What is the “Manipulation” of Joints?

If your doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) recommends “osteopathic manipulative treatment, or “OMT,” and you’ve never had it before, you’ll want to know what it is and what it will feel like.

All DOs learn this hands-on technique in medical school. Many use it in the practice along with -- or, in some cases, instead of -- other treatments, such as medication and surgery.

How Does It Work?

One of the keys to osteopathic medicine is the idea that tightness and restriction in your nerves and muscles can be caused by or lead to other problems. So DOs are trained to use their hands to gently move your joints and tissues to correct any restrictions in your range of motion. OMT is the way that they do that.

How Does It Feel?

If you get OMT, you should expect your DO to use their hands to apply light pressure, resistance, and stretching. It should not hurt.

The practice includes 40 different techniques, including:

  • Soft tissue: You’ll feel stretching and pressure on your muscles.
  • Muscle energy: In this technique, you move your muscles in a specific direction while the DO counters that movement. Think push-pull.
  • Myofascial release: Your DO uses firm but gentle pressure to release tension in the fascia, which is the layer of connective tissue that surrounds your bones, muscles, and organs.
  • Osteopathic cranial manipulative medicine: Your DO applies soft pressure to your skull to stimulate healing.

What Can OMT Treat?

DOs often use OMT to relieve pain. Research shows that people with low back pain who got OMT needed fewer painkillers and days off compared to those who didn’t have the treatment.

This technique may also ease migraines. In one study, people who got OMT needed less medicine, had fewer migraine days, and felt less pain than those who took medication but didn't receive OMT.

OMT can also treat other conditions, such as:

  • Shoulder problems
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Knee problems

Depending on your case, your DO may find that you also need other treatments, such as medicine or surgery.

Who Can Get OMT?

From infants to the elderly, people of every age and just about any condition can get OMT. Your doctor may adjust it to fit your needs. For instance, someone with a bone or joint condition, such as osteoporosis or arthritis, may need a gentler form of OMT.

One study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology concluded that OMT was a safe and effective way to help ease pain in women during the third trimester of pregnancy.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 12, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Boyd R. Buser, DO, vice president for health affairs and dean, University of Pikeville-Kentucky; president-elect, American Osteopathic Association.

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: “What is Osteopathic Medicine?”

American Osteopathic Association: “Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Osteopathic Manipulation.”

UW Integrative Medicine, University of Wisconsin: “Myofascial Release.”

Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine: “Philadelphia Department of Osteopathic Medicine.”

Jakel, A. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, December 2011.

Prinsen, J. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, February 2014.

Williams, N. Family Practice, July 2003.

Hensel, K. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, January 2015.

Posadzki. Pediatrics, July 2013.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Chiropractic: An
Introduction.”

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