A new study confirms the efficacy of osteopathic manual therapy for back pain, and suggests that it can help patients reduce their reliance on potentially-addictive pain medications.

The study from the Annals of Family Medicine compared the efficacy of osteopathic manual therapy (OMT) with ultrasound therapy (UT), and two sham treatments designed to mimic OMT and UT.

Although some patients saw improvements with ultrasound therapy, those improvements did not reach statistical significance, leading researchers to conclude UT was ineffective for back pain.

The results for manual therapy were quite different however. After 12 weeks of treatment, 50% of OMT patients had statistically significant reductions in pain. Nearly two-thirds of patients had a 30% reduction in pain levels, and half of patients had a 50% reduction in pain.

The efficacy of manual therapy for back pain meant osteopathic patients were more likely to be satisfied with their care than the other groups. They also used the least amount of pain medications during the course of the study.

Researchers noted that patients with greater initial pain levels actually responded the best to manual therapy. This could have important implications for patients with high levels of pain who are at risk of growing dependent on potentially addictive drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin, pointed out John Licciardone, D.O., who co-authored the study.

“If we can reduce the use of these drugs and invasive procedures by helping people to feel better with a hands-on treatment that has few side effects, that is a plus for our patients, and it makes a significant contribution to the management of chronic pain,” Licciardone told Science Daily.

Dr. Licciardone and colleagues said their research can be generalized to other professions involving manual therapy techniques similar to OMT, like chiropractic and physiotherapy.

Licciardone J, et al. Osteopathic manual treatment and ultrasound therapy for chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Annals of Family Medicine 2013;11:122-129.