Osteopathic manual therapy is producing fast results, and science is indicating its legitimacy. This is exciting news for therapists wanting to expand the scope of their hands-on technique.

A hands-on approach to health care is producing fast results, and science is indicating its legitimacy.

Clinically and scientifically, people who were once resistant to care are now beginning to respond to complementary interventions, and are walking into health and ease.

Why? Because the organs and structures that assimilate and metabolize these naturopathic and pharmaceutical applications are being moved manually back into place where the body can actually digest the medicine it has been given.

Organs function better if they are mobile, as they rely on a gliding mechanism to flush oxygenation blood and nutrients into the organ and waste out. In some cases when mobility is re-established, clients no longer require interventions of care, over time after mobility is restored, because the physiology is restored through homeostasis.

The Role of Manual Therapy

Massage therapists, naturopaths and acupuncturists are grounded in hands-on principles; now, medical professionals are beginning to recognize the key osteopathic principles named by Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO (1828–1917), the founding father of osteopathy, in the late 1800s.

They are dropping their medicine bags, rolling up their sleeves, and putting their hands on their patients to align their bodies into health—and in some cases are able to help halt patterns of disease in their tracks.

This clinical approach to treating the body as one functional unit is often based on traditional osteopathic philosophies that were founded more than 125 years ago.

According to the American Association of College of Osteopathic Medicine, “Osteopathic medicine provides all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury.

“It also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of treatment known as osteopathic manipulative medicine.”

Osteopaths believe that structure influences function and that the body can heal itself. Another key osteopathic principle is that every structure in the body is interconnected through the continuum of the connective tissue, or fascial chains.

Hands-on adjustments made by osteopaths might include those that address the muscles, myofascial structures, other tissues and vertebrae.

They address all living matter.

Although osteopathic techniques (medicine) require advanced education and a credential to practice, for today’s massage therapist osteopathic philosophies can be studied for the information about the roles our anatomical structures play in health, as well as the role of restriction release.

Osteopathic medicine requires credentials. Traditional osteopathic techniques (manual therapy) do not require credentials and can be used by today’s massage therapists, as almost all techniques are techniques of soft tissue manipulation.

The only osteopathic techniques requiring a particular licensing or education are the high velocity techniques (HVLA). This is exciting news for massage therapists or anyone with a hands-on license.

The Role of Research

Clinical studies indicate treating the whole being with the appropriate hands-on care has profound effects on very serious ailments.

In one study, “Comparison of manual lymph drainage therapy and connective tissue massage in women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial,” manual lymphatic drainage was shown to help patients with fibromyalgia (Ekici, et al., Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 2009).

According to “Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment for Facial Numbness and Pain After Whiplash Injury” (Genese, The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2013), cranial osteopathy helped patients with bells palsy.

And “Osteopathic treatment considerations for rheumatic diseases” indicated that osteopathic manual therapy assisted patients with rheumatic diseases (Tettambel, The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2001).

The Role of Building Blocks

Still recognized that the body carries the building blocks it generally needs to rebuild, repair and restore tissue. He discovered that moving restricted muscular-skeletal structures in the body through manual therapy oftentimes brought change to disease patterns.

He wrote, “The mechanical principles on which osteopathy is based are as old as the universe.”

After losing three of his children and his wife to spinal meningitis, Still dropped almost everything he knew as an physician during the era of blood letting and ether and started studying the human body until he knew it, as he describes, like a mechanic knows his automobile.

Still determined that degenerative patterns in the body were often caused by an overwhelming amount of compensation patterns due to unresolved strains still being held in the body.

He learned quickly through clinical observation that by gently moving the soft tissue to correct misalignments, the human body could be remedied and restored.

For example, Still wrote that he saw the stomach as similar to the planet Jupiter. In his view, the balance and exchange of gasses of the stomach was similar to a planetary formation; viewing this organ as part of a system rather than as a structure standing alone was key to re-establishing digestion.

With this viewpoint, it is easier to understand that if a client presents a stomach as being too low according to normal anatomical landmarks, perhaps due to the pulling from scar tissue, for example, food might sit longer and ferment, negatively affecting the enzymatic process of breaking the food down into chime.

This in turn could disrupt the alkalinity levels required to trigger the release of bile from the bile duct into the tail of the stomach, duodenum, causing the imbalance of absorption capabilities.

Stomachs can fall into a ptosis, a pattern often found after abdominal interventions affecting the umbilicus, tummy tucks, eating disorders and more.

