The philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine developed in reaction to the frequently harmful medicine being practiced in the United States in the late 1800s. Osteopathic medicine is a uniquely American branch of medicine that has continued to evolve in the United States through the scientific method of discovery. Today, U.S. osteopathic physicians (DOs) are fully licensed, patient-centered medical doctors. They have full medical practice rights throughout the United States and in 44 countries abroad.

Both American osteopathic physicians and European osteopaths call themselves DOs. American practitioners are Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, and European practitioners have a Diploma of Osteopathy. There is, thus, some confusion regarding the difference between U.S osteopathic physicians and osteopaths trained in other countries.

Osteopathy as practiced in the United States in the late 1800s was exported to Europe, and spread to the rest of the world. Treatment highlighted the musculoskeletal manipulation developed by U.S. osteopathic physicians (and not practiced by allopathic physicians). To this day, osteopaths (the term used for foreign-trained practitioners who practice osteopathic manipulation) are not physicians. Their training focuses on the musculoskeletal system and they are not licensed to prescribe medications or perform surgeries. They are trained primarily in the practice of osteopathic manipulative techniques.

Conversely, U.S. trained osteopathic physicians practice the entire scope of modern medicine, bringing a patient-centered, holistic, hands-on approach to diagnosing and treating illness and injury. U.S. DOs can choose any specialty, prescribe drugs, perform surgeries, and practice medicine anywhere in the United States. They bring the additional benefits of osteopathic manipulative techniques to diagnose and treat patients.