Osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT) is a method of diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries. It involves a doctor using their hands to manipulate your body to encourage natural healing.
It can also be called osteopathic manipulative treatment or osteopathic manipulative medicine.
There’s some evidence that OMT is effective, but not enough rigorous large-scale studies have been completed to accurately compare it to more traditional methods. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful for many people.
Read on to learn more about OMT and its uses.
If you’re receiving OMT, you should expect a doctor to palpate your body with their hands. This means they may press your joints or muscles with their palms or fingers. They might also pull or rotate your limbs, trunk, or head.
Depending on your reason for receiving OMT, you might be asked to apply force as well, such as lifting your arms, while the doctor applies counterpressure.
You could remain in a particular position for 1 or 2 minutes. Sometimes, the doctor will move your body slowly and continuously, and other times they’ll move your body quickly.
OMT might occasionally be uncomfortable, but it should never be painful. If you experience any pain during OMT, let your doctor know immediately.
Osteopathic manipulative therapy vs. chiropractic therapy
OMT and chiropractic therapy can look the same superficially, but they have some important differences.
Chiropractic therapy generally places a lot of emphasis on your spine, while OMT includes your entire body. Similarly, the goal of chiropractic therapy is often to alleviate pain in a specific part of your body, while OMT is part of a holistic approach to medicine that stresses that all facets of your body are interconnected, including your mental and emotional states.
Chiropractors must be licensed, but they aren’t medical doctors. OMT is performed by a medical doctor.
A doctor trained in OMT might use it for a variety of conditions. The general principle is to relieve pressure and promote blood flow in targeted areas so that your body can properly function and better heal itself.
Below is a list of some of the conditions OMT might be used to treat.
Osteopathic manipulative therapy for chronic pain
Osteopathic manipulative therapy during pregnancy
A review of studies found that OMT improved function and lowered lower back and pelvic pain both during and after pregnancy. However, the review only included eight studies, five of which were unpublished.
Osteopathic manipulative therapy in generalized anxiety disorder
OMT can be used in a similar manner as chiropractic therapy to manipulate your spine and associated joints.
Headaches and migraine
Carpal tunnel syndrome
There’s some evidence that OMT can be an effective treatment, but there are also criticisms of this technique.
There aren’t any universal recommendations as to which OMT techniques should be used to treat specific conditions. Additionally, results can vary from one practitioner to another depending on their training and how often they use OMT.
While some people do report improved health from OMT, there aren’t nearly enough large-scale controlled studies to definitively say how it compares to other more traditional treatment methods.
While all medical procedures have some kind of risk profile, experts consider OMT to be safe.
Severe adverse events related to manipulative therapies — including OMT as well as other therapies — are very rare, but could include:
- disrupted blood supply to your brain (vertebrobasilar injury)
- slipped (herniated) disc
- cauda equina syndrome
A review of previous studies found that the incidence of severe events such as these ranges from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 250 million manipulations. This includes all types of manipulative therapy, such as chiropractic therapy, and not just OMT.
Chronic pain is frequently a condition that leads people to get OMT. So if you’re experiencing chronic pain you might be a candidate for OMT.
However, OMT is only one treatment method used by osteopathic doctors. A doctor of osteopathic medicine may also use other traditional treatments depending on what’s appropriate for your circumstances.
Seeing an osteopathic doctor on a regular basis — the same way one might schedule an annual physical — is a good way to let the doctor become familiar with your overall health. They can then recommend OMT as needed.
OMT is performed by a doctor of osteopathic medicine, sometimes called an osteopath. These doctors are fully trained and licensed in the same manner as a physician.
Where a physician is a medical doctor (MD), a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) undergoes additional training to be able to perform OMT.
A DO has the same legal and medical authority as an MD to order diagnostic tests, write prescriptions, and perform surgery. DOs are also primary caregivers but tend to practice a more holistic approach to medicine, carefully considering how your mental and emotional health are interconnected with your physical health.
About one in four medical students today are training to become DOs. You may be able to locate a practicing DO near you through organizations such as the American Osteopathic Association or the American Academy of Osteopathy.
OMT is a hands-on technique used for both diagnosis and treatment by specialized doctors of osteopathic medicine, called DOs. The practitioners of other manipulative therapies such as chiropractic therapy don’t have the same level of medical training as a DO.
It’s part of a holistic approach to medicine that emphasizes the interconnectedness of your whole body.
OMT would benefit from more large-scale controlled studies, but many people do find it beneficial, and it’s growing in popularity.