Can Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment Fix Your Back Pain?

You might be seeing a doctor of osteopathy (DO) when you visit your regular primary care physician and not even realize it. That's because DOs practice with the same privileges and responsibilities as medical doctors-MD's, but with additional training including osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), which works wonders to relieve pain for many patients. Is OMT right for you?

According to the American Osteopathic Association, Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is hands-on care. It involves using the hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. Using OMT, your osteopathic physician will move your muscles and joints using techniques including stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance.

How Does OMT Work?

OMT is similar but not identical to chiropractic treatment. Where chiropractors focus on the spine, OMT focuses on the spine, bones, joints and soft tissues like muscles and fascia (connective tissue). Using a variety of techniques, DOs manipulate the neuromuscular system to facilitate greater mobility and health.

OMT techniques include:

  • High Velocity/Low Amplitude (HVLA), which is also called a "thrust technique" to apply rapid force and release restricted movement in a joint.
  • Muscle Energy Technique has the patient move against resistance provided by the DO to improve joint mobility.
  • Strain-counter strain technique involves manipulating the joints near tender points until the pain decreases.
  • Myofascial release involves the DO manipulating the connective tissues that surround joints, bones and muscles to release tension.
  • Cranio-sacral therapy is a specialized technique that manipulates the bones and tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Who Benefits From OMT?

OMT is often used to successfully treat patients with back pain, shoulder pain, arthritis, headaches, and other musculoskeletal conditions. It's also found to work on patients with fibromyalgia, asthma, bronchitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome, among other conditions.

How Effective is OMT?

Very few traditional studies have been done on OMT because double-blind/placebo-controlled research is impossible with hands-on therapeutic techniques. Evidence from other types of studies, however, support its use and techniques. Some patients say OMT is a lifesaver that allowed them to live pain-free when other therapies failed to work.   

Since OMT is provided by DOs, who train and practice very similarly to MDs, it's often used in conjunction with medication, physical and occupational therapies and surgery when necessary.  

How to Find a DO  

Ask your primary care physician or insurance provider for a recommendation or log on to the American Osteopathic Association's website for DOs in your area.


American Osteopathic Association

New York University Medical Center

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment