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Functional Medicine vs. Osteopathic

Functional Medicine vs. Osteopathic

By Dr. Patrick Lovegrove Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Langley, BSN, RN, CHT
Posted Tuesday, August 29th, 2023
Functional Medicine vs. Osteopathic

When it comes to healthcare, there are various approaches and specialties available to address different health concerns. Two popular medical practices that have gained attention in recent years are functional medicine and osteopathic medicine. While these two approaches may seem similar, they have distinct differences in their philosophies and treatment methods. 

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is a way of healing illness that focuses on getting to the root of the problem and caring for the whole body, not just the symptoms. It looks at how different body parts work together and tries to improve how well they work. When making a treatment plan, a functional medicine practitioner looks at the whole person, including their lifestyle, food, environment, and genes.

One of the primary goals of functional medicine is to identify and address imbalances or dysfunctions within the body. It is often done using advanced laboratory tests to evaluate various health markers. Functional medicine practitioners also emphasize the importance of patient education and empowerment, encouraging individuals to take an active role in their healthcare journey.

What is Osteopathic Medicine?

Osteopathic medicine, on the other hand, focuses on the muscular system and how it affects the health and well-being of the whole body. Osteopathic doctors, also called DOs, get the same kind of medical training as allopathic physicians (MDs) but also take classes in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM).

OMM is a way to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal problems using hands-on methods. The goal is to get the body back into balance and alignment so that it can fix itself.

 In addition to OMM, osteopathic physicians receive training in conventional medical treatments. They can prescribe medication, perform surgeries, and provide comprehensive medical care.

Overall, both functional medicine and osteopathic medicine offer unique approaches to healthcare. Functional medicine takes a holistic perspective, putting the most effort into finding and fixing the reasons for sickness. Osteopathic medicine, on the other hand, focuses on how the musculoskeletal system affects health and uses hands-on methods to diagnose and treat patients. Ultimately, a person’s health worries and preferences will determine which of these two approaches they choose. It is always best to talk to a healthcare worker to determine which method will work best for your needs.

Principles of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a method of health care that looks at the whole person and focuses on finding and treating the causes of illness instead of just treating the symptoms. It is based on the idea that each person is different and that their health is affected by many things, such as their genes, surroundings, lifestyle, and diet. Functional medicine tries to repair and improve the natural balance and function of the body to improve health and well-being as a whole.

Functional Medicine Approach to Health and Wellness

Functional medicine: takes a comprehensive and individualized approach to healthcare. Practitioners spend time with patients, taking a detailed medical history and considering their genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. They use specialized laboratory testing to evaluate and identify imbalances and dysfunctions in the body.

Once the underlying causes of the patient’s health issues have been identified, functional medicine practitioners develop personalized treatment plans that often involve a combination of lifestyle modifications, nutritional interventions, stress management techniques, and targeted supplementation. This approach supports the body’s natural healing mechanisms and promotes optimal function.

Role of Nutrition and Lifestyle in Functional Medicine

Nutrition and lifestyle: are very important to functional health. How we live and what we eat has a big effect on our health and well-being. Functional medicine doctors stress the importance of a nutrient-dense diet tailored to each person’s needs and help them work at their best.

By addressing nutritional imbalances and deficiencies, functional medicine practitioners can help support the body’s ability to heal and function optimally. They may also recommend lifestyle modifications, such as regular exercise, stress reduction techniques, and adequate sleep, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Functional medicine is a healthcare approach that prioritizes the patient’s needs by identifying and treating the root causes of illnesses. By focusing on the individual and considering factors such as genetics, environment, lifestyle, and nutrition, functional medicine practitioners aim to restore and optimize the body’s natural balance and function to promote health and wellness.

Principles of Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic Philosophy and Principles

Osteopathic medicine embraces a comprehensive approach to healthcare. It aims to treat the entire person, not simply the symptoms of a particular condition. It is based on the belief that the body can self-heal and self-regulate if given the right conditions. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine are medical professionals commonly referred to as osteopathic physicians. (DOs), undergo the same rigorous training as medical doctors (MDs) but receive additional specialized training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) and a comprehensive understanding of the musculoskeletal system.

