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Osteopathic Medicine Gaining Acceptance

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 6, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Overcoming a lack of acceptance by the established medical profession, osteopathic medicine is gaining credibility and is proving to be a low-cost alternative for lower back pain. However, according to the November/December issue of the journal Archives of Family Medicine, a recent telephone survey of 800 HMO members suggested that the public is not yet familiar with osteopathic medicine.

Emil P. Lesho, DO (doctor of osteopathy), says the training is similar for traditional medicine and osteopathics, with osteopathics stressing the central role of the muscular and skeletal systems and normal body mechanics for good health. However, the word hasn't gotten out to the public that manipulation, the main healing technique of osteopathy, is safe and effective. Lesho writes that more research on manipulation would help educate patients.

Osteopathy dates back to 1874 when Andrew Taylor Still, MD, became disenchanted with existing medical practices, especially the liberal use of drugs and compounds for curing illnesses. Still believed the human body had an inherent ability to heal itself; he believed physicians could best promote health by ensuring that the musculoskeletal system was in as perfect alignment as possible and obstructions to blood and lymph flow were minimized or eliminated. To that end, Still developed various manipulative techniques and a philosophy of medicine similar to, but separate from, traditional medicine, also known as allopathic medicine. Presently, there are almost 42,000 licensed DOs in the U.S. making up about 5% of the physician population and providing about 10% of health care.

After reviewing 128 medical articles published between 1925 and 1993, Lesho writes that manipulation is relatively safe. "In more than 15 studies of manipulation, there were no adverse effects. ... However, determining the number of complications from manipulation is difficult because of uncertainties in the actual number of manipulative treatments performed and the number of unreported complications."

Osteopathic manipulation is proving to be particularly effective in treating lower back pain. Lesho points to several studies claiming that manipulation may shorten the duration of painful symptoms. In one 1981 study reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 95 patients receiving manipulation with soft tissue massage treatments had significantly more improvement in symptoms even though they reported their pain as being "severe" or "very severe."

There is even more recent evidence that supports osteopathic treatment for lower back pain. A study published in the Nov. 4 issue of TheNew England Journal of Medicine concludes that patients with chronic lower back pain can be treated effectively with manipulation. The study found manipulation to be as effective as other treatments for lower back pain and lower in cost.

During the 12-week study, patients were treated with a variety of accepted treatments for lower back pain such as pain medicine, anti-inflammatory medication, active physical therapy, Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (a device that provides a slight electrical current to an affected area using adhesive pads), and hot/cold packs. All of these forms of treatment, including manipulation, were shown to be effective for treating lower back pain. However, manipulation was associated with lower costs and less medication.

Officials of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) found the study proof of the validity and benefits of manipulation. "This study helps to reinforce what DOs and their patients have known for years," said Eugene A. Oliveri, DO, president of the AOA, in a written statement.

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