Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM)

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT):
Hands-on care

Osteopathic medicine is a form of medical care developed in America in the late 19th century by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still. As part of their medical school education, doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) focus particularly on the musculoskeletal system and it’s interactions with the rest of the body — the interconnected system of bones, nerves and muscles—that makes up two-thirds of the body’s mass. Osteopathic physicians are trained to understand the interaction between the structure and the function of the human body. An important part of their training is osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), techniques during which DOs use their hands to move a patient’s muscles and joints through stretching, gentle pressure and resistance to assist healing or prevent illness.

OMT is often used to treat muscle and joint pain. If a nerve, muscle or joint is subject to abnormal pressure or strain, it will eventually cause a pain response, that may extend to the surrounding tissue that is forced to compensate for that stress or strain. Many medications can be prescribed to alleviate the pain or discomfort, but OMT can often decrease or eliminate pain by adjusting the surrounding musculoskeletal structures to restore normal pressure to the affected nerve, muscle or joint. OMT addresses the cause of the problem while reducing the symptoms.

Over the years, several studies have highlighted the therapeutic value of OMT. In 1999, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that examined the effect of OMT on low-back pain. Participants in that study were divided into two groups. One group received standard medical treatment for low-back pain while the other group received the standard treatment plus OMT. At the end of the study, both groups reported pain relief, but those individuals who received OMT took less medication for pain relief and did not have to undergo as much physical therapy.

Results from another study, this time published in 2003 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, suggested that children who suffered from frequent ear infections would be less likely to need surgical interventions or extended antibiotic use when OMT was added to their standard treatments. A research study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association in 2004 also pointed to the benefits of OMT. That study indicated that OMT appears to help patients who have asthma get relief from their symptoms. Researchers measured the range of motion that patients had in their chests before and after OMT and found that all of the participants had a greater range of motion after receiving OMT. The authors of the study concluded that this increased range may help ease asthma symptoms and relieve the "chest tightness" reported by many people with chronic asthma.

Like any form of medical treatment, OMT has limitations and an osteopathic physician will use a full complement of medical therapies, including medications and surgery to help their patients overcome pain or illness. At the same time, because of their training in OMT and their more holistic approach to health and wellness, osteopathic physicians can offer their patients “something more” that frequently means immediate relief with nothing more than a doctor’s therapeutic touch.

Originally published in The University Doctors' MedicaLink - 01/09

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