I have often felt that practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) tend to be foolishly overconfident, often to the point of being dangerous. In a word, they are plagued by hubris.

Here is an example of osteopathic hubris:

The aim of this study was to determine the impact of visceral osteopathy on the incidence of nausea/vomiting, constipation and overall quality of life (QoL) in women operated for breast cancer and undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy in Centre Georges François Leclerc, CGFL.

Ninety-four women operated for a breast cancer stage 1-3, in complete resection and to whom a 3 FEC 100 chemotherapy was prescribed, were randomly allocated to experimental or placebo group. Experimental group underwent a visceral osteopathic technique and placebo group was subjected to a superficial manipulation after each chemotherapy cycle. Rate of grade ≥1 nausea/vomiting or constipation, on the first 3 cycles of FEC 100, were reported. QoL was evaluated using the EORTC QLQ-C30 questionnaire.

Rate of nausea/vomiting episodes of grade ≥1 was high in both experimental and placebo group. Constipation episodes of grade ≥1 were also frequent. No significant differences were found between the two groups concerning the rate of nausea/vomiting (p = 0.569) or constipation (p = 0.204) according to clinician reported side-effects but patient reported impact of constipation and diarrhoea on quality of life was significantly lower in experimental group (p = 0.036 and p = 0.038, respectively).

The authors concluded that osteopathy does not reduce the incidence of nausea/vomiting in women operated for breast cancer and undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy. In contrast, patient reported digestive quality of life was significantly ameliorated by osteopathy.

Visceral osteopathy has been discussed here several times already (for instance here and here). In my new book, I summarise the evidence as follows:

Several studies have assessed the diagnostic reliability of the techniques involved. The totality of this evidence fails to show that they are sufficiently reliable to be of practical use.

Other studies have tested whether the therapeutic techniques used in visceral osteopathy are effective in curing disease or alleviating symptoms. The totality of this evidence fails to show that visceral osteopathy works for any condition.

The treatment itself is probably safe, yet the risks of visceral osteopathy are nevertheless considerable: if a patient suffers from symptoms related to her inner organs, a visceral osteopath is likely to misdiagnose them and subsequently mistreat them. If the symptoms are due to a serious disease, this would amount to medical neglect and could, in extreme cases, cost the patient’s life.

EFFICACY negative
SAFETY debatable
COST negative


The key message here should be that visceral osteopathy lacks plausibility. So why test its effectiveness for any condition, especially chemo-induced nausea where there is no conceivable mechanism of action and no hint that it might work?

The answer, I am afraid, might be quite simple: osteopathic hubris!

4 Responses to Osteopathic hubris

  • So both groups are equally constipated, but people treated with osteopathy find their constipation to be… somewhat less bothersome?

    Looks like we’ve reached the rock bottom of relevant outcomes here.

  • Yes, when you put lipstick on the chemotherapy pig it still looks a lot like a pig.

  • It is interesting to see a study with diferente criterias being used on the methods and another one for the results. Should I ask you to read again?

    This section then follows with a description of the results obtained in the experimental group and in the placebo group after each chemotherapy treatment cycle and after each experimental or placebo treatment.
    According to the literature, the p-value indicates the probability of obtaining a significant result and, normally, in studies considered as statistics, p-values ​​<0.05.
    In this study, then, it is considered that similar results were obtained in groups, in the rate of nausea and vomiting (p< 0.569) and constipation (p< 0.204), given that the p values ​​are not lower than 0.05. In this visceral way, it is known that the osteopath does not reveal a significant treatment in reducing these symptoms.
    On the other hand, differences were observed regarding the quality of life variable, associated with intestinal symptoms that were significantly higher in the placebo group, both for constipation (p=0.036) and for diarrhea (p=0.038). Scores for nausea and vomiting progressed significantly over time in both groups (p<0.0001).
    Although the results study that there are no verifications of significant differences between the two, in the quality of life scores of the groups for nausea and vomiting and constipation and diarrhea, I disagree with these conclusions since it seems there are results, according to these treatments, values of presentation.
    But let see your opinion.

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