Hands On Healing: Does it Work?

Osteopathic manipulation lacks sufficient evidence to show whether it is effective

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Even in Western medicine, there are different methods for treating patients. One type of method is osteopathic manipulation. But how effective is it?

A recent analysis of current research found that there is not enough evidence available to know how effective it is.

Of the studies reviewed by these researchers, half showed it was effective and half showed it had no effect. These researchers do not currently know how helpful or not osteopathic manipulation is.

The concept of osteopathic medicine is to treat the "whole body" of a person rather than just one specific condition.

"Exercise each day - it's best for your health."

The study, led by Paul Posadzki, PhD, of the Medical Research Division of the Korean Institute of Oriental Medicine, reviewed the evidence for osteopathic manipulation for children.

Osteopathic manipulation involves a doctor of osteopathic medicine, or DO, moving a patient's muscles and joints with stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.

It is used along with other familiar techniques in medicine, such as medication, to treat various conditions.

For this analysis, the authors searched 11 databases through November 2012 for randomized controlled trials involving osteopathic manipulation as compared to any other type of treatment for children.

The authors located 17 trials, including five that were of very high quality in terms of the methods used in them.

One of those five studies showed osteopathic manipulation to be more effective for the children, and the other four showed that osteopathic manipulation had no effect compared to the other methods used.

In conducting study trials, researchers will attempt to replicate a past study's finding to see if they get the same result. Getting the same result shows stronger evidence for that technique.

Only two conditions in this analysis were found to have studies that tried to replicate previous results. Neither study confirmed the findings of the original studies.

In looking at all the trials found (including the ones without high quality methods), the researchers found seven trials that showed osteopathic manipulation was more effective than the other method tested for children in the following conditions:

  • asthma
  • a birth condition where the tear ducts are obstructed
  • daily weight gain and length of hospital stay
  • dysfunction with being able to urinate and/or defecate (go to the bathroom)
  • colic in babies
  • ear infection
  • slight curvature of the spine (postural asymmetry)

However, among all the trials found, seven other ones found osteopathic manipulation had no effect on the symptoms of the following conditions:

  • asthma
  • cerebral palsy
  • scoliosis (curvature of the spine)
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • ear infection
  • problems with the jaw and chewing

Most of the randomized controlled trials did not report on side effects for the different methods tested.

Based on the analysis of all this evidence, the authors concluded that there is not enough evidence from high quality studies to show that osteopathic manipulation is effective.

This finding does not mean osteopathic manipulation is not effective. Right now, there simply is not enough evidence to show whether it is effective or what the side effects could be.

The study was published June 17 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 15, 2013
Last Updated:
August 6, 2013