The philosophy of osteopathic medicine is centered around four core principles:

1. The body is a unit: Osteopathic physicians view the body as an integrated whole, where all systems and structures are interconnected and influence each other. They consider the body, mind, and spirit relationship essential to overall health and well-being.

2. Structure and function are interrelated: Osteopathic physicians believe that the optimal function of the body’s systems and organs depends on the proper alignment and balance of the musculoskeletal system. They use OMT techniques to address structural abnormalities or restrictions affecting a person’s health.

3. The body has self-healing abilities: In osteopathic medicine, it is acknowledged that the body has a natural ability to heal itself. Osteopathic physicians aim to support and enhance the body’s natural healing processes by addressing underlying causes, promoting healthy lifestyle habits, and optimizing the body’s self-regulatory mechanisms.

4. Prevention is key: Osteopathic physicians emphasize the importance of preventive care and the maintenance of optimal health. They work closely with patients to identify potential risk factors and make proactive lifestyle changes to prevent disease and promote well-being.

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT)

One of the distinguishing factors of osteopathic medicine is OMT, which plays a crucial role in this type of medical practice. OMT involves manually manipulating the musculoskeletal system, including the muscles, bones, and joints, to improve function and alleviate pain. Osteopathic physicians use various techniques, such as stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance, to restore balance and promote healing.

OMT can treat various conditions, including musculoskeletal pain, headaches, digestive disorders, and respiratory conditions. It can also enhance athletic performance, manage stress, and promote overall wellness.

In addition to OMT, osteopathic physicians employ a variety of conventional and holistic treatment modalities, such as medication, surgery, nutrition counseling, and lifestyle modifications, to provide comprehensive and individualized care to their patients.

By combining the principles of osteopathic medicine with their knowledge of conventional medical practices, DOs Healthcare providers can address various health issues and deliver customized care to their patients.

The Difference Between Functional Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine

In recent years, functional medicine has gained popularity as another holistic approach to healthcare. While functional and osteopathic medicine share similarities in their holistic approach, they have distinct differences in focus and treatment modalities.

It’s important to note that functional medicine and osteopathic medicine are not mutually exclusive. Some DOs incorporate functional medicine principles into their practice to provide a more comprehensive and individualized approach to patient care.

In conclusion, osteopathic medicine is a holistic approach to healthcare that emphasizes the body’s self-healing abilities and the interrelationship between structure and function. Osteopathic physicians utilize OMT and other treatment modalities to promote optimal health and well-being. Functional medicine, on the other hand, tries to figure out what causes sickness and treat it by making treatment plans that are unique to each person. Both methods have strengths and can work together to give full, patient-centered care.

Conditions Treated in Functional Medicine

Instead of only treating the symptoms, functional medicine focuses on finding the underlying causes of illness and treating the whole person. When developing treatment plans, this method considers the person’s biochemistry, genes, environment, and lifestyle.

Functional medicine can effectively address a broad spectrum of health issues, including but not limited to:

Common Conditions Treated in Functional Medicine

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Complex in nature, chronic fatigue syndrome is defined by extreme tiredness that does not go away with sleep or rest. Functional medicine takes a comprehensive approach to address the underlying causes, such as hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, and immune dysregulation.

Digestive Disorders

Functional medicine can effectively treat digestive disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and acid reflux. By addressing gut health, inflammation, and food sensitivities, functional medicine aims to restore balance and improve symptoms.

Hormonal Imbalances

Functional medicine recognizes the importance of hormone balance in overall health. Medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders, and adrenal dysfunction can be treated in a personalized way by making changes to the food, learning how to deal with stress, and taking supplements that are right for the person.

Autoimmune Conditions

Functional medicine takes an integrative approach to autoimmune conditions, aiming to identify and address the underlying factors contributing to immune dysregulation. This personalized method can be helpful for people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Functional Medicine Treatment Approaches

Functional medicine practitioners use different treatment approaches to cater to each person’s specific needs. These may include:

1. Nutrition: Developing personalized dietary plans focusing on nutrient-dense, whole foods may involve eliminating food sensitivities and inflammatory triggers.

