Girl receiving osteopathic manipulative therapy from doctor

Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy (OMT)

Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy refers to manual healing techniques applied by Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs). Through applied pressure, supported stretching and resistance exercises, DOs help the body heal from disease and injury by facilitating the natural healing mechanisms controlled by the musculoskeletal system.

There are over 100,000 practicing DOs in the United States. In addition to the medical training that allopathic doctors (MDs) receive, osteopaths have additional training in holistic approaches to diagnosis and treatment and the interconnectedness of the body’s system of nerves, muscles, and bones. According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), “Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine have a keen understanding of how the body’s systems are interconnected and how each one affects the others.”

The AOA has identified four foundations of osteopathic medicine:

  • The body is an integrated unit of mind, body, and spirit.
  • The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms, having the inherent capacity to defend, repair, and remodel itself.
  • Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.
  • Rational therapy is based on consideration of the first three principles.
  • Possible Uses

    For children suffering from cognitive or nervous system dysfunction, OMT treatments that directly address structural issues in the musculoskeletal system have been shown to be effective. The pressure and resistance exercises facilitate improved coordination between the body’s tissues and nervous system.

    DOs have had success in using OMT to alleviate the cranial compression in autism patients. In an article in The DO, Eric J. Dolgin, DO, of Santa Monica, California describes the treatment of Neal Katz, a boy with severe autism who benefitted from OMT treatments focused on his cranium and spine. “In two weeks, his seizures and head banging stopped. After six weeks of treatment, he had much better concentration and social interaction and less repetitive behavior.” 

    In the same article in The DO Cheryl A. Leuthaeuser, DO, advocates OMT diaphragm release exercises for autistic patients. “Diaphragm release is helpful for the many kids with autism who have diarrhea, constipation and abdominal bloating.”

    OMT has also been shown to help children with ADHD. Guy Ashburner, DO, in Cape Town, South Africa, treated a young boy with epilepsy and ADHD; on his website, Caleb’s mother details the improvements she saw after the first session: 

    During dinner that same night, Caleb asked everyone to speak one at a time so he could keep his eyes closed and guess whose voice he was hearing. “He said it was because he didn’t hear the usual humming in his ears that he wanted to try it. He also started using his left hand and foot which he struggled to use before because of low muscle tone,” Celestia says.

    Why did it work so well for Caleb?

    His treatment involved subtle osteopathic techniques that encouraged normal mobility of his neck, head and spine. As a result, it also helped the associated nervous, lymphatic and circulatory systems.

    How It Works

    Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still, a preacher who became a Civil War surgeon. Still lost three of his young sons to spinal meningitis and grew disillusioned with the conventional medical practices of the day. He believed that medicine should take into account the totality of the patient’s life and experience, not just the current symptoms. He embarked on intensive study of how the systems of the body were interconnected, which became the foundations of osteopathy. He believed that gentle manipulation of the muscle tissue and bones would facilitate the body’s self-healing mechanisms, reducing inflammation and disease with less use of drugs and surgery.

    This whole-body approach remains a foundation of OMT, though advances in science and research have shined light on the efficacy of OMT. This study suggests that OMT improved sustained attention in children with ADHD. another study showed that children diagnosed with neurologic problems and treated with OMT showed improvements in neurological performance.

    Things To Consider

    While the osteopathic community would like to see additional larger studies on OMT and the treatment of children with nervous system dysfunction, OMT’s lack of negative side effects has made it seldom challenged as a viable treatment option. Renowned cancer treatment center Memorial Sloan Kettering uses OMT to treat cancer pain, and reports that mild side effects, such as a slight headache or mild dizziness and nausea, usually disappear the same day.

    Because of their holistic orientation and 360-approach to treatment, many patients find that osteopaths are great leaders on their child’s treatment teams. When choosing an osteopath for OMT, one might benefit from asking questions on their ability and/or interest in coordinating care with one’s other treatment providers, such as therapists and other medical specialists.