Osteopathic Medicine and Osteopathy

Defining the Profession

Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, developed osteopathic medicine in the United States in the mid- to late-1800s. Initially, osteopathic medicine was essentially osteopathic manual therapy, which is also called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) or osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM). This care modality involves manually manipulating musculoskeletal structures of the body to resolve myriad health problems. In addition, this type of healthcare included an emphasis on patient-centered care. Together, the osteopathic philosophy and OMT define osteopathy, also called osteopathic medicine.

In the last century, different legal and regulatory structures around the world have split osteopathy into two professional streams:

Osteopathic physicians are doctors with full, unlimited medical practice rights, who can specialize in any branch of medical care. An osteopathic physician has achieved the nationally recognized academic and professional standards within his or her country to practice diagnosis and provide treatment as a medical doctor. Their key difference from medical doctors (MDs) is that they have completed education at a school that also integrates principles of osteopathic philosophy and training in OMT.

Osteopaths (practicing osteopathy) are primary contact health providers with limited practice rights, who do not prescribe pharmaceuticals, perform surgery, or complete various other functions of a full-fledged doctor. An osteopath is a person who has achieved the nationally recognized academic and professional standards within his or her country to provide osteopathy.

Individual countries establish the national academic and professional standards for osteopathic physicians and osteopaths within their borders.

All osteopathy and osteopathic medicine incorporate current medical and scientific knowledge in applying osteopathic principles to patient care. Scientific review and evidence-informed outcomes have a high priority in patient treatment and case management.

Osteopathic care also incorporates a broad range of approaches to the maintenance of health and the management of disease. It embraces the concept of the unity of the individual’s structure (anatomy) and function (physiology); recognizes that each patient’s clinical signs and symptoms are the consequences of the interaction of multiple physical and non-physical factors; and emphasizes the importance of the patient-practitioner relationship in the therapeutic process. Osteopathy and osteopathic medicine are person-centered approaches (rather than disease-centered) to healthcare.

Osteo dates


Surveys of the Global Osteopathic Profession

In 2013, and again in 2020, the OIA carried out surveys to deterimine the state of the global profession.  Organization and individuals self-reported facts about osteopathic practice in thier respective countries.  This survey, which is part fo the OIA’s collaborative work program  with the WHO, will be repeated periodically to track the growth of osteopathy and osteopathic medicine around the world.

Click here for the global reports.

Osteopathic Education

The Global Osteopathic Profession has grown and developed along two distinct practice models with a shared philosophy of healthcare: osteopathy and osteopathic medicine.  Learn more about education for osteopaths and osteopathic physicians here.