Christina Wong DO
September 18, 2020 | by Christina M. Wong DO

Doctors of osteopathic medicine, like me, believe it is crucial to treat patients as a whole and not just their specific symptoms. After all, people are more than just their body parts; we are unique human beings. Doctors of osteopathy (DOs) understand how the body’s systems are all interconnected.

What is Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy?

Osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT) is a procedure involving hands-on techniques with the goal of achieving relief from pain or restoring normal function in the body – think of it like trying to get the body back to “neutral.” It is used as an aide to allopathic medicine which typically includes the use of medications, injections, and additional tests to help treat a patient. OMT involves moving a patient’s joints and muscles through stretching, gentle pressure, and resistive techniques. Thanks to additional training and medical education in the musculoskeletal system, DOs are very familiar with the body’s bones, nerves, and muscles.

Many people wonder about the major differences between osteopaths and chiropractors. While there is a lot of overlap, traditional chiropractors typically focus on spinal manipulation with high-velocity adjustments, focusing more on the nervous system. Although osteopaths can also treat with spinal manipulation, procedures may also include additional techniques which treat the nervous and circulatory systems. Treatments with OMT can help with blood flow, increased range of motion, and decrease pain in order to restore the patient back to good health.

What conditions are treated with osteopathic manipulation?

Osteopaths treat all types of medical conditions, and furthermore, all ages of patients (children to adults). OMT can ease pain and improve mobility for various musculoskeletal conditions and sports medicine injuries such as concussions, shoulder pain, frozen shoulder, neck pain, back pain, sprained ankles, costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage connecting the rib to the breastbone), and sacroiliac joint pain (sometimes called SI joint pain which is felt in the low back and buttocks).

Types of Treatment

There are various treatments used when a patient receives OMT which can include soft tissue treatments, direct treatments (taking a body part to where it does not want to go), and indirect treatments (taking a body part into a direction it does like to go).

Soft tissue treatment involves pressure being applied to muscles and soft tissue through stretching, kneading, and inhibition. Treatments like these can be used in acute pain to loosen the tissue or prior to applying a direct technique on a patient.

Direct treatment can involve high-velocity, low amplitude techniques, myofascial release, fascial distortion, and muscle energy techniques. High-velocity, low amplitude treatments can involve adjustments of the spine or other joints – patients may or may not hear a “pop” during this treatment. Fascial distortion has a subset of treatments which usually involve direct pressure into an area. Muscle energy involves the patient contracting a muscle against the provider’s pressure, then relaxing their muscles while the provider coordinates the body part to the next barrier to release tension and increase the range of motion. Myofascial release involves palpating the direction the fascia likes to move and moving in the opposite direction to improve flexibility and homeostasis of the tissue.

How should a patient prepare for Osteopathic Manipulation Therapy?

The best way to prepare for an OMT appointment is to arrive early, fill out any new patient paperwork, make sure to come in wearing comfortable clothing, and by taking all of your morning medications if that is part of your daily routine. It’s also important to know not all treatment is passive and you may have to work with your provider by doing things like resistive techniques in muscle energy. While progress is always the goal, it is very important to have realistic expectations and to know some conditions require more than one visit to relieve pain and that OMT may not work for all patient. The provider may not treat you on the first visit if they feel additional workup is needed for your condition.

What should a patient expect during an Osteopathic Manipulation Therapy appointment?

Whether it’s soft tissue, indirect, or direct techniques; the provider may ask you to resist certain movements, perform active motions, and you may need to shift positions. Think of this a hands-on appointment where you might be assisting your provider in stretching or moving parts of your body.

If you would like additional information on DOs, please visit the Washington Osteopathic Medical Association website or the American Osteopathic Association.

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