Pilot Trial of Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy for Patients With Frequent Episodic Tension-Type Headache

Guido Rolle, MD, DO (Italy); Lucio Tremolizzo, MD, PhD; Francesco Somalvico, MS; Carlo Ferrarese, MD, PhD; and Livio C. Bressan, MD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: July 15, 2013

Accepted: March 10, 2014

Published: September 1, 2014

J Osteopath Med; 114(9): 678-685

Context: Osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMTh; manipulative care provided by foreign-trained osteopaths) may be used for managing headache pain and related disability, but there is a need for high-quality randomized controlled trials to assess the effectiveness of this intervention.

Objectives: To explore the efficacy of OMTh for pain management in frequent episodic tension-type headache (TTH).

Methods: A single-blind randomized placebo-controlled pilot study was conducted. Patients were recruited from 5 primary care settings. Forty-four patients who were affected by frequent episodic TTH and not taking any drugs for prophylactic management of episodic TTH were recruited. Patients were randomly allocated to an experimental or control group. The experimental group received corrective OMTh techniques, tailored for each patient; the control group received assessment of the cranial rhythmic impulse (sham therapy). The study included a 1-month baseline period, a 1-month treatment period, and a 3-month follow-up period.The primary outcome was the change in patient-reported headache frequency, and secondary outcomes included changes in headache pain intensity (discrete score, 1 [lowest perceived pain] to 5 [worst perceived pain]), over-the-counter medication use, and Headache Disability Inventory score.

Results: Forty patients completed the study (OMTh, n=21; control, n=19). The OMTh group had a significant reduction in headache frequency over time that persisted 1 month (approximate reduction, 40%; P<.001) and 3 months (approximate reduction, 50%; P<.001) after the end of treatment. Moreover, there was an absolute difference between the 2 treatment groups at the end of the study, with a 33% lower frequency of headache in the OMTh group (P<.001).

Conclusions: This feasibility study demonstrated the efficacy of OMTh in the management of frequent episodic TTH, compared with sham therapy in a control group. Osteopathic manipulative therapy may be preferred over other treatment modalities and may benefit patients who have adverse effects to medications or who have difficulty complying with pharmacologic regimens. This protocol may serve as a model for future studies.

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