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12-week study finds that osteopathy reduces lower back pain

12-week study finds that osteopathy reduces lower back pain

April 01
20:57 2013

Joshua Knopp / Staff Writer

Researchers at the UNT Health Science Center have established osteopathic manual treatment as an option for treating lower back pain. Though osteopathy was first developed in 1874, the results from a 12-week study this spring mark the first time it has been formally studied for its ability to reduce pain.

In the test, which also tested ultrasound therapy, 455 volunteers with chronic lower back pain were each assigned to either receive a real OMT regimen or a placebo OMT regimen and either an ultrasound regimen or a placebo ultrasound.

“There were basically four combinations,” said John Licciardone, director of the Osteopathic Research Center and lead author of the study.

Licciardone said the placebo regimens consisted of doctors going through the motions, but not applying enough pressure to significantly help the patient.

Assistant director of the Osteopathic Research Center Cathy Kearns said the two treatments are different. Ultrasound therapy sends sound waves into the patient’s muscles, vibrating them and heating them up to relax pain. OMT involves the physician physically correcting problems with a patient’s muscles and bones.

“The goal of OMT is to kind of restore motion to specific areas in the body that may be trouble for the person,” Kearns said. “They try to restore motion, alleviate pain and get blood flow going in specific areas.”

Sometimes, the problems aren’t in the lower back at all. Kearns said muscular issues in the leg and neck areas could be to blame for lower back pain, and said that “everything’s connected.”

Psychology professor Zina Trost works with the Osteopathic Research Center on the psychological factors behind back pain. She said that while the sources of back pain can vary, the psychological and social factors that exacerbate low back pain are everywhere.

“When you have a disability, not only are you physically uncomfortable, but you lose a lot of the things that give you pleasure and define you as a person,” she said. “We’ve done studies on college students, and the same kinds of factors are present.”

Trost said that 80 percent of people will develop back pain in their lives, though only 10 percent will develop a chronic condition.

The study’s results showed that OMT was demonstrably effective, with 50 percent of OMT patients reporting a substantial reduction in pain, while only 35 percent of the placebo OMT patients reporting such a reduction.

The study observed substantial improvement in 44 percent of ultrasound patients and 41 percent of placebo ultrasound patients. This indicated that ultrasound wasn’t making much of a difference, the Licciardone said.

Licciardone said OMT was also effective at reducing use of pain medication. Thirteen percent of OMT recipients reported using “rescue medication” for their pain over the study, while 20 percent of placebo OMT recipients took pills.

He said that, pending more funding, he would like to study whether or not OMT could be a cost-saving treatment, allowing the patients to forego pills, steroids and surgery for chronic back pain.

“We feel that people who receive OMT have less need for other treatments,” he said. “It’s our belief that getting a relatively inexpensive treatment like OMT might save money by preventing a more expensive intervention.”

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