Osteopathic manipulative medicine: everything you need to know

Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine: Everything You Need to Know.

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A doctor examines a patient's shoulder during an office visit.

You’ve probably heard of chiropractors and massage therapists who use a hands-on approach to relieve tension and improve function in the body. But did you know that there’s a specially trained medical doctor who can use the same manual techniques—and others—to promote healing in every part of your body?

Osteopathy doctors (DOs) are experts in diagnosing and treating all kinds of conditions using osteopathic manipulative medicine, or OMM for short. OMM is a set of hands-on techniques that DOs use to apply pressure or force to any part of the body. This can:

  • Relieve pain
  • Improve mobility and range of motion
  • Restore function

As a DO, I practice a holistic approach to patient care. When there is an illness or injury to one part of your body, the rest of your body is also affected. In fact, nearly 80 organs inside your body are working together to keep you alive and well!

Your brain and nervous system tell your heart to beat. In the same way, your skeletal system needs nutrients from the digestive system to build strong bones. That’s why DOs don’t just focus on the injured part of your body. Instead, they apply OMM techniques to joints, muscles, nerves, and tissues that can impact all ten of the body’s systems.

How does OMM work?

Restriction and tightness in your muscles and nerves can be caused by or lead to other health problems. To correct this, DOs are trained in over 40 OMM techniques. Some of the most popular techniques include:

  • Soft tissue pressure application: Massaging or stretching the body’s soft tissues to improve blood flow and provide pain relief.
  • Release of muscle energy: A push-pull approach that involves you moving your muscles one way while a DO pushes or pulls in the opposite direction.
  • Myofascial release: Applying firm but gentle pressure to release tension in the tissue surrounding your bones, muscles, and organs called fascia.
  • Cranial manipulation: Applying soft pressure to different parts of the skull, which can encourage healing.

How is it different from seeing a chiropractor?

While DOs and chiropractors may use some of the same techniques, there are distinct differences between them.

  1. OMM treats more than just joints. While chiropractors focus on your bones, DOs use OMM to prevent and treat health concerns affecting any part of the body. So if your head hurts, they may work on other parts of the body that could be the root cause of your headache, including related joints, muscles, blood vessels, and fascia.
  2. OMM is performed by medical doctors. Just like doctors with an “MD” after their name, DOs complete medical school and a medical residency as part of their training. As a medical doctor, DOs can also prescribe medication, run tests, and conduct check-ups. In contrast, chiropractors are not considered medical doctors. Only DOs are trained and licensed to perform OMM.
  3. OMM uses more techniques. Chiropractors often use thrust techniques that result in cracking or a “pop” in the bones. DOs may occasionally use a thrust technique, but they’re also trained to use many other direct and indirect methods.

What does OMM treat?

OMM can be used to diagnose and treat all kinds of medical conditions and injuries. Most commonly, OMM is effective for relieving muscle and joint pain. Many of my patients find that it also helps relieve symptoms for conditions such as:

  • Asthma
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Insomnia
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Overuse injuries (e.g. tennis elbow)
  • Sinus problems
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ)
Struggle with chronic pain, headaches, or sleep? Osteopathic manipulative medicine techniques can relieve pain and improve symptoms with no side effects or risks. Learn more via @MedStarHealth’s #LiveWellHealthy blog: https://bit.ly/3etZRjD.

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While we can’t heal certain irreversible conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or scoliosis, we may use OMM to improve related symptoms in combination with other treatments, such as physical therapy, medication, or surgery.

Who can get OMM?

DOs can use OMM on patients of all ages with just about any condition, from infants who struggle with breastfeeding to adults with symptoms of heart failure. Your DO will adjust the pressure of their techniques based on your condition.

A patient with arthritis or osteoporosis may need a gentler approach than a high school athlete recovering from tendonitis. Likewise, a DO would not use thrusting techniques on an infant or child who is still growing.

If you’ve recently experienced a more traumatic injury, such as a fracture, I recommend waiting to see a DO until your injury is healed. You don’t want to cause more stress to your injury!

Is it covered by health insurance?

In most cases, OMM is covered by health insurance. The amount that is covered my vary based on your insurance company, so it’s always best to call your insurance company to find out what’s included.

What can I expect at an OMM appointment?

Going to an OMM appointment is very similar to going to see your primary care doctor. In fact, your doctor may even be the same as your primary care doctor. I’m a DO who specializes in family medicine so my patients benefit from receiving OMM in the same place they go for their annual check-ups, flu shots, and other preventative care. Other DOs may specialize in internal medicine, pediatrics, or specialty care.

Keep in mind that your OMM visit may take a little longer than a traditional primary care visit. During your OMM appointment, your doctor will:

  • Ask you about your medical history and your current condition.
  • Conduct a physical exam that checks your nerves, muscles, and bones.
  • Apply stretching, gentle pressure, or resistance techniques to various parts of the body (e.g. neck, back, arms, legs, or head).

Often, your doctor will not start where you’re experiencing discomfort. For example, if you have pain in your neck, I may check some other areas that could be causing the pain. But don’t worry—we’ll get there! Many patients feel relief for symptoms immediately, while others notice a positive change over a longer period.

Your doctor will determine how often you should receive treatment based on your condition and how your body responds to OMM. Depending on your condition, your DO may suggest other supplementary treatments to go along with OMM.

Watch the video below to see Dr. Ryun Lee explain and demonstrate OMM techniques.

Is OMM right for me?

With no side effects and the convenience of being done in a doctor’s office, OMM may be just what you need to get relief from your health problems. OMM doesn’t cure everything, but it does offer risk-free benefits for patients with chronic pain, sleep problems, and other injuries or illnesses.

Those interested in learning if OMM may relieve your pain or symptoms should talk to your MedStar Health primary care doctor today. If your primary care is a DO, they’ll be able to offer you OMM treatment right there in the office. Otherwise, they can refer to you a MedStar Health DO nearby.

Learn about additional benefits of having a primary care provider.
Click below to read more from our blog.

4 Reasons Why You Should Have a Primary Care Provider.

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