What Is Osteopathy? Infographic

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What is Osteopathy?

A medical practice based on the theory that disease and physiologic dysfunction are etiologically grounded in a disordered musculoskeletal system.


  • Osteopathy was termed in 1874 by an American Physician named Dr. Andrew Taylor Still.
  • Following the death of Dr. Still's wife, and three of his children, to spinal meningitis in 1864, Still concluded that the orthodox medical practices of his day were frequently ineffective and sometimes harmful. He devoted the next thirty years of his life to studying the human body and finding alternative ways to treat disease.
  • Dr. Still opened a school in Kirksville, Missouri in 1892 and began teaching the idea and practice of making mechanical adjustments to the human frame to promote health and heal disease. The school, originally called the American School of Osteopathy, is still in existence and is now called the A.T.Still University

Worldwide Today

Today there are osteopathy schools in at least 22 countries, including:

New Zealand
United States of America

There are 43,000 manual osteopaths worldwide.1

The World Health Organization benchmark is 4,465 hours of training to become a manual osteopath.2

Two Types of Osteopaths

The osteopathic profession has evolved into two branches, manual medicine osteopaths and medical practice osteopathic physicians. These groups are so distinct that in practice they function as separate professions. This infographic is mostly about Manual Osteopaths.

Osteopath Type 1: Manual Osteopath
  • Manual therapy is their primary tool. By specializing in manual therapy, often gain a high level of proficiency in manual approaches.
  • Credentials vary from country to country, but often include the term 'Manual Osteopath'.
  • Typically trained outside the United States, in places like Canada, England and Spain.
  • Typically work in private practice.

Osteopath Type 2: Medical Osteopath
  • Uses pharmacy, surgery, other medical practices and may also use manual therapy approaches.
  • Credentialled as a D.O.
  • Typically trained in the United States.
  • Typically work in hospitals or private practice.

What Do Manual Osteopaths Do?

Osteopaths use a variety of manual approaches. Here are some common terms:
  • Articulatory Techniques - Procedures that move joints through their range of motion (articulating the joints) may be used to restore normal functioning.
  • Soft-Tissue Techniques - Various direct or indirect treatments applied to muscles, fascia and other soft-tissues of the body.
  • Visceral Techniques - techniques involving direct manipulation of the internal organs. Usually done using gentle pressure through the abdominal musculature.
  • Cranial Sacral - Cranial treatments focus on the craniosacral system which consists of the brain, spinal cord, cerebrospinal fluid, dura (the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord), cranial bones, and the sacrum (triangular bone comprised of five fused vertebrae, and forming posterior section of the pelvis).

What Happens During An Osteopathic Manual Therapy (OMT) Session?


A discussion with your osteopath regarding your primary health concerns, health history and time to ask questions.

Assessment & Treatment

Hands-on, mechanical adjustments to the patient's muscles, joints, fascia and other tissues.


Your osteopath will ensure you know: What did the assessment reveal? What was the treatment and reasoning for it? What can you expect to experience after treatment?

Reasons People Visit Osteopaths

Most Common Areas of Chief Complaint:3

Spine & Pelvis (44%)
Legs (13%)
Arms (13%)
Pregnancy & Infants (12%)
Head (9%)
Internal Organs (5%)
Other (4%)

Low back pain is the most common reason men visit osteopaths.

Neck pain is the most common reason women visit osteopaths.

Notable Osteopaths & Patients

  • Barbara Ross-Lee, DO - The first African-American woman to serve as dean of a U.S. medical school was an osteopath.
  • Katy Perry - Katy Perry says her osteopath helped her learn to connect with her emotions and find her center again. 4
  • Elton John - Elton John has been treated by an osteopath.
  • William Smith - A British osteopath who may be the real life basis for Dr. Watson of the Sherlock Holmes books.5
  • Queen Of England - Queen Elizabeth visited an osteopath for treatment of a stiff neck.6
  • Gwenyth Paltrow - Gwenyth Paltrow has been very public about her osteopath helping her deal with a marital separation.7

Osteopathy Research

  • Osteopathy has been shown to treat back pain as effectively as medication.8
  • Osteopathy can help with depression.9
  • Osteopathy leads to fewer ear infections in children.10
  • Osteopathy is safe for use in patients with traumatic brain injury.11
  • Osteopathy improves walking after knee or hip surgery.12
  • Osteopathy may function in part by altering the levels of endocannabinoids (marijuana-like chemicals) in the body.13


1 - http://osteopathyontario.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/OIA_Osteopathy_and_Osteopathic_Medicine_Summary.pdf
2 - World Health Organization benchmark. http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/documents/s17555en/s17555en.pdf
3 - http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0106259
4 - ttps://www.glamour.com/story/katy-perry-talks-inspiring-women-jenny-slate-allison-williams-and-others
5 - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10623621/Is-this-Sherlocks-real-Dr-Watson.html
6 - https://books.google.ca/books?id=N9KTAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=queen+elizabeth++osteopath& source=bl&ots=2fQDZdZL4C&sig=yOO89olDFudTcyJSnlSZpYvzmRw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjxh7-azq_XAhUE2 KQKHQXXCBYQ6AEITTAF#v=onepage&q=queen%20elizabeth%20%20osteopath&f=false
7 - http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/gwyneth-paltrow-says-healer-through-3433281
8 - Degenhardt BF et al (JAOA, 2007) & Andersson GB et al (NEJM, 1999) )
9 - Plotkin BJ et al (JAOA, 2001)
10 - Mills MV et al (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 2003)
11 - Cramer D et al (JAOA, 2010)
12 - Jarski RW et al (Altern Ther Health Med, 2000)
13 - (McPartland JM et al (JAOA, 2005; JAOA 2008 and J Bodyw Mov Ther, 2008))

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