The Healing Touch Of Osteopathic Medicine:
A Gentle, Natural Approach To Healing Acute And Chronic Pain And Many Other Conditions
By Seth D. Torregiani, DO
Osteopathic medicine is a gentle, hands-on approach to healing the body. Developed at the end of 19th century by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, a frontier physician frustrated by an over-emphasis on the use of medicines and treating only symptoms (sound familiar?), Dr. Still believed the human body had most of what it needed to heal itself, and he set out to develop a form of hands-on medicine designed to unleash the body’s inherent power to heal.
He undertook an extensive, in-depth study of the human body, and, over time, developed a healing approach that corrects anatomical dysfunction in the body resulting from trauma or injury, emotional or physical stress, infection, poor posture or lifestyle or other insults. The result of this kind of treatment is a substantial improvement in the functioning of the bodily systems critical for health.
While a great deal of modern medical practice seeks to “fix” a condition by suppressing its symptoms with drugs, Osteopathic medicine seeks to get to the root of a health problem and, whenever possible, correct the underlying issue to actually heal the problem.
The applications of this approach are endless. Osteopathic medicine can treat a wide range of conditions, either curing them or reducing or eliminating the need for medications, surgery or other invasive procedures.
Osteopathic treatment can be of great benefit in the following conditions (and many more):
Acute and chronic musculoskeletal injury – Osteopathic treatment helps to release acute and chronically strained muscles and muscle spasms that can be a source of ongoing pain and dysfunction. This special healing work decreases swelling and improves circulation in tissues hurt from sprains, strains, pulled muscles, neck and back injuries, as well at tendon and ligament injuries (such as tennis or golfer’s elbow). Once swelling is reduced and circulation improved, inflammation is diminished and motion is restored to the injured area resulting in dramatic improvement.
Old Trauma – A great deal of chronic pain is due to old trauma that the body had not been able to release. After a significant trauma to the body, say from a motor vehicle accident, concussion, fall or other major impact, the tissues of the body may chronically stiffen and the body itself may be stuck in a “shock” state – it still thinks it is in an injury fighting mode. The result is that many patients, even months or years after the original injury, often still experience pain and dysfunction, even though there is no “evidence” of a problem on imaging studies such as x-rays or MRIs. Utilizing gentle techniques that focus on releasing the chronically injured tissue, an osteopathic physician can often achieve significant pain reduction and improvement in function in patients with trauma dating back months or even years.
Headaches, Neck Pain, Back Pain – Osteopathic treatment can often provide significant relief to these common conditions. The osteopathic physician evaluates the entire body, seeking areas of dysfunction that may be contributing to symptoms of pain. Because the body is interconnected via muscles, tendons and ligaments, nerves and vessels, it is common, for example, for back pain to start with dysfunction in the ankle, knee or hip, or headaches to have their origin with problems in the low back, pelvis or tailbone. Correcting areas where there is dysfunction anywhere throughout the body, as well as treating the area of complaint, often results in significant improvements in these and other common conditions.
Pediatric problems and pregnancy-related pain – Because of the gentle nature of osteopathic techniques, and the focus on correcting anatomical dysfunction, osteopathic medicine can be very effective in treating a wide range of pediatric problems, including GERD, colic, otitis media, plagio-cephaly or moulding of the head, scoliosis, difficulty sucking or latching, torticollis, etc. It can be a very effective treatment for children with physical, neurological and developmental disabilities as well, and parents often notice significant cognitive improvement and better physical functioning in children undergoing osteopathic treatment.
Pregnant women experiencing back, hip or pelvic pain, lower extremity swelling, GERD or other symptoms also respond very well to osteopathic treatment.
Other conditions that often improve with osteopathic medicine include: vertigo, acute and chronic sinus infections, asthma, digestive problems, post-surgical pain, and many more. Regular osteopathic treatment in athletes or very active individuals can also help maintain proper form and prevent injury.
Osteopathic physicians (D.O.s or doctors of osteopathy) are fully licensed physicians who have attended four years of medical school as well as a minimum of three years of residency training. Like MDs, they can practice in any specialty they wish and can perform surgery and prescribe medications. While most D.O.s practice medicine in a fashion similar to medical doctors, a small number, such as myself, focus their practices on the healing, hands-on work they were taught during their training. D.O.s differ from chiropractors generally by the fact that they are fully-licensed physicians, equivalent to MDs, and the manual medicine techniques that D.O.s utilize tend to de-emphasize aggressive spinal manipulation or adjustments in favor of gentler, muscle and fascia (connective tissue)-based techniques.
Dr. Seth Torregiani is a graduate of Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, CA, where he completed an undergraduate teaching fellowship in osteopathic manipulative medicine. He completed a residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Christiana Care Health System and is board-certified in both specialties. He has practiced osteopathic medicine, acupuncture and integrative medicine in the greater Wilmington, DE region for over eight years. He has spoken and written widely on integrative medicine, natural approaches to pain, osteopathic medicine and similar topics around the Mid-Atlantic region for many years.