Background: The effect of osteopathic manual therapy (i.e., spinal manipulation) in patients with chronic and subchronic back pain is largely unknown, and its use in such patients is controversial. Nevertheless, manual therapy is a frequently used method of treatment in this group of patients.
Methods: We performed a randomized, controlled trial that involved patients who had had back pain for at least three weeks but less than six months. We screened 1193 patients; 178 were found to be eligible and were randomly assigned to treatment groups; 23 of these patients subsequently dropped out of the study. The patients were treated either with one or more standard medical therapies (72 patients) or with osteopathic manual therapy (83 patients). We used a variety of outcome measures, including scores on the Roland-Morris and Oswestry questionnaires, a visual-analogue pain scale, and measurements of range of motion and straight-leg raising, to assess the results of treatment over a 12-week period.
Results: Patients in both groups improved during the 12 weeks. There was no statistically significant difference between the two groups in any of the primary outcome measures. The osteopathic-treatment group required significantly less medication (analgesics, antiinflammatory agents, and muscle relaxants) (P< 0.001) and used less physical therapy (0.2 percent vs. 2.6 percent, P<0.05). More than 90 percent of the patients in both groups were satisfied with their care.
Conclusions: Osteopathic manual care and standard medical care had similar clinical results in patients with subacute low back pain. However, the use of medication was greater with standard care.