When the body is understood as one functional unit, we can see how a low stomach might, over time, pull on the middle cervical fascial chains that connect the lesser curve of the stomach to the base of the head, causing chronic discomfort in the neck.

The Role of Blood Flow

The majority of the structures in the human body, including the bones, has a blood supply.

In Autobiography of Andrew T. Still, published in 1908, Still wrote, “The rule of the artery is absolute, universal, and must be unobstructed or disease will result.”

Blood is comprised of plasma, red blood cells, platelets and our fighter cells, the white blood cells. The plasma holds proteins (albumin, fibrinogen and globulins), nutrients (glucose, fatty acids and amino acids), carries waste products (urea, uric acid, lactic acid and creatinine), minerals, hormones, and carbon dioxide.

“The arterial blood is the highest order of living fluid and should pass from the heart on to its destination and return without any obstruction whatsoever,” Still wrote in 1910 in Osteopathy Research and Practice.

“It is a living substance whose function is to build or construct, and when hindered in its passage through the capillaries and into the veins it proceeds to build up abnormal growths and structures.”

Blood holds these essential building blocks that the body requires to self regulate. Blood potentially carries all that the body requires to nourish congested or strained tissue, including the antibodies released by the lymphocytes that trigger the immune system to neutralize or destroy a foreign protein or pathogen.

The white blood cells, or fighter cells, act as vacuum cleaners in the body to clean out foreign proteins. Certain white blood cells known as neutrophils produce a human bleach-like substance known as hypochlorite anion (OCl-) that often neutralizes pathogens that may be congestive to the system.

If blood flow is hindered, the building blocks remain stuck behind the damming effect and, as the old osteopaths would outline, tissue begins to heat and ferment.

Osteopathic practitioners of Still’s day were taught to ask their patients, “Do you sweat?” If they weren’t sweating, then most likely the lymphatic system and the deep system of the capillaries, where the majority of nutrient exchange and waste removal occurs and where the smaller vessels named arterioles and venules meet at the capillary bed, was congested.

It is here where the greatest nutrient and waste exchange occurs and where the lymphatic system lands in the middle, acting as a hydraulic pump. Environmental toxins, endotoxins, fermented sugar and the byproduct of cellular metabolism (metabolic waste) can clog the capillary system.

In severe cases, patients may require manual lymphatic drainage to regenerate the system.

We think of the capillaries as being pumped by the mother heart—but in fact, they do not have striated tissue surrounding them to pump them like the arteries do. They rely on our breathing mechanism (movement of the diaphragms) to pump health into the tissue. The capillaries also rely on our mechanism of gait to pump them.

We aren’t entire sure what pumps the capillaries. The capillaries have a spontaneous expansion and retraction that occurs every 20 seconds. Traditional osteopaths believe this is not spontaneous. They believe the engine of the ventricles in the brain that produce cerebral spinal fluid and expand and retract every 20 seconds drives it. This is what Sutherland, the finding father of cranial osteopathy described as the primary respiratory mechanism.

The capillary system makes up 74 percent of the entire circulatory system and relies on the drainage and detoxification organs to be in alignment and to work at their greatest capacity. The tail ends of the arteries and arterioles slim down to the capillary, which is one quarter the size of a piece of hair on average.

The system of the capillaries is the first system to atrophy with age as individuals start to slow down.

The rule of the artery has been proven both scientifically and clinically to offer absolute results in the care of discomfort and dysfunction.

A 2013 study of osteopathic manual therapy showed this technique increased hemodynamic flow in pregnant women (Hensel, 2013). If blood flow can be increased by OMT and pathogens thrive less efficiently in an oxygen-rich environment, imagine how manual therapy that increases blood flow could help patients suffering from symptoms related to Lyme and autoimmune-related syndromes.

Nerves, like any other structure in the body, receive blood supply from the arterial system. If unfed, they too can misfire or drive deregulation in the system of the body. Further, you have a liver that’s not mobilizing to its greatest capacity with each breath, so it’s not potentiating its ability to receive optimal blood flow.

Blood flow is optimized and the system begins to work. Moving the portal vein, for example, can be very profound in gaining results in a patient who is dealing with absorption issues. (A vein or artery can shear or displace just like a bone can.)

The Roles of Lymphatic Drainage & Visceral Manipulation

Lymphatic drainage, another traditional osteopathic technique where the practitioner mechanically moves lymphatic fluid, is becoming more supported scientifically for its immune-boosting effects.

