According to a new study published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, German researchers found osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMTh) decreased postpartum low back pain by over 70 percent in women who had given birth at least three months before beginning treatment.

On average, women who received osteopathic spinal manipulation reported a 73 percent decrease in pain, compared to only seven percent in the control group. Pain was evaluated by a 10-point Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) and functional disability as measured by the Oswestry Disability Index.  The Oswestry Disability Index is a battery of questions that asks the subject to rate on a scale of 1-5 how difficult it is to do common, daily activities (such as getting dressed).  It is a popular tool doctors in physical medicine use to measure a person’s improvement to treatment, since pain is very subjective in nature.  After all, what matters most is not the level of pain but rather the level of physical functioning the person is capable of, despite the pain.

But what exactly is osteopathy, and how different is it from chiropractic?

This requires a bit of a history lesson.  Both disciplines had their start in the mid to late 1800s in the U.S., an era characterized by experimentation in various alternative healing methods.  Diseases like syphilis, small pox, polio and other maladies plagued the population and there was very little doctors at the time could do.  Vaccines and antibiotics were not discovered yet, and people were desperate to find a cure.   This period is also when the term “snake-oil salesman” was coined, as some unscrupulous individuals used the crisis as an opportunity to make money.

Osteopathy has its origin in 1874 when Andrew Taylor Still, a medical doctor was dissatisfied with the limitations of conventional medicine.  He theorized that disease originated in bone tissue and could therefore be treated by manipulating bones and tissues. Still developed the discipline of osteopathy and created the first school in Kansas that offered the “D.O.” degree – Doctor of Osteopathy.

Chiropractic has its origin in the 1890s when D.D. Palmer, a magnetic healer theorized that mechanical dysfunction of the spinal joints could influence nerve and blood flow throughout the body, making conditions ideal for disease.   He and his son B.J. Palmer developed chiropractic in the early 1900s, emphasizing “adjustments” to the spine using the hands.

As both disciplines grew in popularity, the medical profession took notice.  As in big industry today, when such competition arises there is either a buy-out, merger, or attempts to dominate the market (and public opinion) and put the competing entity out of business.  Osteopathy eventually got absorbed into the medical (allopathic) model, and today D.O.s are physicians on par with M.D.s.  Many D.O.s do not do manual therapies in their practice since drug prescription became the primary treatment methodology among allopathic medical practitioners especially toward the latter half of the 1950s, continuing today.

Chiropractic, on the other hand, blazed its own trail and is an independent specialty outside of the medical umbrella.  There used to be significant professional conflict between chiropractors and medical doctors, but these days there is more more cooperation.  Physicians are more confident in referring back pain cases to chiropractors, as patients attest to its benefits for helping reduce musculoskeletal pain.

Pregnancy and Back Pain

The Germany study is not surprising.  Spinal manipulation, whether osteopathic or chiropractic adjustments, is helpful in restoring alignment and movement in the pelvic structure and lumbar spine following birth.  During the last trimester of pregnancy when the mother gains the most weight, the center of gravity of the abdomen moves outwards, placing a greater strain on the lower back.  The lumbar spine arcs more acutely, increasing pressure within the facet joints during standing.   The weight of the baby can also rotate the pelvis anteriorly over the femur heads which can cause sacral and hip pain, due to it being a weaker stability position..

If after three months of giving birth you still have back pain, consider getting spinal manipulation.  The goal is to free up any restrictions that may be present anywhere in the spine, pelvis and hip joints and strengthen surrounding muscles.  A good practitioner will show you exercises to do at home to rehabilitate the area.

Below is a video that will give you an idea of what to expect:

One note you should  be aware of:  Spinal manipulation or “adjustments” is a fine dexterity, complex skill that needs a lot of practice in order for one to become proficient in it.  Unlike osteopaths, chiropractors cannot prescribe medications so the bulk of their practice involves delivering spinal manipulation.   Chiropractors therefore tend to be more skilled in this area.

For more information on the Germany study that shows the efficacy of spinal manipulation for postpartum low back pain in women, visit

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