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Osteopathy can be used to treat mental health issues related to back pain – new study

Published on: Saturday 13th March 2021

https://theconversation.com/osteopathy-can-be-used-to-treat-mental-health-issues-related-to-back-pain-new-study-94845Millions worldwide suffer from chronic musculoskeletal back pain (lasting more than three months). The problem is so big that in the UK alone, it is estimated that 116m days of work are lost, a million hospital appointments are made and five million GP visits are scheduled – just for low back pain. 

The physical agony is often not a standalone problem, however. 35% of people who suffer with low back pain are also diagnosed with depression, anxiety and social isolation.

NICE guidelines suggest that chronic back pain sufferers should have physical therapy as part of a broader package of treatment which includes psychological help. But we have been exploring how one single type of osteopathic treatment can be used to treat both the physical and mental conditions.

is a drug-free medical approach which uses touch-based massage, manipulation of soft tissue and joints, and spine mobilisation procedures, to diagnose and treat pain related conditions. Practitioners use a structured evaluation to identify dysfunction relating to the skull, spine, pelvis and abdomen, as well as upper and lower limbs, and target treatment.

OMT has already been found to be effective for several types of muscoskeletal pain, such as chronic neck pain. In addition, it has been proven to be more effective than the standard primary care options – such as exercise and painkillers – at improving quality of life for those with persistent low back pain three and 12 months into treatment. 

Researchers have also shown that OMT can reduce subacute (between acute and chronic) low back pain. Accordingly, spinal mobilisation and manipulation alone have been found to be effective for acute, subacute and chronic low back pain. 

While this is all very positive, there is a pattern here. The limited OMT research has focused mostly on physical problems, not the associated mental health issues. 

Treating mental health issues

To find out more about how osteopathy could potentially affect mental health, at our university health and well-being academy, we have recently conducted one of the first studies on the psychological impact of OMT – with positive results. 

Spine mobilisation.Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

For the last five years, therapists at the academy have been using OMT to treat members of the public who suffer from a variety of musculoskeletal disorders which have led to chronic pain. To find out more about the mental health impacts of the treatment, we looked at three points in time – before OMT treatment, after the first week of treatment, and after the second week of treatment – and asked patients how they felt using mental health questionnaires.

This data has shown that OMT is effective for reducing anxiety and psychological distress, as well as improving patient self-care. But it may not be suitable for all mental illnesses associated with chronic pain. For instance, we found that OMT was less effective for depression and fear avoidance. 

All is not lost, though. Our results also suggested that the positive psychological effects of OMT could be further optimised by combining it with therapy approaches like acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Some research indicates that psychological problems such as anxiety and depression are associated with inflexibility, and lead to experiential avoidance. ACT has a positive effect at reducing experiential avoidance, so may be useful with reducing the fear avoidance and depression (which OMT did not significantly reduce). 

Other researchers have also suggested that this combined approach may be useful for some subgroups receiving OMT where they may accept this treatment. And, further backing this idea up, there has already been at least one pilot clinical trial and a feasibility study which have used ACT and OMT with some success.

Looking to build on our positive results, we have now begun to develop our ACT treatment in the academy, to be combined with the osteopathic therapy already on offer. Though there will be a different range of options, one of these ACT therapies is psychoeducational in nature. It does not require an active therapist to work with the patient, and can be delivered through internet instruction videos and homework exercises, for example. 

Looking to the future, this kind of low cost, broad healthcare could not only save the health service money if rolled out nationwide but would also mean that patients only have to undergo one treatment.

Steve always manages to put me back together again - then life is a pleasure!

Erica, Africa

I recommend Charley thoroughly. I have had years of sudden onsets of back pain that have interfered with daily life. I have never been sure of the difference between an osteopath, a chiropractor and a physio (despite even receiving some physio in the past that didn’t resolve the issue) and I was a bit sceptical of seeing an osteopath at first. I was incredibly impressed with Charley’s thorough initial consultation, checking every avenue for my back pain. The treatments have been remarkable and I am shocked by how quickly I have responded to Charley’s treatment and her detailed exercise plan to support my core and increase my back mobility. Charley’s manner is friendly; she puts you at ease whilst being professionally direct and always very attentive. I strongly recommend Charley.

Tariq, Colliers Wood

Having suffered from a shoulder injury since last September and following unsuccessful physio, I decided to try SW19 Osteopath and Yan-Kei has been amazing. Not only has my mobility greatly improved as has my posture and knee pain, I am no longer in pain. Amazing at how effective this has been for me in such a short period of time, and I now am able to return back to sports. Yan-Kei explains what she is doing and definitely is invested in my well-being and although I am so much better, I will make this as part of my self care and ensure that I visit her every 5 – 6 weeks to re-balance myself. I highly recommend Yan-Kei; I truly feel she has worked wonders for me.

Maria, Colliers Wood

It was my first time seeing an osteopath and Charley was incredible. She is both knowledgeable and personable, she makes you feel completely comfortable and in extremely safe hands. I really feel like she wants you to get better and to really get to the root of what is causing the pain and discomfort. The exercises and stretches she taught me have become part of my daily routine and I have noticed a real difference. Thank you Charley!

Natasha, Mitcham

Finding Simon has had a profound impact on my health and recovery. I have found him to be a wonderful balance of professionalism coupled with a sensitivity and intuition that had supported me when I most needed it.

Anna, London

My personal experience at SW19 Osteopaths has been wonderful. My osteopath, Charley, is vey efficient at her work whilst maintaining a professional manner. In addition to this, she is always on time for our appointments which is very helpful when on a tight schedule. I have now completed five sessions of osteopathy with Charley which have greatly benefited the issues I experience with my back. I would highly recommend attending SW19 Osteopaths especially having Charley as your therapist as she is very welcoming and great at answering any queries and/or questions you may have and overall amazing at what she does. Many thanks

Mark, Colliers Wood

My daughter has just played her cello for the first time in four months without experiencing pain. Stephen, we are amazed and delighted!

J. Wimbledon

I started seeing Lara about my sinuses, which have cleared. She has also helped me with my neck pain and digestive problems. Thank you so much Lara.

Anne, Teacher

Over the last 6 months Lara has effectively used the Emmett Technique to eliminate my persistent lower back pain as well as foot and heel pain. She has also been able to relieve stress and tension from my neck and shoulders. The relief, as a result of her treatments, is immediate and long-lasting. I would highly recommend her treatments.

Amanda, Wimbledon

I have seen Charley for several months for my neck pain, sinus pain and knee pain. Her gentle but assertive treatments have released the tension and relieved the pain – instantly in the case of my neck. She also provided exercises and advice, which I continue to use. I would recommend her without hesitation.

Katherine, Wimbledon