The Side Effects of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

Every time you pick up a medication it comes with a list of possible side effects. Depending upon the medication, the list can be longer than the symptoms it is supposed to treat, which is why it comes as no surprise when so many of our patients mention that they are seeking natural, holistic, care in order to avoid the myriad possible side effects of mainstream medicine. But what we all sometimes overlook is that anything – no matter how natural – that you put into your system (regardless of whether it is orally, aromatically, or through touch) has an impact on your entire body, not just the targeted “spot” or ailment.

So, today I thought we could talk a little bit about the common side effects of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM). Being a natural, non-invasive form of treatment it has about as few side effects as you can get, and the vast majority of my patients report feeling no side effects after treatment, but there are still some you might experience.

The exact potential side effects of OMM are largely based on the techniques that are used, which I’ll go into a bit more below, however no matter which technique is used there are some two common side effects that may occur: soreness and headaches.

  • Soreness is by far the most common. This can occur no matter how gentle the technique is, and is often a result of the muscle streching out and relaxing or even being used after an extended period of not being utilized.

  • Headaches are also a common side effect, regardless of the techniques being used, but the exact cause of this is not known. It has been theorized that it is due to a release of metabolites from an area of tissue that has had a decrease in blood flow for a period of time. In other words, your body may be attempting to flush itself of toxins released when tight muscles loosen within the body – and a headache may occur as a result of dehydration as your body attempts to rid itself of these toxins. I always recommend that my patients drink as much as a gallon of water between treatment and bedtime in order to help mitigate this potential side effect.

As I mentioned earlier, different Osteopathic manipulative techniques can have their own unique side effects.

Thrusting techniques are typically the most aggressive OMM techniques used by DOs. In my practice, I prefer to use them only when absolutely necessary – and even then often much more gently than others may. The primary reason for this is that thrusting techniques tend to have a few more side effects, as you are introducing a bit of trauma to a body which is already hurting. These side effects potentially, but rarely, include fractures, torn ligaments, and even deaths. Now I don’t have the stats on the first two, but so far as the risk of death goes the odds are about 1 in 1-3 million. So while that does sound scary, it is important to put that in perspective – the number of deaths from properly taken and properly prescribed medications are approximately 1 death in just 41,000 people. So while there is still a risk, it is so rare that I, nor any of those I trained under, have ever seen it happen.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, even the most gentle of techniques, such as cranial osteopathy, have their own set of side effects. Cranial Osteopathy, something I do with much more frequency than thrusting techniques, can sometimes cause vertigo, nausea, and vomiting – ironically some of the very conditions it is also used to treat.

Regardless of the manipulation techniques being used, if you have any concerns, you should absolutely ask you doctor (before, during, or after treatment) as to what to expect and what steps you can take at home to help mitigate or alleviate these side effects.

Old Dominion Osteopatic Medicine

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