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What is Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine?
PCOM Healthcare Centers

Osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) is a comprehensive approach to health care in which osteopathic physicians (DOs) apply osteopathic philosophy, structural diagnosis and use of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) in the diagnosis and management of patients.

The art and science of OMM includes the assessment of the impact of dysfunction of the neuromusculoskeletal systems on health and disease of each patient, and designing appropriate interventions that often include some form of OMT. OMT is the therapeutic application of manually guided forces by an osteopathically-trained physician to improve physiologic function and/or support homeostasis that has been altered by somatic dysfunction. There are approximately 15 major types of OMT and more than 1,000 individual techniques.

At its heart, the philosophy and practice of OMM is the knowledge base and skill set that allows the osteopathic physician to determine which patients will derive the greatest benefit from OMT and how and when which specific osteopathic techniques should be utilized.

From an osteopathic perspective, the impact on the health of the individual may occur via several well-defined mechanisms, which include the following:

The somatic system of the body, including neuromusculoskeletal components, plays a key role in health, dysfunction, and disease of the body.

The more efficiently the somatic system works, the less energy is expended in day-to-day living and the better one's overall health and well-being. Optimal function of the somatic system has a beneficial impact on individuals who are dealing with a wide range of health challenges, including lung disease, surgeries, entrapped nerves and more. Additionally, mechanical problems are a common source of musculoskeletal pain syndromes, thus this approach is commonly used for patients dealing with back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, headache and many other painful conditions.

Restricted motion of the musculoskeletal system can provoke the development of inappropriate reflex neural responses that will have an adverse effect on the function of the individual. These may take the form of somato-visceral reflexes—those affecting the internal organs—and somato-somatic reflexes—those affecting other parts of the musculoskeletal system.

Dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system can also play a role in health problems involving nerve structures, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, and sciatica, to name a few.

Osteopathic diagnosis and treatment can also help to balance the function of the autonomic nervous system, including the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Body fluids play important roles in health and coping with various disease states. For instance, an increase in lymphatic congestion plays a significant role in pneumonia. Treating patients with lymphatic-based OMT has been shown to hasten recovery and improve outcome.

Compression of the components of the vascular system by abnormal position or tension in the neuromusculoskeletal structures can lead to tissue ischemia, congestion and edema. There are manual medicine techniques to improve circulation to and from various parts of the body in the presence of other disease states.

Osteopathic treatments have been shown to have powerful beneficial pulmonary effects, improving lung function and patients' ability to recover from illness. Osteopathic treatments are used to improve air exchange, motion of the diaphragm, rib motion and to help remove unhealthy fluid from the lungs, as well as to help the body's inherent ability to heal, all of which leads to quicker recovery times from pneumonia, as well as helping patients with conditions such as bronchitis, influenza, asthma and ear infections.

OMT has been shown to demonstrate improvement in the body's response to infection of many types, for example, pneumonia and ear infections. It has also been shown to improve immune response after vaccinations.

The better an osteopathic physician gets to know his or her patient, both through conventional medicine and hands-on osteopathic care, the better the care plan can be personalized to the needs of the individual. Osteopathic physicians try to help the person who has a concern or problem, as well as dealing with the problem itself. Another way of saying this is that osteopathic physicians treat the patient, not just the problem.