Osteopathic Manipulation Treatment
Osteopathic Manipulation Treatment (OMT) is a system of hands-on techniques used to alleviate pain and correct structural impingements in the body that inhibit healthy function. It is effective in treating muscle pain, joint injuries, and fascia dysfunction. Because OMT improves blood flow and opens lymphatic pathways through the body, it also helps to nourish tendons and ligaments, relieves stress, and aids in detoxification.
Several techniques may be used to restore tissue health. A precise amount of manual pressure is gently applied in a specific direction, either directly on the affected areas or at some distance away, relaxing the tissues. The physician may also engage the muscles at their functional limit to:
- Correct structural and tissue abnormalities (vertebrae, muscles, myofascial structures, etc)
- Relieve joint restriction and misalignment
- Restore muscle and tissue balance
- Promote the movement of bodily fluids
How Does Osteopathic Manipulation Work?
A healthy musculoskeletal system requires normal nerve function and fluids that circulate freely. The body's primary fluid systems include blood, lymph, cerebrospinal systems. These fluids are what carry oxygen, nutrition, enzymes, and hormones to all the cells of your body. Any kind of blockage of the nerves or fluids will result in pain and disease over time.
Structural blockages include damage to bones, tissues, and organs. Non-structural blockages include emotional or mental stress. Either one can impair the musculoskeletal system and cause pain, loss of motion, and illness. Structural blockages can be treated through a variety of techniques that include:
- Muscle Energy
- Myofascial Release
What is fascia and why is it important?
Fascia is a continuous sheath composed of elastin and collagen that extends from head to toe, surrounding every organ, blood vessel, nerve cell, bone, and muscle. This sheath is the basis of a key Osteopathic principle: unity of function. Its purpose is to provide support and reduce friction. Fascia has a large number of nerve endings, which means that it also plays a large role in proprioception and our body’s interpretation of pain.
In health, fluids flow with relative ease from one fascial compartment to the next. When a traumatic injury occurs, the fascia may twist and compress. The exchange of fluid may become compromised, and physiology may be impaired. Degenerative Arthritis is often a result of longstanding traumatic influence and can change the shape of the bones. OMT cannot correct this structural change in the bones, but it can correct the resulting strain in the surrounding soft tissue, restoring some physiologic flexibility to allow the tissues to better negotiate the arthritic changes.
OMT in Infants and Children
Birth is often our first trauma. Even with a healthy delivery, the pressures applied to a newborn's cranium can cause problems. The infant's head plays a significant role in opening the birth canal. The normal pressures of birth cause the cranial bones to fold over one another. The membranes (meninges) and cerebral spinal fluid surrounding the brain act as a shock absorber.
Osteopathic manipulation eases the shock to the infant's system, allowing the nervous system to relax and heal. Normal maturation processes can then occur more naturally. Not all problems can be resolved, but many can be eased. Every child is different; some have a rapid and complete resolution and some require many treatments and recover only partially. Children with developmental delays may not change immediately, but will begin to mature at a more normal rate of development.
As a general rule, it is always best to receive treatment as close in time to the traumatic event as possible. Infants may actually benefit from receiving treatment immediately after birth. The less time the traumatic forces have to establish themselves in the tissues, the easier it is to clear them.
Benefits of OMT During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, enormous physical, chemical and emotional changes take place over a relatively short period of time. The body has to get used to carrying up to 20+ lb of baby, amniotic fluid, and placenta, causing great physical strain on the, tissues, joints, and ligaments of the body. In order for the pregnant body to adapt to these changes, it finds new ways to walk, sit, and sleep. Ligaments that support the pelvis and lower back increase in laxity and muscles can weaken causing joint irritation and severe pain.
Back pain during pregnancy may also occur due to hormonal changes or from the body adjusting to a changing center of gravity. As the womb grows larger, the round ligaments, or the thick ligaments supporting the womb, stretch. This strain on the ligaments causes pain in the lower abdomen or groin area. Any sudden movement, such as sneezing or standing up too quickly, can cause spasms that pull on already stressed ligaments.
Research studies show that OMT significantly improves back dysfunction during the third trimester. Osteopathic treatment during pregnancy can ease some of the symptoms typically associated with pregnancy:
- Aches and pains of the back, neck, shoulder area and muscular tension
- Pain in the groin, lower abdomen, or pubic symphysis
- Nausea and vomiting
OMT: Procedure Snapshot
Below is a video that demonstrates the process of OMT in adults and infants.
Adult OMT presented by Michael A. Seffinger, DO, Chair and Associate Professor,
Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine/Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine,
College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific.
Video available at: