Person receiving osteopathic treatment with text overlay: Is Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment Helpful for Fibromyalgia?

Is Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment Helpful for Fibromyalgia?

I had my Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) on Friday. I was in the middle of a flare, so I almost chickened out and cancelled my appointment. The only thing that kept me from doing that was fear that such a late cancellation might keep me from getting another appointment.

I’m extremely fortunate that my Primary Care Provider (PCP) is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). That means that not only can she practice traditional medicine, she has an additional skill set that is more holistic.

So what’s the difference between a regular doctor and a doctor who practices osteopathic medicine? First, let’s take a look at what we mean when we talk about osteopathic medicine.

What is osteopathic medicine?

Osteopathic medicine looks at many more factors than just the symptoms you present with. It encompasses looking at the whole person. Wow – what a concept, huh?

According to the Academy of Osteopathy,

“Osteopathic medicine is a patient-focused approach to health care that takes into account every aspect of the patient, including his or her physical, personal, and spiritual well-being. Developed more than 130 years ago by Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, osteopathic medicine brings a unique philosophy to traditional patient care. Understanding that the body is more than just a sum of its parts, osteopathic physicians (DOs) assist the patient’s innate capacity to heal by addressing the interrelationship of the body’s nerves, muscles, bones and organs. Osteopathic physicians are licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties.” https://www.academyofosteopathy.org/what-is-osteopathy

In his outstanding article, An Osteopathic Approach to FibromyalgiaMichael A. Seffinger, DO, FAAFP, adds that

“The osteopathic philosophy is founded on core beliefs about health, disease and patient care that can be summarized in four basic tenets that stem from the sciences of anatomy and physiology:1,2

  1. The human being is a dynamic unit of function.
  2. The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms that are self-healing in nature.
  3. Structure and function are interrelated at all levels.
  4. Rational treatment is based on these principles.”

The doctor who practices osteopathic medicine addresses the whole person, not just the symptoms of a problem, and works with the body to help it heal itself.

This makes so much sense to me, just at a common-sense level. We know none of our body’s systems work independently of everything else, so why should they be treated as if they operate in a vacuum?

OMT is one of the tools a DO can use to address all those interrelated systems. That’s what makes it so attractive to me for treating the symptoms of Fibromyalgia. If my doctor is addressing imbalances that affect, as the Academy of Osteopathy says above, “the interrelationship of the body’s nerves, muscles, bones and organs,” it seems treatment may improve many of the co-morbid conditions that accompany Fibromyalgia.

So what is Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment?

According to the American Osteopathic Association,

“Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment, or OMT, is a set of hands-on techniques used by osteopathic physicians (DOs) to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. Using OMT, a DO moves a patient’s muscles and joints using techniques that include stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.”

My treatments consist of all these techniques. When I go in, my doctor asks what I feel I need the most work on for that day. She knows that if we do too much, it could result in a flare, so she’s conservative with how much we do. For instance, on Friday, we worked on my legs because they were what were giving me the most pain. The time before, we concentrated on my hips.

Before she does anything, though, she does a hands-on assessment to see what imbalances I have. That’s what informs the treatment she provides that particular day. Because the Musculoskeletal System affects other bodily systems, addressing those issues can result in benefits to overall health.

To see just how the Musculoskeletal System interacts with the other systems of the body, I highly recommend reading An Osteopathic Approach to Fibromyalgia. Dr. Seffinger does a fabulous job of describing how all these systems are interconnected.

How It May Help:

Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy techniques can help in several ways. These benefits are not unique to Fibromyalgia – they can apply to other issues as well. The American Osteopathic Association outlines the following ways OMT may help: It can “treat structural and tissue abnormalities, relieve joint restriction and misalignment, restore muscle and tissue balance, [and] promote the overall movement of blood flow throughout the body.”

In researching specifically the connection between OMT and Fibromyalgia, the article by Dr. Seffinger that I mentioned above was the most comprehensive one I found. It details how and why OMT can be helpful for Fibromyalgia, and even provides a case study. It’s a little lengthy but well worth the read.

I couldn’t find information about many studies conducted regarding how helpful OMT is for Fibromyalgia, though I did find mention of a small one. You can read about it here. According to the National Institutes of Health, the small study referenced “found OMT combined with standard medical care was more efficacious in treating FM than standard care alone.

As with everything else, what works for one person might not work for another. For some, the discomfort of the “stretching, gentle pressure and resistance” mentioned above might be too much.

will tell you that it’s definitely not comfortable while you’re doing it (at least it isn’t for me), and I usually experience a couple of days of a sort of ‘mini flare’ afterward. However, in the past I’ve had excellent relief over the long run so it’s worth the temporary discomfort for me.

Is Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy helpful for Fibromyalgia? The short answer – Maybe. Each person is different and responds differently to treatment protocols.

Have you ever tried Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment? If so, how was your experience with it? Did you find it helpful? Please share!

Blessings,

~Terri

Sources:

What Is Osteopathic Medicine? https://www.academyofosteopathy.org/what-is-osteopathy

What Is Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment? https://osteopathic.org/what-is-osteopathic-medicine/osteopathic-manipulative-treatment/

An Osteopathic Approach to Fibromyalgia, Michael A. Seffinger, DO, FAAFP https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/myofascial/fibromyalgia/osteopathic-approach-fibromyalgia

Osteopathic manipulative treatment in conjunction with medication relieves pain associated with fibromyalgia syndrome: results of a randomized clinical pilot project. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12090649

13 comments

  1. This is a really interesting one as I’ve not read much about it in relation to how those with fibromyalgia have found it. As you say, things work differently for everyone but I do think it’s good to be open-minded about treatments like this because you never know. As the study findings you mentioned indicate, it could be helpful in conjunction with other treatments (“found OMT combined with standard medical care was more efficacious in treating FM than standard care alone”) to improve the benefits. I can definitely see this being quite uncomfortable and flare-triggering at the time, but then again I find massaging my neck/shoulders myself can be super painful but that’s part of releasing some of the pain and tension to feel better afterwards. I’d definitely be interested in learning a little more and possibly giving it a go. Fab post, Terri!
    Caz xx

    1. Thanks so much Caz! My doctor is really careful to try not to hurt me, but as you know, with Fibromyalgia, even a hug can hurt. I did really well with what she did on Friday, but the previous visit….not so much. During the earlier visit, she was working on my piriformis muscle, which was exceptionally tight. It DID loosen it up, though, and my hip stopped giving me so many problems. This was only my second visit with this doctor – my previous DO had left. When I was having the OMT on a regular basis it made a huge difference for my overall pain levels. Again, it’s probably not for everyone, but I’m happy it’s one of the things I have available to me. I’d love to hear how others have done with it. Hope you have a much better week this week sweet friend. Hugs!

  2. I’ve had chiropractors over the years. I had a DO once. Wish I had one again. Chiros are all different. I always have a “flare” the day after and also massage. It helps keep the places that are out of whack in place so that I’m not dealing as much with double pain sources.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Ruth! I haven’t been to a chiropractor since I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, but I have visited them in the past. I guess the “flare the day after” is a somewhat normal occurrence after people have been pushing and pulling on us, huh? Hope you’re doing well sweet friend. Blessings to you!

  3. Hi Terri! I have had treatment from an Osteopath a few times. In the main to sort out my back. I had a bulging disc caused by the need for prolonged bed rest. It was painful afterwards, but most definitely helped. I think the most disconcerting part was being asked to breath in & relax as they prepare put pressure on the body. They were extra careful with palpating, as that caused me a great deal of pain afterwsrds. The best Osteo I saw lives miles away & no longer practises here, which is a pity. Definitely if a good Osteo is found, stick with them. Must be amazing to have Dr who is a trained Osteo too! Thanks for sharing on this, Terri.💙

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Penny! I’m so sorry to hear your best Osteopath moved their practice. That’s what happened with my first one too – he actually started his own practice, but it’s a new type of practice that doesn’t accept insurance. I feel extremely fortunate to have found the doctor I have now. She’s been wonderful so far, and she’s so thoughtful about everything she does that I don’t have to worry she’s going to do something that’s going to make me worse. I especially love that since she’s my Primary Care doctor, she can do the “traditional” stuff too – I don’t have to go to two different doctors. Hope you’re doing well sweet friend. Sending hugs your way!

  4. You are very blessed to have such a holistic doctor. They are rare here in Ireland. You are so right that one size does not fit all. I have explored a good number of therapies for my fibromyalgia. They all helped in different ways but sometimes I reached a plateau, and a new path appeared.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Brigid! I do feel very blessed to have my doctor. I’ve only seen her a few times so far, but I’m really impressed with how conscientious she is, and of course, I love that she looks at things in a holistic way. I hope you’re doing well sweet friend. Sending hugs!

  5. Very interesting and incredibly informative. Pre CFS, yoga and walking really helped my pain levels. It sounds you’ve found a great care provider! It sure can make all the difference. I do find that stretching a couple times a week in bed (laying on the yoga mat on the floor hurts my body) helps, but if I do it too much I end up in more pain. All about balance for certain. Good to see you’ve found something that helps!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Mishka! I do feel extremely fortunate to have found my doctor. I hear so many horror stories of people not being able to find a good doctor, and I must say, I’m thankful to have had many good ones over the years. Hope you’re doing as well as possible sweet friend. Sending very gentle hugs!

  6. I’m a bit shocked. I’ve been seeing DOs for over 20 years because I like their more holistic handling of medicine, but I have NEVER heard of OMT. I will definitely be asking my current GP why he’s never put this forward as an option, though I suppose it could be because I already do so much body work on my own. Thanks so much, Terri. I often learn new things reading your posts! xx

    1. Wow, Michelle, that’s surprising! Maybe, as you said, your GP didn’t suggest it because he knows how much bodywork you do already. I do know that my doctor has very limited appointments for OMT – only two per day – but I’m not sure if that’s her choice or a limitation of being in a Family Practice. Thanks so much for commenting – I hope you’ll let me know what your doctor says. Sending hugs your way sweet friend!

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