Consider: In the effects of patients suffering from symptoms related to Lyme disease, what results might lymphatic drainage have on their discomfort levels or on the patient’s ability to fight infection? What potentials are offered to the client if the detoxifying liver and kidneys are aligned along with the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed, and with the left clavicle, where the majority of lymphatic fluid drains into the subclavian vein?

Visceral manipulation is a soft-tissue release done around the organs and the vessels and nerves that feed the organs.

For example, the glisson capsule of the liver can easily adhere to the inside of the ribs on the right side. This capsule of connective tissue (fascia) that holds the liver in place is also innervated partly by the phrenic nerve, the same nerve that moves the breathing diaphragm.

The Role of Manual Therapy Pioneers

Practitioners educating in these modalities hold more power in their practices than they realize, and massage therapists particularly who are training in a modality known as visceral manipulation, a traditional osteopathic tool, are beginning to see a shift in ailments where self fights self.

This principle has been carried forward by Osteopathic pioneers who followed in Still’s path in the early to late 1900s, including Barber, William Garner Sutherland, DO (1873–1954), Viola Fryman, DO (1921–2016), and Denise Brooks, DO.

These people brought Still’s principles of care forward in the world. Pioneered focuses of care, including general osteopathic technique, visceral manipulation, cranial sacral therapy, myofascial release, and other osteopathic principles, were introduced abroad to the U.K. and Europe.

Educators are pioneering to bring the original teachings back through highly regarded teaching institutions to re-establish these types of understandings outlining the key osteopathic principles that have resurfaced in grand popularity 125 years after their original discovery.

With the effectiveness of hands-on techniques based on the philosophies of the original bonesetters and traditional osteopaths from the late 1800s, manual therapists are assessing the human body as one united matrix verses a myriad of divided systems.

  • General Osteopathic Technique (GOT), a type of gentle oscillatory therapy discovered originally by Martin Littlejohn, DO, moves the body back in forth gently in space to mobilize tissues that may be stuck or “dehydrated,” washing the tissues of lymphatic, interstitial fluid, and oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.
  • Cranial Osteopathy, named by Sutherland in the 1930s, is a hands-on modality that frees up the core link of the head, brain, spinal cord, and sacrum. It continues to grow in popularity as practitioners see disorders in the head, jaw, neck, mood, and pelvic dysfunction disappear.’’
  • Visceral Manipulation, eventually documented by another one of Still’s students, Barber, is a type of therapy where practitioners align gently organs back into place. There is a “spine of organs” that goes from the top of the head to the base of the pelvic floor, similar to the bony spine in the back.

This visceral spine, or what was named “the central chain” by Phillipe Druelle, president and founder of the College d’Etudes Osteopathique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, if out of alignment or if the organs are weight bearing, can trigger great dysfunction in the body, especially in the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems.

Traditional osteopathic teachings of how to align the visceral spine through manual therapy are now being offered at the prestigious Bastyr University in Washington through the continuing education department.

In addition, there are specialized teachings on applying manual therapy safely and effectively to patients suffering complications and discomforts from Lyme disease and other autoimmune related disorders.

The courses are offering students hands-on techniques, which date back to the times of the traditional teachings, to move the organs, the capsules that hold the organ in place, and the nerves and arteries that feed these organs.

Students are learning how to mobilize the interrelating sections of the spine that also may be contributing to dysfunction in the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine, urogenital, and nervous systems.

They are embracing these practices at a rapid speed and are learning with vigor. With this, many massage therapists are taking the lead in the health industry in assisting patients in walking out of dysfunction and into their original blueprint of health.

One United Matrix

Organs can shear out of alignment just like a bone. Falls, breaks, fractures, MVAs, and surgeries cause organs to pull. Organs attach to ribs and to the spine. Vessels can shear out of alignment, are attached to almost all structures, and are very influential on the posture of the body—so guess what’s then pulling spines and shoulders into torsions and discomfort?

With the effectiveness of hands-on manual therapy techniques based on the philosophies of the original bonesetters and traditional osteopaths from the late 1800s, manual therapists are assessing the human body as one united matrix verses a myriad of divided systems, and are thus winning the battle against chronic discomfort and disease.

About the Author

Carey Taussig DO (MP), is a certified graduate of Boston University and the College d’Etudes Osteopathique. She specializes in visceral manipulation in her practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is known for developing an effective manual therapy protocol to relieve symptoms related to Lyme Disease. She is a visceral manipulation instructor for the continuing education department at Bastyr University in Seattle.

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