Can a DO perform surgery? (Yes or NO?)

In this brief guide we are going to answer the question ‘’Can a DO perform surgery?” We will analyze how well trained DOs are and the treatments and techniques they use.

Can a DO perform surgery?

Yes, D.O.s can perform surgery as well as diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications just like M.D.s.

Osteopathy. What is it?

Osteopathy diagnoses dysfunctions derived from the mobility of the tissues of the human body, which usually cause disorders in the body.

Osteopathy was structured in the late 19th century in the United States by a physician and surgeon named Andrew Taylor Still. He was the first to highlight the interrelationships that exist between the musculoskeletal system and organic systems, and on the other hand, between the mobility and freedom of these different systems and the health of man.

It’s not a new science. Between the years 1870 and 1874, Still had his first osteopathic experiences; After having cured a child with dysentery, he treats and heals 17 more patients. On June 22, 1874, he decided to create a new medicine: Osteopathy.

Still hypothesized that the immense supporting tissue of the body called ‘fascia’ – which brings together all the elements of the human body (bones, joints, viscera, glands, vessels, nerves) – could be the most important tissue in the body and be the origin of many human pathologies.

According to Still, Pathologies manifest when the ‘’fascia’’ restricts the circulation of fluids such as blood, lymph, cerebrospinal fluid. As they are the places of exchange that allow cells to receive the substances they need to live and fulfill their functions.

What is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs)?

An osteopath is a health professional who, after receiving adequate training, treats mobility dysfunctions of body tissues.

For this, the osteopath will use his hands as the only and main tool. Said hands have had to be previously trained to be able to detect the micro-movements that occur in the tissues and their dysfunctions, thus being able to reach an accurate diagnosis that will be the basis of osteopathic treatment.

For the osteopath, the training received is very important since he needs as accurately as possible the morphology of all the parts of the body brought together in a functional group through the connective tissue. As Still (creator of Osteopathy) said: Osteopathy has 3 basic lessons, the first is Anatomy, the second Anatomy and the third Anatomy.

We can deduce from this the importance that biomechanics, neuroanatomy, psychobiology, pathology and the structure-function relationship have for the osteopath, therefore.

They need to acquire a lot of theoretical-practical knowledge within their academic development to put into practice, also, they need to gain clinical experience in order to make an accurate diagnosis.

The osteopath must be able to diagnose these pathologies as accurately as possible in order to decide if the patient’s pain can be resolved with osteopathy or if, by contrast, the patient has to be referred to another health professional.

DOs: academic background

In the United States, the cradle of Osteopathic Medicine, there are two distinct medical schools, the M.D. (Doctors of Medicine) and D.O. (Doctors in Osteopathy). The accreditation is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Both have the same competencies, they can be specialists (pediatrics, gynecology, traumatology …) they prescribe drugs and practice surgery, but Osteopathic Doctors have a holistic and global vision of the person, adding to conventional medical treatment the principles of integration of the different body structures and systems.

The first ones are doctors you usually run into every time you have a cold or sore throat. The second are those that have integrated osteopathy in their way of treating patients. To do this, they have to study a specialty of between 3000 and 5000 hours beyond the career (which lasts six years) with its corresponding residence.

Like MDs, DOs must pass a state medical board examination to obtain a license to practice. Each state board establishes its own requirements and issues the authorization for the osteopathic physician to practice in that state.

Also, as I just said, an osteopathic doctor can specialize in any branch of medicine. It is true that most, for obvious reasons, are traumatologists, but the truth is that many also specialize in cardiovascular or neurological surgery and even in psychiatry or geriatrics.

Osteopathy is considered part of alternative medicine and also has another theory such as metaphysics, that is, mind and body must be harmoniously connected for its proper functioning.

Osteopathic medicine is located within the physiotherapeutic specialties, they are a variety of manual techniques and non-invasive treatments as a good option to treat problems and ailments in our body, in this way one of its main functions is to avoid the use of pharmacological methods in the patients involved.

Different Styles of Osteopathic Treatment

We are going to define the different branches of osteopathy, structural osteopathy, visceral osteopathy and cranial osteopathy. We will see some specialties within osteopathy such as infantile or pediatric osteopathy and gestational osteopathy.

Structural Osteopathy

As we have said, the osteopath tries to restore the mobility of the different tissues, but when these tissues belong to the locomotor system we speak of structural osteopathy.

Joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves … that is, everything that is not organs, viscera, skull and central nervous system (this includes all parts of the body, feet, legs, pelvis, back, shoulders, elbows, wrist , neck …). 

So, the osteopath looks for mechanical anomalies and with different maneuvers normality is returned.

Visceral osteopathy

When trying to correct problems related to the viscera and their correct relationship with their environment, we speak of visceral osteopathy.

Osteopathy for the treatment of visceral pathology addresses symptoms such as hernias, constipation, digestive disorders and menstrual disorders.

