A healing touch
Treatment aids in diagnosis, relieves pain, enhances healing
After throwing her back out carrying her vacuum cleaner upstairs, Lynn Marshall tried everything she could think of to alleviate the pain — rest, ibuprofen, heat, Icy Hot®. Nothing relieved the shooting pain and stiffness in her lower back. Then, at the advice of her primary care physician, she found relief through the healing touch of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).
OMT is hands-on care. Performed by an osteopathic physician — referred to as a DO instead of an MD. It involves using the hands to help diagnose and treat the root of the problem, relieve pain and restore function. The osteopathic physician may use a combination of manipulation and traditional medicine, such as heat, medication and physical therapy, to perform soft tissue treatments to realign the body’s normal symmetry so it can heal itself and regain normal tissue function.
“Sometimes patients have tried other treatments, pain relievers and stretching, and aren’t getting relief. OMT helps put the body back into normal alignment. It restores vascular flow to areas and relieves swelling and pain,” says Stephen Grindel, DO, the physician who treated Lynn. He uses OMT in his practice as a Family Medicine physician at Via Christi Clinic on Cypress.
Osteopathic physicians look at treating illness within the context of the whole person — mind, body and spirit. They are highly skilled in using their sense of touch to feel the patient’s living anatomy, which includes the flow of fluids, motion and texture of tissues and structural make-up. OMT is not a massage or a chiropractic adjustment; however, aspects of the treatment may resemble some of the methods of those two practices.
Most patients are treated lying down. OMT is gentle and requires very little effort from patients. The osteopathic physician manipulates the musculoskeletal region and joints using techniques such as stretching, massage, gentle pressure, heat, cold alcohol therapy and resistance. This promotes healthy movement and blood flow in the tissues and releases compressed bones and joints. Techniques used are specific to the patient’s diagnosis and condition. The DO then properly positions the area to help the body’s ability to regain normal tissue function.
Before treating Lynn, Grindel applied heat to her back for approximately 20 minutes, then he gently manipulated the specific region back into position.
“I felt better immediately,” says Lynn, a mother of two. “I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea what to expect because I had never had any work done on my back. What he did really worked for me. I’m a happy patient!”
Treatments typically do not hurt, but occasionally, if there is a lot of inflammation, there may be some discomfort, Grindel says. There may be some soreness, especially after the first visit.
Lynn found relief with only one treatment. However, depending on the duration of the injury or dysfunction, several treatments may be required. OMT may be used alone or in combination with medication, physical therapy and exercise with each playing an important role in treating patients osteopathically.
When OMT is effective
Treatments help with central healing and can be used for anything that restricts function. If you feel out of alignment, like something is “out of whack,” OMT may provide relief. It is often used to treat musculoskeletal pain but it can also help patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, tension headaches, menstrual pain and sports injuries.
Grindel frequently treats patients with neck pain, thoracic back pain and headaches associated with back pain or tension — often the result of too much time at the computer.
People of all ages have found relief from pain as well as quicker healing time and improved mobility through OMT. If you have tried stretching, rest and anti-inflammatories and continue to experience discomfort, it may be beneficial to speak with your primary care physician about a referral to a DO.
Osteopathic physicians, or DOs, are licensed physicians with all of the education and privileges of allopathic physicians (MDs), authorized to perform surgery and prescribe medication. In addition to a medical degree and residency, DOs also receive extensive training in body structure, function and hands-on manipulation. DOs approach the body as a whole, looking for the cause of symptoms. They include the musculoskeletal system as an important structure in their practice. Osteopathic physicians treat symptoms by isolating the source of the problem, and removing the dysfunction by hands-on manipulation.
How is OMT different from chiropractic medicine?
A doctor of chiropractic medicine (DC) and osteopathic physician (DO) both are medical professionals who treat patients with a focus on the musculoskeletal system, including the spine, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. However, a DC employs holistic forms of therapy and techniques for manipulating the spine. Chiropractic doctors believe that many health problems are related to imbalances in the musculoskeletal system, and they learn to perform adjustments to this system including popping discs back into a straight, natural alignment. They frequently treat chronic conditions to manage pain. Education requirements to be a DC include an undergraduate degree and four additional years of professional training.
DOs believe in treating the body as a whole and include the musculoskeletal system as an important structure in their practice. They also perform other types of medical treatment including surgery and prescribing medication. They typically deal with injury, illness or chronic conditions, and may use other specialties. Education requirements include an undergraduate degree, a doctorate degree in osteopathy and post graduate (residency) training.
When did osteopathic medicine start?
Osteopathic medicine traces its official start to the year 1874 when Andrew Taylor Still, MD, founded the discipline. He pioneered the concept of wellness and recognized the importance of treating illness within the context of the whole body.
Today, osteopathic medicine is among the fastest-growing sectors in health care. By 2020, it is projected that approximately 100,000 DOs will be practicing in the U.S., according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.