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Does Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine Work?

osteopathic doctor, osteopathic manipulative medicine, osteopathic medicine
Does Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine Work?

A person who practices osteopathy is called a Doctor of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, or more simply, an osteopath. An osteopath focuses on healing their patients through the manipulation of their muscle tissue and bone.

The approach was founded by Andrew Taylor Still who was a Civil War legislator and Civil War Surgeon. The practice aims to shift a patient’s skeletal system, joints, and ligaments through resistance stretches and gentle pressure.

Today, osteopathy, in some circles, is promoted as an effective alternative form of medicine. Still, others mock it as pseudoscientific, particularly the osteopathic practice of craniosacral therapy, which many think of as having little to no therapeutic value. 

Whether or not osteopathic manipulative medicine is effective is definitely a debate worth having, especially when considering how it’s often advertised as being useful for a large variety of health problems. Let’s have a closer look at the proposed benefits of osteopathy, evidence supporting the claims, and finally some critiques on the practice.

Specific Benefits of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

Osteopathic doctors learn their techniques in medical school. Sometimes these techniques are employed in replacement of medication or even surgery. The key premise of the practice is treating tightness in the tissues and joints that cause issues in other areas or throughout the body.  Osteopaths aim to loosen these areas of the body through stretches, applying pressure to specific areas, and resistance. They use their hands in specific ways to loosen the tissues and joints.  Here are the benefits of osteopathic treatment:

  • General pain relief
  • Treatment of neck problems and pain 
  • Treatment of back problems and pain
  • Treatment of joint problems and pain (such as knees)
  • Treatment of migraines

As you can see, osteopathic treatments are used for the bones, ligaments, joints, and muscles. According to a randomized, controlled trial of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) undertaken in 2012, osteopathic methods proved effective against acute lower back pain (ALBP). The research, published in the Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy was able to conclude that “with similar baseline expectations, OMT subjects reported significantly greater satisfaction with treatment and overall self-reported improvement.”

Speculative Downfalls and Myths Against Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

As with most forms of alternative medicine, osteopathic medicine has its naysayers and nonbelievers. For example, Dr. Bryan Bledsoe, who is an osteopathic doctor himself, wrote a letter to the editors of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association congratulating one of their researchers for his findings that osteopathy proved ineffective against knee problems. He then writes: “I received an excellent undergraduate medical education and am proud to be a DO, but I cannot continue to support an antiquated system of healthcare that is based on anecdote or, in some cases, pseudoscience. As a medical school student, I was taught to critically analyze problems and practice evidence-based medicine.”

Though these comments by Dr. Bledose seem disappointing in the face of the potential efficacy of osteopathic manipulative medicine, 14 years later the American Academy of Family Physicians published a report by Margaux Lazarin, D.O., M.P.H. titled “Dismissing Osteopathic Manipulation Rubs Me the Wrong Way.” There, Dr. Lazarin writes that “[he] was drawn to osteopathy by the basic tenet of treating the whole person rather than a collection of symptoms. [He] . . . learned another osteopathic principle in medical school, that “structure and function are interrelated.” Does Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine Work? The draw of osteopathic manipulative medicine is that it’s a holistic practice, focusing on resolving problems in the physical body rather than suppressing them with drugs. “A simple example: When someone breaks their leg (structure), it doesn’t work as well (function). During [his] training, [Dr. Lazarin] learned how…physicians could influence structures and functions of the body with osteopathic manipulation, as well as with medications, surgery and advice about nutrition and exercise.”

As alternative and holistic practitioners, osteopaths don’t only offer the treatments in which they apply pressure and stretches to different areas of the body. Most osteopaths will also prescribe exercises to do at home, strengthening programs, and even advice about what to eat and what supplements to take. After addressing the upsides of osteopathy, Dr. Lazarin addresses his disappointment over an article published in Forbes titled “Medicare Data Reveal $564 Million Wasted On Chiropractors and Osteopathic Manipulation.” He writes that the author, Steven Salzberg, M.S., Ph.D., seems to have a poor understanding of osteopathy overall and that Salzberg is offering a disservice to patients and medicine by levering his opinion toward the studies against osteopathy as opposed to its obvious positive impact.

Dr. Lazarin brings it home with this: “I tell patients that often, less is more (antibiotics can’t treat viral infections), that food is medicine (eat more plants and less sugar and processed foods) and that they need to move their bodies every day (stop sitting for eight hours straight). When patients ask for all their labs to be checked, I take time to explain that we often can’t provide what they’re ultimately looking for—reassurance that nothing bad will happen to them.” 

Dr. Lazarin invokes an important critique of the conventional medical system, that is, its tendency to overtreat with pharmaceuticals and not address lifestyle factors such as exercise and proper nutrition that play key roles in overall health.

Should You Try Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine?

You may indeed find it an appropriate treatment, but don’t place conventional medicine on the backburner. It’s beneficial to have an integrative approach. This can mean using holistic practices, such as osteopathy where fitting while incorporating conventional treatments.  If you want to connect with an osteopathic doctor and learn more, TelMD offers members the ability to connect with osteopaths and other holistic practitioners online. Want to learn more about holistic medicine? Visit TelMD and connect with a wellness practitioner. Let’s make wellness contagious!™

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