Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy: Structure vs. Function

Holistic health focuses on function; Does the body work? 'Modern medicine' finds something wrong; and chases those symptoms.

Big Difference!

While structural integrity is essential to optimal function, a bigger question is: Does the curvature of my spine affect what I want to be able to do?

Your structure governs how your body moves (movement is a function) and how it sends messages (nerve signaling is a function) and that can affect other things.

But before we start blaming our short leg length or scoliosis or lack of hip flexibility for our symptoms, let’s understand what’s important.

At one end, structural imbalances, especially of the spine, can…

  • Alter nerve signal e.g. dizziness, headaches, vertigo, nausea, improper digestion, muscle spasm and/or atrophy, reduce or enhance pain…
  • Alter nerve signals which can alter organ function…
  • Organs can stop making important building blocks and other organs begin to run down…
  • Cells begin to run down…
  • DNA structure alters in response to the “hostile” environment.

At the other end, starting inside the smallest cell…

  • If the structure of DNA isn’t right, then proteins aren’t made correctly, the cell runs down…
  • Cells that aren’t working optimally don’t produce/activate/inactivate hormones properly, don’t detoxify properly, don’t produce enough energy… And they look wrong, wrong structure.
  • Too many “bad apples” or “lazy workers” and the organs/muscles/bones can’t do what you want…
  • Other organs/muscles/bones try to compensate but only just so long… organs and systems run down: bones lose minerals, organs can become inflamed and enlarged, the immune system runs down, type II diabetes and heart attacks run rampant.

Is this all from back pain?

Osteopathic doctor aligns spinal vertebraeThat depends. Some types of headaches are caused by spinal misalignments; those same misalignments can cause nausea and poor digestion.

Or even vertigo and hearing loss.

Hips and low back not moving well? This affects the tone of your pelvic floor muscles and fascia which, in turn, provide support for sphincter, bladder, and (in ladies) uterine functions. And which, in turn affect the inflammatory state of the body.

And sometimes it just hurts because you weren’t used to moving that way.

Loss of flexibility?

We usually call this aging. When your spine stops moving as it should, the discs between each vertebra are not being fed. Without nutrients they shrink. Without proper space between each bone, the nerve impulse changes.

Now is a good time to get up and stretch.

Acid reflux, Irritable Bowel?

When you feel pain, a nerve sends a pain message to your spinal cord. From there two things happen:

  1. A reflex arc in your spinal cord responds to the nerve signal and changes your organ/muscle function.
  2. Then, later, the signal arrives in your brain to tell you something hurts.

If there is substantial pain perceived from inner organs, a spinal cord reflex turns the volume down. Sort of like that irritating commercial and the mute button. Unfortunately, the main program gets turned down too. Important messages like “digest” and “absorb nutrients”; low volume.

Hands On Healthcare helped me manage a serious change in my body last year. It took the medical doctors 5 months to come up with a diagnosis. Rheumatoid arthritis inflammation was attacking different body organs.

Dr. Childers and Phyllis helped me handle this 5 month ordeal with dietary changes, acupuncture, and cranial sacral therapy. Their PEP talks kept me fighting to get control back of my body. They gave me hope that I could defeat what was going on.

After the 5 months my body did a rapid change back to normal. I will continue to control the RA flares with the diet and lifestyle changes that Dr. Childers and Phyllis have taught me. I am so happy that I was referred to them. —Pat Moorman

People who eat a lot of wheat and corn (and sometimes dairy) develop inflamed and painful guts. The problem is that the inflammation hasn’t turned down, just the pain signal. The “your hurting me” message stopped being delivered.

And because the messages to digest and absorb also get turned down, people who use antacids or suffer from IBS show low bone density. Minerals that should have been released by proper stomach acidity and then absorbed in the intestines weren’t. Bones become the body’s mineral supply.

And this can increase pain because those very minerals are needed for proper pain threshold.

Now it’s getting interesting: Where to begin?

Our bodies are both amazing and complicated but this chicken and egg question can be solved.

Some people think that medicine is a science, but I know that the practice is both an art and a science. Dr. Childers has been my primary doctor all my adult life because he approaches his practice with an ear to the patient. He listens. He has seen me through my darkest days, and watched me be victorious without judgment. I appreciate his approach to the patient combining the physical, mental, and emotional being.

