This content has been reviewed and approved by

Jeremy R. Geffen, MD


What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is an approach to medicine that focuses on the role of the musculoskeletal system in health and disease. It uses a range of manual and physical treatment interventions to stimulate the body's inherent recuperative powers. Osteopathic physicians often combine these physical treatments with standard medical care.

The field was founded by Andrew Still, MD, who served as a physician during the American Civil War. He was deeply disillusioned with the limitations of traditional medicine and sought to create a more holistic model. Osteopathy has grown as a medical specialty and today in the United States doctors of osteopathy (DOs) are fully licensed medical physicians and surgeons.

Can osteopathy help people with cancer?
Yes. Osteopathy can be helpful at relieving a number of chronic medical ailments, especially musculoskeletal problems such as neck and back pain. Proponents believe that it can also be helpful to relieve headaches, joint and muscle pain, and fatigue, and that it can help relieve side effects associated with conventional cancer treatment and improve  patients’ quality of life.

Osteopathy alone is not a proven treatment for cancer, nor has it been found to affect either cancer cells directly or the biology of an individual’s disease. It should not be used as a substitute for conventional care.

How does osteopathy work?
Osteopathy promotes good nutrition, exercise, and abstinence from alcohol and drugs as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. It also uses a variety of techniques that involve manipulation of the bones, joints, and muscles to improve physiologic function. Various types of physiotherapy are also employed, such as ultrasound and application of heat. Drugs and surgery are also employed as deemed appropriate.

The practice of osteopathy is based on integrating the body, mind, and spirit. It emphasizes the interrelatedness of structure and function and the ability of the body to promote its own healing mechanisms.

“Craniosacral therapy” refers to the gentle manipulation of the skull, with the aim of enhancing overall metabolic function by facilitating cerebral spinal fluid flow to peripheral nerves.

“Visceral osteopathy” employs careful manipulation of the visceral organs (for example, the stomach and intestines) to relieve imbalances and restrictions in the interconnections between the organs and structures of the body.

Osteopathic physicians are licensed professionals who undergo a rigorous, multiyear academic and clinical education and training. It is always wise to ask therapists about their credentials and training before working with them.

Are there any risks or complications associated with osteopathy?
Yes. Despite its many benefits, osteopathy should be used with special care by cancer patients who may have bone metastases. Patients with internal organ cancers should avoid visceral osteopathy. Discuss the use of osteopathy with your physician before proceeding.

How can I find a qualified osteopathic physician?
It is important to select a practitioner who is qualified, experienced, properly credentialed, and trustworthy. Click here to learn more about how to do this.

This content was last reviewed August 15, 2010 by Dr. Reshma L. Mahtani.
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