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Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Licciardone, John C. DO*; Stoll, Scott T. DO†; Fulda, Kimberly G. MPH*; Russo, David P. DO‡; Siu, Jeff BA†; Winn, William DO§; Swift, Jon Jr, DO∥

Randomized Trial

Study Design. A randomized controlled trial was conducted.

Objective. To determine the efficacy of osteopathic manipulative treatment as a complementary treatment for chronic nonspecific low back pain.

Summary of Background Data. Osteopathic manipulative treatment may be useful for acute or subacute low back pain. However, its role in chronic low back pain is unclear.

Methods. This trial was conducted in a university-based clinic from 2000 through 2001. Of the 199 subjects who responded to recruitment procedures, 91 met the eligibility criteria. They were randomized, with 82 patients completing the 1-month follow-up evaluation, 71 completing the 3-month evaluation, and 66 completing the 6-month evaluation. The subjects were randomized to osteopathic manipulative treatment, sham manipulation, or a no-intervention control group, and they were allowed to continue their usual care for low back pain. The main outcomes included the SF-36 Health Survey, a 10-cm visual analog scale for overall back pain, the Roland–Morris Disability Questionnaire, lost work or school days because of back pain, and satisfaction with back care.

Results. As compared with the no-intervention control subjects, the patients who received osteopathic manipulative treatment reported greater improvements in back pain, greater satisfaction with back care throughout the trial, better physical functioning and mental health at 1 month, and fewer cotreatments at 6 months. The subjects who received sham manipulation also reported greater improvements in back pain and physical functioning and greater satisfaction than the no-intervention control subjects. There were no significant benefits with osteopathic manipulative treatment, as compared with sham manipulation.

Conclusions. Osteopathic manipulative treatment and sham manipulation both appear to provide some benefits when used in addition to usual care for the treatment of chronic nonspecific low back pain. It remains unclear whether the benefits of osteopathic manipulative treatment can be attributed to the manipulative techniques themselves or whether they are related to other aspects of osteopathic manipulative treatment, such as range of motion activities or time spent interacting with patients, which may represent placebo effects.

Author Information

From the Departments of *Family Medicine and

†Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, the

‡John Peter Smith Health Network, Fort Worth, Texas, the

§College of Education and Health Professions, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the

∥Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.

Partially supported by Grant 99-11-487 from the American Osteopathic Association.

Acknowledgment date: July 23, 2002.

First revision date: November 8, 2002.

Second revision date: November 22, 2002.

Acceptance date: December 10, 2002.

The submitted manuscript does not contain information about medical devices or drugs.

Institutional and professional organization funds were received in support of this work. No benefits in any form have been or will be received from a commercial party related directly or indirectly to the subject of this article.

Address correspondence to John C. Licciardone, DO, University of North Texas Health Science Center, 3500 Camp Bowie Boulevard, Fort Worth, TX 76107; E-mail:

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.