Dorothy Polahar, DO, is a member of Inova Integrative and Functional Medicine Center board certified in family medicine. She has a special interest in functional and integrative medicine, including acupuncture. Read Dr. Polahar’s profile.
Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy/Treatment (OMT) is a form of manual medicine, performed by a doctor of osteopathic medicine (trained in the same way as an MD, but with about 100 extra hours of anatomy, as well as learning manipulation while in medical school). Many people are familiar with chiropractic techniques which are taught in osteopathic schools along with many other treatment techniques. Every osteopath has different techniques and treatments that they prefer and feel work best for their patients. My OMT sessions feel, for my patients, somewhere between light touch and deep tissue massage. The popping and cracking that you may think of when you hear the word ‘manipulation’ is a type of technique I rarely, if ever, use. I have found that when I am able to relax the muscles and the fascia (sort of like the saran wrap between the muscles and the skin), the bones move back into place in a much more natural way without force. Sometimes forcing the bones back into the proper motion, without resolving the surrounding muscle tension, just leads the bones to continue to come back out of place again and again. By resolving all of the spasm and muscle tension around the bones, they are able to go back to their normal alignment and maintain that position for longer.
Will this treatment be painful?
No. The techniques I use require you to be relaxed. If I am touching you in a way that is too painful for you to relax, the techniques will not work.
So is this just for back pain?
NO! Osteopaths are taught to work from head to toe (arms and legs included). Here are just a few examples of problems that can be treated with OMT: headaches, shoulder pain, hip pain, knee pain, elbow pain, wrist pain, rib pain, neck pain, sciatica, back pain in pregnancy, newborn colic, newborns with difficulty with feeding (suck and latch) etc. Most patients also find the treatments calming and relaxing to the mind.
How many treatments will I need and how often?
Every person is different. How long have you had this problem? How bad is it for you (annoying or affecting your everyday life)? For the most part I will say this; my goal is to get you to a place where you rarely if ever need to come in for treatments. Seeing you once a week for the rest of your life, either means I’m a very bad doctor, or you are really sick (and most of you do not fall into that category). That said, often with chronic or debilitating symptoms, I do recommend a bit of a jump start. I think of chronic problems as an onion (lots of layers, think Shrek). You have had this for years, and I do not expect one treatment is going to make you perfect again. Each visit I hope to peel back a layer (whether that is less pain for a period of time or pain free for a period of time). That interval is different for everyone. Sometimes it is once a week for a few weeks and then we are able to slowly spread out the visits over times as the treatment effects last longer and longer for you.
You have to do your part to promote health and healing.
At almost every visit I will show you 1-2 stretches. Stretching is for life and to get the most out of the treatments you have to do your part too. Over the years muscles, just continue to get tighter and tighter, and without regular stretching begin to cause chronic problems. The piece of paper you picked up was not so heavy that it threw your back out. Your muscles were getting tighter and tighter and thankfully our brain does not send us messages about every tight muscle in our body (It just sort of tunes it out. Thank goodness, or you would think of nothing else). So the muscles quietly get tighter and tighter until one day your brain can’t tune it out anymore. That is when you go from no pain to unbelievable pain in a split second when you went to pick up that paper off the floor. The muscles were already tight and you just pushed them passed the point that you brain could longer tune them out anymore. This is why regular stretching is so important. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say ‘I used to have this same problem, but it went away with some stretches I did in therapy.’ My follow up question is always ‘are you still doing the stretches?’ The answer thus far has always been “No.” Stretching is for life!
I have been told I have a herniated disk, sciatica, arthritis, degeneration, scoliosis. Would this help?
Yes. While it may not erase all of your symptoms, working together we can optimize your function and try to keep your pain at a lower level.