Letters to the Editor

Osteopathic Medicine in the Treatment of Low Back Pain

Am Fam Physician. 2000 Dec 1;62(11):2414-2415.

to the editor: In the article entitled, “Diagnosis and Management of Acute Low Back Pain,”1 the authors did not mention the role of osteopathic medicine in a multidisciplinary approach to managing this health care enigma. Therapeutic manipulation is only one component of the osteopathic medical philosophy; thus, it should be considered unique from the chiropractic manipulation that was included in the review.

In addition to conventional diagnostic methods, the osteopathic physician uses palpatory skills to diagnose barriers to joint range of motion and asymmetry within the musculoskeletal system. Fundamental to osteopathy is the recognition of the body's inherent ability to restore homeostasis. In addition to manipulation, the osteopathic physician will use various soft tissue techniques to relax contracted muscles.

In a recently published randomized, controlled trial,2 osteopathic medical care, which included conventional medicine (i.e., analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants and physical therapy) plus manipulative medicine, was compared with conventional medical approaches in the treatment of subacute low back pain (i.e., pain lasting longer than three weeks and less than six months). Patients in the osteopathic care group required less medication and physical therapy than those in the standard care group. These results correlated with a significant cost difference between treatment groups.

The guidelines3 from the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (now known as the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research) for treating patients with low back pain include manipulative medicine as one component of a comprehensive clinical approach to improving function while preventing debilitation. The guidelines only recommend the use of manipulation in acute pain. The efficacy of this modality in chronic low back pain has not been proved.4

The safety of spinal manipulation has been reviewed in the literature. The most frequently reported complications include vertebrobasilar accidents and cauda equina syndrome; however, the complication rate is low, at one complication per 1 million treatments.5 The safety of spinal manipulation can be improved by properly selecting patients and recognizing contraindications.

Most nonspecific low back pain should be managed by primary care physicians. Referral to a subspecialist should be limited to patients with severe spinal disease and/or neuropathology. Primary care physicians should recognize the variety of treatment modalities available and understand the differences between osteopathic medical care and chiropractic care.

REFERENCES

1. Patel AT, Ogle AA. Diagnosis and management of acute low back pain. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61:1779–86.

2. Andersson GB, Lucente T, Davis AM, Kappler RE, Lipton JA, Leurgans S. A comparison of osteopathic spinal manipulation with standard care for patients with low back pain. N Engl J Med. 1999;341:1426–31.

3. Bigos SJ, et al. Acute low back problems in adults. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, 1994; Clinical Practice Guidelines no. 14, ACHPR publication no. 95-0642.

4. Koes BW, Assendelft WJ, van der Heijden GJ, Bouter LM. Spinal manipulation for low back pain. An updated systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Spine. 1996;21:2860–71.

5. Assendelft WJ, Bouter LM, Knipschild PG. Complications of spinal manipulation: a comprehensive review of the literature. J Fam Pract. 1996;42:475–80.

in reply: We wholeheartedly concur with Dr. Newswanger's assertion that an examination should “diagnose … barriers to joint range of motion and asymmetry within the musculoskeletal system,” as evidenced by the recommendation in our article1 for evaluation of gait, stance, posture, and joint and muscle flexibility.

Our article1 also indicates (as does Dr. Newswanger) that the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR)2 reports a potential role for spinal manipulation in acute back pain. Nowhere in our article do we recommend this treatment modality for chronic pain; indeed, the article is about (and entitled) “Diagnosis and Management of Acute Low Back Pain.”

Finally, it was indeed our intent to emphasize the role of the primary care physician in the evaluation and management of these patients while highlighting signs and symptoms that would necessitate referral to a subspecialist for a small number of patients.

Back pain is a common but complete malady, and we attempted to delineate a comprehensive, evidence-based and widely accepted approach to help these patients recover their previous level of function as soon as possible.

REFERENCES

1. Patel AT, Ogle AA. Diagnosis and management of acute low back pain. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61:1779–86.

2. Bigos SJ, et al. Acute low back problems in adults. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, 1994; Clinical Practice Guidelines no. 14, ACHPR publication no. 95-0642.

Send letters to Kenneth W. Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online, e-mail: afplet@aafp.org, or 11400 Tomahawk Creek Pkwy., Leawood, KS 66211-2680.

Please include your complete address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Letters should be fewer than 400 words and limited to six references, one table or figure, and three authors.

Letters submitted for publication in AFP must not be submitted to any other publication. Possible conflicts of interest must be disclosed at time of submission. Submission of a letter will be construed as granting the American Academy of Family Physicians permission to publish the letter in any of its publications in any form. The editors may edit letters to meet style and space requirements.


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