Study finds osteopathy effective in the treatment of chronic lower back pain

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) can reduce pain by 50% in a majority of patients with chronic lower back pain.

New research recommends giving osteopathy a try before resorting to surgery for chronic lower back pain. The American study found that six sessions of osteopathy over eight weeks could be enough to reduce pain and see general improvements, particularly in mobility.

A team of researchers from the University of North Texas, USA, have found that Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) can reduce pain and improve function in patients suffering from chronic lower back pain -- in particular, those with the highest levels of pain and greatest degrees of disability.

Lower back pain, or lumbago, is a frequent and recurring condition that's often caused by damage to the muscles, tendons or ligaments supporting the spine. In the medical world, lower back pain is considered "acute" when it lasts less than six weeks or "chronic" when it continues beyond three months. Sciatica, caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, can provoke a sharp pain, shooting like an electric shock from the base of the back down the leg and to the toes.

The study's findings, published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, recommend trying osteopathic treatment before opting for more radical, surgical solutions to chronic lower back pain. While rest and anti-inflammatory medication are the most common treatments for the condition, osteopathic manipulative treatment can relieve pain and prevent it from recurring.

The study was conducted in two parts. First, 455 men and women, aged from 21 to 69, suffering from lower back pain for at least three months were prescribed six osteopathy sessions over a period of eight weeks. Recovery and improvements were evaluated four weeks after the final session, measuring pain intensity levels and the functional state of the patients.

In the second part of the study, the team looked at which types of patients benefitted the most from osteopathic treatment. The results showed that those with the highest disability scores saw the most substantial improvements after osteopathic treatment.

The researchers conclude that if a significant benefit is defined as a reduction of 50% or more in pain and disability scores, then osteopathy proved effective in a majority of patients. It should therefore always be considered before resorting to surgery.

The study also found osteopathy beneficial to patients with more moderate cases of lower back pain.

Osteopathy is a complementary or alternative medicine based on the physical manipulation of muscles and joints to relieve certain health problems.

The full study is available here: