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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.

I've been visiting the practice since February and have been seen by Yan-Kei. I'm just writing to leave a brief review of the practice and of her. The treatment I have received from Yan-Kei has benefited me greatly and I am improved in all aspects of life. I would recommend this treatment to anyone who feels any sense of discomfort and seeks to change their life for the better. Look forward to my next visit

Paolo

Stephen has been my osteopath for many years and has helped me recover from several serious operations. The atmosphere in the clinic is so calm and relaxing, and Stephen is an absolute professional in everything he does. He truly has healing hands.

Laura D

I thought the treatment for pain in my knee was excellent. I felt I was being considered as an individual as Stephen listened to everything I said and gave a treatment appropriate to my needs. His approach was non-invasive. I began to notice an improvement in my knee after a couple of days and the pain has not recurred. To me, it felt as if each treatment enabled my body to correct itself and rebalance.

Sabine, Wimbledon

Following a breech caesarean birth, Max developed a tendency to turn his head to one side, and he developed a visibly flattened side of head. We were fortunate enough to know Steve's expertise in paediatric osteopathy and it was clear to see how passionate and informed he was regarding treatments and possible outcomes. Throughout the non-invasive treatment we felt totally at ease with Steve, as did Max who fell asleep! I would highly recommend Steve. We are extremely grateful for his time, care and attention to detail.

Andreas, Bex and Max. Raynes Park

Charley worked wonders with my back after it had seized up after carrying and giving birth to my daughter. She did a thorough assessment of the (multiple!) problems and worked her magic within a couple of sessions. I wouldn't hesitate to return to Charley for any future problems. Thank you

Cecily, Tooting

I saw Simon regularly to help me with symptoms of multiple slipped discs. Cannot recommend enough - as a first time Osteo patient I found Simon to be professional, helpful and friendly. Everything was done at my own pace and fully explained so I knew what it all meant. Many thanks again!

Oliver, Colliers Wood

I have been seeing Steve on and off for years. Every time I see him I feel as if I have been put back together. He’s an incredible osteopath. I highly recommend the practice because of their ethos and very high standard of treatment.

Claire, SW19

I have had several treatments with Steve over the years for neck pain, back pain and under active thyroid. Steve has natural healing hands as well as a bank of experience and knowledge, which enhance his effectiveness. He is a very skilled practitioner both sensitive and subtle with powerful results; I have completely recovered from these conditions.

Chrissie C Streatham

Just before Christmas, my back ‘went’. By ‘went’ I mean I could barely walk and had constant pain in my lower back and leg. I was off work and spent most of the time lying on the floor. I was treated by Stephen and Simon, both of whom have a professional but very calm manner – ideal for anyone who’s in a lot of pain. They identified muscle and sciatic nerve damage. They obviously knew what they were doing because the pain gradually started to ease, such that by the beginning of March I was back on the treadmill in the gym. Would I use SW19Osteopaths again? Definitely. Only this time I’d go sooner.

Sam B, SW19

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