According to a 2016 report from the CDC, approximately 20% of the population at the time reported having chronic pain. It affects over 50 million individuals and is one of the most common reasons for adults to reach out to the medical community. The consequences of chronic pain are much more complex than one might expect. Chronic pain interferes with a person’s mobility, making it difficult to perform tasks that might have previously been simple. Both quantity and quality of sleep are often affected, leaving the sufferer tired and depleted. The emotional toll of dealing with chronic pain often results in anxiety and depression as well, complicating recovery.
When discussing doctors, many people in North America default to the idea of a doctor trained in conventional medicine, also known as allopathic medicine. Allopathic medicine seeks to treat symptoms and diseases by employing drugs, surgery, or radiation. Osteopathic medicine is similar to allopathic medicine in that it encompasses a large variety of diseases and conditions, but it takes a whole-person approach that focuses on both prevention before mitigation and on holistic methods of treatment.
The osteopathic approach to pain management emphasizes finding the root cause of the pain rather than simply treating the symptoms. A traditional doctor will likely ask where it hurts, how badly it hurts, and when the pain started. A doctor of osteopathy will ask these questions, as well as possibly delving into recent changes in lifestyle or environment, evaluating your emotional or mental circumstances, and maybe even interviewing close family members. Doctors trained in osteopathic medicine also have additional experience and education around the musculoskeletal system, which helps them to pinpoint the source of pain more reliably.
Osteopathic doctors (DO) have a wide variety of pain management techniques at their fingertips. While conventional medicines, radiation therapy, and surgery options are still available to them, these doctors are much more likely to turn to physical manipulation and lifestyle changes.
One of the primary tools in osteopathic medicine is osteopathic manipulation treatment (OMT), a hands-on treatment method in which your doctor applies gentle pressure to manipulate joints, muscles, and soft tissues. This treatment method is intended to properly align the musculoskeletal system, allowing the body to heal itself. Not only is OMT employed to treat chronic pain issues like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraines, it can also help alleviate symptoms related to other conditions. OMT is also utilized in treating asthma, chronic sinus infections, and insomnia.
This technique, used by both osteopaths and chiropractors, aims to regain a normal range of motion to a specific joint. It is achieved via a quick, forceful motion directly over the joint that often results in a popping sound. This type of manipulation often has immediate results but is not appropriate for all patients. The thrust technique should be avoided by those with low bone mineral density, unstable joints, or fractures that may still be in the healing stage.
This technique is designed to loosen the fascia that surrounds the muscle, facilitating more flexible and stable muscle movement. The technique involves a sustained pressure that can be either firm or gentle, as the case requires. The motion to release the myofascial tissues often needs to be repeated multiple times to achieve the intended benefits.
Most techniques involving physical manipulation of the body require the patient to relax and allow the doctor to adjust the musculoskeletal system. Muscle Energy Technique asks a more active role from the patent, where the patient is directed to use their muscles in a precise manner while the doctor applies a counterforce.
This technique often helps reestablish a greater range of motion in the joints as well as reducing pain and is slightly gentler than the HVLA technique. It is employed as a treatment option for anything from muscular shortening to respiratory dysfunction but is inappropriate for patients that are suffering from osteoporosis, open wounds, or fractures.
Osteopathy focuses on the source of the pain. Pain is frequently affected by our lifestyle choices and not just our fitness habits and routines. A doctor trained in osteopathy may recommend getting more sleep, as sleep loss both increases the perception of pain and reduces the brain’s ability to relieve it. They may also recommend incorporating stress management techniques into your daily routine to mitigate both pain and stress, as chronic stress can worsen chronic pain and vice versa.
Another lifestyle change that osteopaths may recommend is a change in your eating patterns. Chronic pain is frequently exacerbated by somatic inflammation. A diet high in anti-inflammatory foods and low in inflammatory ones may help to relieve the inflammation, thereby reducing pain. Here are a few examples of foods that either increase or decrease inflammation in the body.
The way that you move throughout the day can affect pain levels as well. Along with exercises and stretches specific to your condition, a DO will likely recommend practical advice, such as increasing your overall activity levels, correcting lifting techniques, and emphasizing low-impact fitness options.
Pain treatment, even chronic pain, can take a variety of forms, and the form you decide to use is a very personal decision. Individuals can choose to utilize conventional methods of treatment such as medication, surgery, and radiation, or they can select the more natural methods of treatment preferred by doctors of osteopathy, or they can blend the two.
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