Osteopathy and chronic neck pain

Neck pain is a very common problem, and 70% of us will experience at least one episode of neck pain at some point in our lives. Chronic neck pain can develop when the pain persists for more than three months, and there is no specific pathoanatomical cause. Chronic pain can affect people's quality of life, leading to depression and social withdrawal.

A recent study in the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine identified that osteopathic manipulative treatment is an effective method to reduce pain and disability in patients with chronic neck pain. The research team also found treatment to improve patient's sleep quality, fatigue and depression when delivered over a 4-6 week period.

Education is crucial when communicating with patients about their symptoms. A common misconception with chronic pain patients is their pain has an organic cause, so they believe they need an MRI. Patients may also believe their pain is all in their heads and isn't real. It is good practice to emphasise that all pain is in your head and is down to feedback from sensory nerves and how the brain interprets it. In chronic pain, patients can become overly sensitive to stimuli or the brain is misinterpreting feedback.

A multi-modal approach is usually the most successful, which might involve both physical and psychological components. Empowering patients to take control of their pain is important, to instil beliefs such as 'exercise won't necessarily make their pain worse'.

Cholewicki, J. et al. (2021). The effects of osteopathic manipulative treatment on pain and disability in patients with chronic neck pain: A single-blinded randomised controlled trial. Wiley Online Library. 12732