His cranial sacral procedure helps me. Yes, I can depend on western medical thought from him as well, and I do. But, his cranial sacral procedure develops my entire physical being.  Doc Childers keeps me straight in more ways than one.

For me to brag upon Doc Childers would embarrass him. That it because he is humble and cares. Without hesitation I can recommend Doctor Edward Childers, and have done so for years for those looking for a good doctor.

How it is solved is by taking a careful exam and listening to you.

We’re very good at naming and prescribing, we’re not very good at asking why.

We have to listen, get your story.

And we also have to evaluate your structure, get blood chemistry panels, get your body’s story.

Most of us have structural abnormalities that are not bothering us. People go in for MRIs all the time and find they have an abnormal disc or spinal curve that “isn’t quite right.” But is it bothering them? Nope.

Millions of Americans every year suffer from sciatic-like symptoms… “My sciatica’s acting up” is as common a phrase as “good morning.” In 2010, more than 250,000 patients underwent elective lumbar discectomy (spinal surgery) for the treatment of low back disc issues in the United States—most of whom were given the “sciatica” diagnosis.

But what is sciatica really?

The longest nerve in your body, your sciatic nerve runs from your spinal cord to your buttock and hip area and down the back of each leg. When this nerve gets irritated, it is technically correct to call it and all the resulting pain a “pain in the butt.”

And that is about all we know—there is no justification for invasive procedures like surgery based on the sciatica label alone.

What about those other diagnoses?

Exactly! Now you’re getting it. Everything is connected to everything!

The name is the label that describes the symptoms. What you want is a doctor who can put those symptoms together and find the cause.

For some of us, that will be correcting structure and/or nerve signals with Osteopathic Manipulation, Acupuncture, and CranioSacral therapies. For others, it may be prioritizing dietary shifts or movement, and yet others will need help managing stress.

Your first stop is our comprehensive exam. Let’s talk.

Let’s work out a partnership that addresses your goalsand addresses whatever is underneath those unpleasant symptoms so you can do what you want to do.

And let’s not just chase things that are there, just because…


Chang, L., Mayer, E. A., Johnson, T., FitzGerald, L. Z., & Naliboff, B. (2000). Differences in somatic perception in female patients with irritable bowel syndrome with and without fibromyalgia. Pain, 84(2-3), 297-307.

Coffin, B., Bouhassira, D., Sabate, J. M., Barbe, L., & Jian, R. (2004). Alteration of the spinal modulation of nociceptive processing in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gut, 53(10), 1465-1470. doi: 10.1136/gut.2003.031310

Lamb, E. J., Wong, T., Smith, D. J., Simpson, D. E., Coakley, A. J., Moniz, C., & Muller, A. F. (2002). Metabolic bone disease is present at diagnosis in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 16(11), 1895-1902.

McMorland, G., Suter, E., Casha, S., du Plessis, S. J., & Hurlbert, R. J. (2010). Manipulation or microdiskectomy for sciatica? A prospective randomized clinical study. J Manip Phys Ther, 33(8), 576-584

Dr. Ed Childers

About Dr. Ed Childers

A 1973 Graduate of the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr Childers has 40 years of experience practicing Family Osteopathic Medicine; restoring health and well being to families in Albuquerque since 1976. Dr. Childers embraces the philosophy of Osteopathy which was established in the late 19th century by Dr Andrew Taylor Still and best summarized by this quote: "We look at the body in health as meaning perfection and harmony, not in one part, but in the whole." —AT Still, Philosophy and Mechanical Principles of Osteopathy. Treatment of the 'whole person,' the basic philosophy of Osteopathic Medicine, means understanding all body parts and all bodily function as one holistic, integrated unit. When one body part becomes restricted by stress or injury, other systems also become injured leading to illness. Health is the result of the normal condition; the normal alignment; the perfect harmony of physiology. Dr Childers uses the tools of Osteopathic therapy and guided lifestyle changes to restore balance and bring about greater health and vitality. We at Hands On Health Care are committed to assisting as many people as possible find their body's unique perfect balance, gain maximum health and vitality, and enjoy their life and family to the fullest for the rest of their lives.