2. Lifestyle Changes: Emphasizing the importance of sleep, stress management, exercise, and toxin exposure to promote overall health and well-being.

3. Supplementation: Utilizing targeted nutritional supplements to address specific nutrient deficiencies, support organ function, and promote healing.

4. Functional Testing: Employ specialized laboratory tests beyond standard blood work to assess nutrient deficiencies, hormone levels, gut health, and genetic markers.

By addressing the underlying factors that cause illness and promoting holistic health., functional medicine offers a unique and comprehensive approach to healthcare. It is important to consult with a qualified functional medicine practitioner to determine if this approach suits your needs and conditions.

Conditions Treated in Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic medicine and functional medicine are two approaches to healthcare that focus on holistic and patient-centered treatment. Even though they have some things in common, their beliefs and ways of treating people differ.

Common Conditions Treated in Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic physicians (DOs) are trained to treat various conditions like their allopathic counterparts (MDs). However, they also have a unique approach to healthcare that emphasizes the body’s natural ability to heal and maintain health. Some of the common conditions treated in osteopathic medicine include:

Musculoskeletal Issues

Osteopathic physicians specialize in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal conditions like back pain, joint problems, and sports injuries. They use hands-on techniques, including osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), to restore normal function and promote self-healing.

Respiratory Conditions

DOs are trained to diagnose and treat respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic bronchitis, and sinusitis. They focus on improving lung function and enhancing the body’s healing ability.

Cardiovascular Conditions 

Osteopathic physicians are crucial in managing cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. They incorporate lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, and medications to help patients achieve optimal heart health.

GI Disorders 

DOs are trained to diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acid reflux, and inflammatory bowel disease. They consider the connections between the digestive and other body systems to develop comprehensive treatment plans.

Neurological Conditions 

Osteopathic physicians can help patients with neurological conditions like migraines, tension headaches, and sciatica. They may use OMT and other treatment modalities to address the underlying causes of these conditions.

Osteopathic Treatment Approaches

Osteopathic physicians take a comprehensive approach to treatment, considering all aspects of a patient’s health, including their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. They believe in the body’s innate ability to heal and focus on promoting self-healing rather than relying solely on medication or surgery.

Osteopathic treatment approaches may include:

1.    Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT): OMT involves using hands-on techniques to diagnose and treat structural imbalances in the body. It can alleviate musculoskeletal pain, improve range of motion, and enhance overall health and wellness.

2.    Lifestyle Modifications: Osteopathic physicians emphasize the importance of nutrition, exercise, and healthy lifestyle choices in promoting optimal health. They provide guidance and support to help patients make positive lifestyle changes.

3.    Medication and Surgery: While osteopathic physicians prefer non-invasive approaches, they also have the training to prescribe medications and perform surgery when necessary. However, they often explore alternative treatment options before considering these interventions.

4.    Patient Education: Osteopathic doctors teach their patients about their problems, the different ways to treat them, and how to stay healthy in the future. They give people the tools to be involved in their health care.

In conclusion, osteopathic medicine focuses on treating the whole person, considering all aspects of their health and well-being. Osteopathic physicians use a variety of treatment approaches, including hands-on techniques, lifestyle modifications, medication, and surgery. They are essential in treating musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, GI, and neurological conditions.


Osteopathic medicine, on the other hand, focuses on the muscular system and how it affects the whole body’s health. Osteopathic doctors, called DOs, get a lot of training in traditional medicine and osteopathic manipulation methods. DOs believe in the body’s innate ability to heal itself. They aim to support this natural healing process using manual therapies, such as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). Osteopathic medicine also emphasizes the interconnectedness of the body and its systems, viewing health as a balance between body, mind, and spirit.

In conclusion, functional medicine and osteopathic medicine offer different approaches to healthcare. Still, both aim to promote optimal health and well-being. Functional medicine identifies and addresses the root causes of diseases and imbalances. In contrast, osteopathic medicine emphasizes the musculoskeletal system and its impact on overall health. Choosing between the two approaches depends on individual preferences and health needs. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best approach for your specific situation.

About the author

Dr. Patrick Lovegrove