The University Doctors

Can osteopathic manipulative treatment help with the aches and pains of pregnancy?

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 osteopathic physicians 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. 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.

This can be particularly important for pregnant women because very few medications are considered safe for the unborn baby during pregnancy. With OMT, osteopathic physicians may relieve the pain or discomfort of pregnancy without the use of any medications at all.

Weight gain is one of the primary sources of pain and discomfort during pregnancy but discomfort also occurs from headache, neck pain and swelling. Although each individual is different, women who begin pregnancy at a normal weight can expect to gain 20 to 30 pounds during the nine months of pregnancy. Although a woman’s body has spent years changing in preparation for pregnancy, and the amount of weight gained is within the expected range, it can still place significant stress on the woman’s body, leading to a pain response.

Although pregnancy weight gain can cause a flare-up of previous injuries to joints, muscles and ligaments, we typically see low back pain occurring during pregnancy. The additional weight and the growth of the fetus during pregnancy shifts the body’s center of gravity forward, placing more stress on the muscles and ligaments of the lower back to support this weight. This shift can cause the spine to curve beyond its normal front to back shape, causing discomfort. At the same time, the gain and shift in body weight can alter the pregnant woman’s normal gait when walking, resulting in some residual aches and pains in the lower back and hips. Pregnancy also places stress on the surrounding organs and body systems as they are move out of the way to accommodate the growth of the fetus.

Because osteopathic medicine incorporates a holistic approach to health, the focus of OMT during pregnancy will be to help the entire body adjust to the normal changes that are occurring. Additionally, some studies have indicated that regular osteopathic care during pregnancy will actually reduce the length of labor by as much as five hours.

Osteopathic manipulative treatment provides a way to treat pregnancy’s aches and pains without any medication, eliminating all of the risks associated with taking medicines during pregnancy. Rather than taking pills to counter the body’s pain response, OMT helps the body to respond normally and effectively to the strains that are causing pain.

Originally Published in The University Doctors' MedicaLink - 4/10

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