Through abdominal palpation we study the visceral movement, and if there are adhesions, restrictions or points of tension; These can modify the correct functioning of the organs and viscera and cause a multitude of symptoms and lead to different pathologies.

This technique is based on the fact that all the viscera have a necessary movement to function properly. If an organ loses this mobility due to multiple causes such as surgeries, structural stresses, etc. it will begin to alter its functionality and, if it persists, it will end up affecting the tissue and developing a pathology.

Cranial Osteopathy

When we talk about cranial osteopathy we refer to the study and treatment of the mobility of the skull bones, the cranial sutures and their relationship with sacral movement.

Cranial osteopathy seeks to relieve symptoms and decrease pain of migraine, headache, sinusitis, rhinitis, etc.

The cranial osteopath during the session will carry out an evaluation of the mobility restrictions of skull bones, and will apply a series of techniques to restore normality, thus allowing a correct functioning of the central and peripheral nervous system.

With this, an improvement in circulation, the transmission of impulses, normalization of muscle tone, improved metabolism, release of structures, etc. will be achieved.

Infant osteopathy

Due to the great demand for work with neonates and children of all ages, specializations in infantile or pediatric osteopathy were developed. Partly due to both the anatomical and functional characteristics and the specific pathologies of this age group, and partly due to the peculiarity and adaptation of the different osteopathic techniques to be used.

Gestational osteopathy

It’s the specialization in the evaluation and treatment of pregnant women. Taking into consideration the physiological changes that it experiences and the specific pathologies in this condition.

Osteopathic techniques

Myofascial release: The fascia is a very fine tissue that surrounds the muscles. Sometimes this tissue limits the mobility of the muscle fibers it surrounds. The objective of this technique is to avoid adhesions on the muscle and to improve the relationship between muscle and fascia.

“Trust”: It can be said that it’s one of the best known techniques within osteopathy, among patients it is known as “bone crunching”. It is a technique of low amplitude (little movement) and high speed, to be able to reposition the joints that have their mobility altered.

Trigger points: They are pain points that radiate pain in other nearby areas. The Jones technique consists of placing the muscle in a comfortable position, while exerting pressure on the trigger point, in order to reduce the pain at this point.

Muscle Energy Technique: In this technique the patient performs a sustained muscle contraction, while the therapist performs a muscle stretch.

Treatment temporomandibular disorder (TMD): The important thing in this joint is the relaxation of the masseter muscle

Global postural reeducation (RPG): Global active stretches are the key tool of this technique.

Cyriax: It consists of carrying out a transversal friction in the injured tissue, in this way the waste substances are eliminated and, thanks to the inflammation caused by the friction, the irrigation of the tissues is improved.

It’s also important for the osteopath to know the emotional state and psychosomatic alterations of the patient, since the treatment approach must be done both from the physical, chemical and emotional point of view. If this point is not clear, it’s impossible to think globally, which after all is the objective of Osteopathy.

DOs are doctors too

Let’s make it concrete; It may seem silly to you, but in the US, the cradle of osteopathy, there are allopathic doctors and osteopathic doctors. This fact may not be relevant, but in the background you can read a lot of information.

An osteopath is not a shaman, is not a pseudo doctor, is not a healer … Osteopathy is not a pseudo medicine or pseudo science, nor it’s outside medical science. It’s not a technique, nor is it within other disciplines, nor it’s learned in 1 year or in two or three or four.

Once all the above points have been gathered, the osteopath will have in his hands enough tools to treat bodily dysfunctions such as: lumbar pain, cervical pain, back pain, joint pain, headache, visceral problems, menstrual pain, cervical sprains, ankle sprains, muscle contractures, respiratory problems, etc.

The osteopath must be aware that they’re not solely responsible for the improvement of symptoms, they’re only a partner in the recovery of the good state of health of the body and must achieve a balance between the different systems that have previously been damaged.

FAQS: Can a Do perform surgery?

What is the difference between a MD and DO?

MDs focus on treating conditions with medications. Whereas ODs have a holistic approach and focus on whole-body healing.

What kind of doctor is a DO?

DOs (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) treats mobility dysfunctions of body tissues focusing on the muscular and skeletal systems.

Is Do easier than MD?

Actually, medical school is easier for MDs. (MDs GPA: 3.67 – DOs GPA: 3.57). Despite the fact that they both receive the same academic training.

What kind of doctor does not do surgery?

Optometrists are the only doctors who don’t perform surgery, but can prescribe medication.

What does Osteopathic mean?

Osteopathic refers to osteopathy, which is manual therapy that aims to improve health across all body systems by manipulating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework.

In this brief guide we answered  the question ‘’Can a DO perform surgery?” We analyzed how well trained DOs are and the treatments and techniques they use.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know.


Parsons, J., & Marcer, N. (2005). Osteopathy: models for diagnosis, treatment and practice. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Still, A. T. (1899). Philosophy of osteopathy. Academy of Applied Osteopathy.