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A doctor of osteopathy can be a great addition to a medical team for someone with mesothelioma or another type of cancer. This professional is a trained and licensed medical caregiver who can diagnose and treat patients, but who works under a different philosophy of medicine from that of an MD. Osteopaths are more focused on prevention, treating the whole person, and physical manipulation of the musculoskeletal system.

If you are interested in working with an osteopath, talk to your primary doctor and your oncologist first. This kind of treatment can bring relief from pain and other symptoms, but there may be some good reasons why now is not the right time for you to try osteopathic treatment.

What is Osteopathic Medicine?

Osteopathic medicine is a distinct philosophy of medical care and treatment that is different from traditional medicine. Also known as osteopathy, it was developed over a hundred years ago by a doctor named Andrew Taylor Still. Osteopathic doctors focus on the whole person, as opposed to simply diagnosing and treating one condition or one symptom. The practice of osteopathy also focuses on the musculoskeletal system in particular, including bones, muscles, tendons, and other connective tissues.

Doctors of osteopathy, known as DOs, are trained medical professionals who are able to diagnose and treat patients, perform surgery, and prescribe medications, just like a medical doctor. They simply ascribe to a different philosophy of healing. They focus on prevention, treating the whole patient, and a hands-on approach to manipulating the musculoskeletal system to promote natural healing.

Osteopathic Manipulation

One of the most important techniques that DOs use to treat patients is known as osteopathic manipulation. This is similar to chiropractic manipulation but goes beyond the spine and involves specific manipulation of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints throughout the body. A DO may use massage, stretching, moving of joints, manipulation of muscles, and high velocity thrusts, which are sharp and short motions, to manipulate the body.
A more specific type of manipulation that some practitioners may use is called craniosacral therapy. It involves the manipulation of the skull and the base of the spine, called the sacrum. This type of therapy is thought to help relieve a variety of symptoms by manipulating and realigning the energy between the spine and the brain.

Complementing Cancer Treatment with Osteopathy

No osteopathic practitioner will claim that musculoskeletal manipulation can cure cancer or replace traditional treatments like chemotherapy or surgery. However, these doctors can provide complementary care for people with mesothelioma and other types of cancer. They can work within the medical team treating these patients to help relieve symptoms and to reduce or relieve the side effects of treatment.

How Osteopathy Can Help Mesothelioma Patients

Osteopathy is widely accepted in modern medicine and used by many patients, including those with cancer. Research into how it can help cancer patients is limited, though. Most studies of osteopathic manipulation focus on back pain and some types of headaches. There is evidence that manipulation can help relieve these types of pain, but the evidence that it helps with cancer-specific symptoms is limited to anecdotal evidence.

The anecdotal evidence is strong, though. There simply has not been research done to prove what many patients know: osteopathic doctors can help cancer patients find relief. Working with an osteopathic doctor can help patients get relief from pain and improve mobility. It can help promote general healing and most patients report that the hands-on manipulation helps to relax their bodies and minds, providing relief from stress and anxiety.

Risks and Contraindications of Osteopathy

Osteopathic medicine is generally safe, but there may be a few minor risks associated with manipulation of the musculoskeletal system and some patients for whom this kind of treatment is not the best choice. Some people report experiencing mildly uncomfortable side effects of osteopathic treatment, including tiredness, a slight headache, or a feeling of soreness in the area of the body being treated directly. Most of these are minor and go away after a day or two.

There is also a very small risk that manipulation of the neck can cause a patient to have a stroke. This is very rare, and it happens in only a few people in a million. The risk is slightly higher for anyone who is already prone to having a stroke, which is why it is important for an osteopathic doctor to understand a patient’s full medical history before administering treatment.

Osteopathic manipulation is not recommended for patients undergoing radiation therapy, patients on blood thinners, or patients who are eight to twelve weeks pregnant. Some doctors may also recommend that this treatment not be used while a patient is going through chemotherapy or if a patient’s cancer has metastasized. For some cancer patients, an osteopathic doctor may simply need to moderate techniques to accommodate a patient’s needs. For instance, most cancer patients should not undergo any of the forceful high velocity thrusts that osteopaths that doctors often use to realign a patient’s musculoskeletal system.

An Osteopathic Visit

Working with a doctor of osteopathic medicine can be a great addition to a cancer patient’s medical team. If you want to try this type of medicine, it is important to make sure your other doctors know you are seeing an osteopath and vice versa. It is also important that your DO has access to your cancer care team. Communication between all your health care providers is important for giving you the best care and keeping you safe.

A visit to a DO should start with a complete medical history. Your doctor will need to know everything about your current health, your cancer, and your current treatments. You may even want to bring your cancer care records with you. The DO will ask you a lot of questions, not just about your health, but about all areas of your life. You can also expect to be examined, and if deemed safe, to undergo a manipulation session, which will last about 30 minutes. If anything feels painful or uncomfortable during the manipulation, be sure to speak up so your doctor can make changes to the treatment.

Osteopathic medicine is a valid type of medical treatment, and it is one that is gaining in popularity. With a greater focus on prevention, wellness, and hands-on treatment and care for the whole person, more people are relying on these doctors to provide primary or supplementary care. For someone with mesothelioma, this professional can be an important member of a complete medical team. DOs can provide important care and treatment that medical doctors cannot. If you want to try osteopathic medicine, be sure to talk to your medical team about the possibility and ask about any precautions you need to take before you begin.

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