MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

This study was aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of osteopathic visceral manipulation (OVM) combined with physical therapy in pain, depression, and functional impairment in patients with chronic mechanical low back pain (LBP).
A total of 118 patients with chronic mechanical LBP were assessed, and 86 who met the inclusion criteria were included in the randomized clinical trial (RCT). The patients were randomized to either:

  • Group 1 (n=43), who underwent physical therapy (5 days/week, for a total of 15 sessions) combined with OVM (2 days/week with three-day intervals),
  • or Group 2 (n=43), which underwent physical therapy (5 days/week, for a total of 15 sessions) combined with sham OVM (2 days/week with three-day intervals).

Both groups were assessed before and after treatment and at the fourth week post-treatment.

Seven patients were lost to follow-up, and the study was completed with 79 patients. Pain, depression, and functional impairment scores were all improved in both groups (p=0.001 for all). This improvement was sustained at week four after the end of treatment. However, improvement in the pain, depression, and functional impairment scores was significantly higher in Group 1 than in Group 2 (p=0.001 for all).

The authors concluded that the results suggest that OVM combined with physical therapy is useful to improve pain, depression, and functional impairment in patients with chronic mechanical low back pain. We believe that OVM techniques should be combined with other physical therapy modalities in this patient population.

OVM was invented by the French osteopath, Jean-Piere Barral. In the 1980s, he stated that through his clinical work with thousands of patients, he discovered that many health issues were caused by our inner organs being entrapped and immobile. According to its proponents, OVM is based on the specific placement of soft manual forces that encourage the normal mobility, tone and function of our inner organs and their surrounding tissues. In this way, the structural integrity of the entire body is allegedly restored.

I am not aware of good evidence to show that OVM is effective – and this, sadly, includes the study above.

In my view, the most plausible explanation for its findings have little to do with OVM itself: sham OVM was applied “by performing light pressure and touches with the palm of the hand on the selected points for OVM without the intention of treating the patient”. This means that most likely patients were able to tell OVM from sham OVM and thus de-blinded. In other words, their expectation of receiving an effective therapy (and not the OVM per se) determined the outcome.

 

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