards.

DOs must complete a residency that could last 1 to 7 years depending on the practice area. They must also complete another 200 hours of coursework that focuses on the body’s musculoskeletal framework.

Although many medical students graduate from traditional medical schools, interest in studying osteopathic medicine is growing. Today, there are 37 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States.

Although DOs are trained in conventional Western medicine, osteopathy is considered a complementary practice.

The primary difference between an MD and a DO is that while osteopathic physicians may use conventional medical treatments, some also use manual therapies, like massaging and manipulating the spine.

If you’re more comfortable being diagnosed and treated by a physician who is open to alternative treatments, a DO might be a good fit.

While many MDs also use alternative treatments, osteopaths receive special training in treating people as a whole instead of targeting specific systems and symptoms.

A naturopathic doctor (ND) attends a 4-year graduate program in naturopathic medicine and must pass a rigorous exam given by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education.

Naturopaths are another field that is distinct from naturopathic doctors. Naturopaths have no governing body, are unlicensed, and may not be educated to the same degree as DOs.

Although DOs and NDs share a basic philosophic tenet — that the body has the ability to heal itself — what naturopathic doctors can and can’t do varies widely from state to state.

In some states, a naturopathic doctor can be a primary care physician, diagnosing and treating patients with natural and homeopathic approaches. In other states, their responsibilities are much more limited.

A DO is licensed in all 50 states to perform the same medical diagnostics and treatments as a medical doctor. Although some DOs use alternative and natural approaches, many rely on conventional treatments and methods.

Chiropractors and DOs both receive specialized training in the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and overall health. Both are trained in the manual adjustment of the spine.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, chiropractors focus primarily on manipulations that use controlled thrusts to adjust the alignment of the spine. They’re more likely to “crack” your back in the course of treating you.

Unlike DOs, chiropractors aren’t licensed physicians. They’re generally not required to complete residencies in approved facilities.

Yes. Many DOs are primary care physicians, but they can specialize in any area of medicine, including pediatrics and surgery.

Osteopaths can perform the same tests and procedures a medical doctor can, including diagnostic tests, blood and urine tests, and biopsies.

They can also prescribe medications, perform surgery, and treat patients of all ages using a wide variety of treatments that encompass both allopathic (Western) and osteopathic medicine.

Although osteopathy has been practiced since the 19th century, more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness.

Studies have shown that osteopathic manipulative treatment is safe and effective for pain relief during pregnancy. It can also relieve migraine and lower back pain.

A 2017 review found that while researchers have verified some positive outcomes, more studies needed to be conducted.

The United Kingdom’s National Health System goes so far as to say that while manual therapies have been effective in treating osteoarthritis and lower back pain, there’s little evidence so far of the effectiveness of osteopathic treatment for many other medical conditions.

An osteopath is a licensed physician who practices medicine using both conventional treatments and osteopathic manipulative medicine, which focuses on relieving pain and tension in the musculoskeletal system.

DOs graduate from medical schools, complete residencies and fellowships, and are licensed to perform surgery, prescribe medications, and use advanced technologies like allopathic physicians.

Although more research is needed confirm the effectiveness of osteopathy, many people find it to be safe and effective in treating their conditions.