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Study signals osteopathic manipulative treatment may be beneficial in treating COVID-19

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Researchers say data from retrospective study warrants further investigation

Moving and manipulating a person’s muscles and joints might have health benefits for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers. They said there is evidence that the technique, called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), has been beneficial in treating pneumonia and influenza in the past and that further investigation is needed on how it can be used to treat COVID-19 and other respiratory viral infections.

OMT is a set of manual techniques where osteopathic physicians manipulate muscles, joints and connective and structural tissue called fascia, using techniques that include stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.

“Randomized controlled trials have shown that hospitalized pneumonia patients with respiratory distress had shorter hospital stays when treated with OMT,” said Dr. Robert Lennon, associate professor of family and community medicine. “We wanted to determine if OMT could improve outcomes in the context of respiratory distress in COVID-19 hospitalizations.”

The researchers analyzed data from 179 patients — 27 who received osteopathic manipulative therapy daily and the rest who served as controls. They evaluated whether patients were willing to receive the therapy, and reported side effects and adverse events. They also examined patient-reported clinical change after therapy, length of hospital stay, need for oxygen during and after a hospital stay and other factors.

Ninety percent of patients accepted OMT and reported high satisfaction with the therapy. There were few negative effects or adverse events. Although the study size was small and data were not statistically significant, patients who received OMT tended towards shorter lengths of hospitalization. The results were published in the International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine on May 31.

“Hopefully, these preliminary findings will stimulate robust randomized controlled trials to determine the extent to which this therapy might affect outcomes in hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” Lennon concluded. “OMT may be a useful adjunctive therapy to employ while additional treatments for COVID-19 are developed, studied and deployed.”

Huamei Dong, Aleksandra Zgierska, Theodore Demetriou, Jason Croad, Craig Livelsberger, Megan Mendez-Miller, Anne Darby and David Rabago of Penn State College of Medicine; and Lisa Hodge of the University of North Texas Health Science Center also contributed to this study. The researchers declare no conflicts of interest.

This research was supported by Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

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