Physicians' widespread prescribing of opiate-based pain relievers helped fuel the record number of addicted Americans. Unfortunately, the campaign to significantly reduce opioid prescribing has been hindered by an inability to identify suitable alternatives for managing chronic pain.
One approach, long practiced by osteopathic physicians, has been largely dismissed by the rest of the medical profession. But some new evidence suggests osteopathic manipulation therapy, or OMT, which involves moving joints and muscles through soft tissue stretching and pressure, can make a real difference for many patients, especially those with lower back pain.
“Rather than going through a standard physical examination, we will actually put our hands on the patient to feel if there are any asymmetries or restrictions in the tissues,” said Dr. Jim Bailey, an assistant professor of rehabilitative medicine at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. “If we find them we can use various techniques to correct that.”
Most of the scientific research into OMT over the years involved small patient samples, so positive results were easily dismissed. Insurers often refuse to reimburse for the procedure, treating it more like acupuncture or massage.
But that may change. A fairly large randomized, controlled trial of over 400 patients that appeared earlier this year in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found six OMT sessions were associated with “significant and clinically relevant measures for recovery from chronic lower back pain.”
This came on the heels of a 2014 meta-analysis—led by a German researcher who has worked with the respected Cochrane Collaboration—that found OMT helped reduce pain and improved function in both acute and chronic pain patients.