Osteopathic Manual Therapy and Mental Health

Did you know that Osteopathic Manual Therapy (OMT) can be an effective adjunctive treatment for mental health concerns? OMT is a person-centred hands-on approach to health that relies of skilled non-invasive techniques for assessment and treatment. Osteopathic theory is guided by principles related to the wholeness of the person. Osteopathic Manual Practitioners (OMP) appreciate the person’s health and self-healing capabilities, and aim to encourage optimal healing, recovery or rehabilitation.

The primary reason one might seek out an OMP is for the management of long lasting or chronic musculoskeletal pain. Most commonly, this appears as aches and pains of the joints, back, neck, etc. It is well understood how OMT can alleviate discomforts which are related to physical health or the body itself. However, the benefits of OMT for mental health, more specifically, the benefits of OMT for the management of stress, anxiety and an over stimulated nervous system are often overlooked. Regardless, of the fact that a distinct link between mental and physical health exists and is well established amongst the health care community. For example, it is known that people with chronic pain are more likely to experience mood disorders and people with mood disorders are at a higher risk of suffering from chronic pain.

Some facts about mental health in Canada:

  • According to Canada Public Health, 1 in 7 Canadians access a health service for mental illness every year.
  • According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness or addiction.
  • 70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence.
  • Women have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders.


A recent study, based out of Toronto has demonstrated the benefits of OMT for the management of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). For the purpose of this blog, it is important to define GAD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, GAD is described as “excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as: personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday life circumstances”. GAD is often characterized by increased fear and arousal or revved up nervous system.  Adult patients aged 18-65 whom were diagnosed with moderate to severe GAD, received five osteopathic treatments, over a period of 8-9 weeks. Following the treatment intervention period, researchers reported a significant reduction in self-reported measures of anxiety. The results from this study suggest that osteopathy is a favourable adjunct to conventional therapy for anxiety and specifically GAD.

The calming effects of OMT have been demonstrated in preterm infants, whom after 5 minutes of osteopathic touch, demonstrated a significantly lower heart rate and an increased oxygen saturation level. Both heart rate and oxygen saturation level are considered suitable measures to report the physiological or biological response of the nervous system. What this specific study demonstrated was that OMT had a positive effect on the autonomic nervous system and promoted parasympathetic activity in the preterm infants. The calming effects of OMT have been noted in not only premature infants but adults too. Osteopathic physicians, Henley et al. (2008) noted that even when a patient was placed in a position that stimulated the sympathetic nervous system, such as a 50-degree head tilt-up, the vagal (calming) response of the manual application of osteopathic treatment was strong enough to overcome the sympathetic tone and promoted parasympathetic activity.

Upon returning to my clinical practice in June of this year, following the first lockdown and quarantine, I have noted a surge of clients reporting increased worry, anxiety and distress. Many of the people I see in clinic are functioning in a heightening state of arousal, this is especially evident in the mothers and parents who are working from home with young children.  Much is uncertain right now. As we approach the winter there are whispers of further restrictions and isolation. We are all trying our best. Remember, you are not alone. Read over those stats again. Ask for help. Seek out care and consider osteopathic manual therapy to help with your mental (and physical) health.

Our onsite OMP, Florence Bowen, is here to assist you with all your osteopathy needs.



Dixon, L., Fotinos, K., Sherifi, E., Lokuge, S., Fine, A., Furtado, M., … & Katzman, M. A. (2020). Effect of osteopathic manipulative therapy on generalized anxiety disorder. J. Am. Osteopath. Assoc120, 133-143.

Henley, C.E., Ivins, D., Mills, M. et al. Osteopathic manipulative treatment and its relationship to autonomic nervous system activity as demonstrated by heart rate variability: a repeated measures study. Osteopath Med Prim Care 2, 7 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1186/1750-4732-2-7

Manzotti, A., Cerritelli, F., Lombardi, E., La Rocca, S., Chiera, M., Galli, M., & Lista, G. (2020). Effects of osteopathic treatment versus static touch on heart rate and oxygen saturation in premature babies: A randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice39, 101116.

Smetanin et al. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: RiskAnalytica.

No Comments

Post a Comment