Pictured: Jennifer Xie, Ph.D., (right) mentors a student researcher in her biomedical sciences laboratory.
New research by Jennifer Xie, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences at the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University (NYITCOM-Arkansas), finds that osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) could provide a viable, non-drug treatment for migraine headaches.
OMT is a set of hands-on techniques used by osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. During OMT, also known as osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), a D.O. moves a patient’s muscles and joints, with techniques that include stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance. The treatment, which uses the relationship between the neuromusculoskeletal system and the rest of the body to restore healing and functionality, is taught to osteopathic medical students and becomes part of their therapeutic toolkit when they graduate and become physicians.
While empirical evidence suggests that OMT may reduce the frequency and pain intensity of headache episodes and alleviate active migraines, little scientific evidence exists to demonstrate this. Now, with the support of a three-year, $428,400 grant1 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a research team led by Xie has published findings in the journal Frontiers in Pain Research, which suggest OMT could offer a worthwhile, non-drug treatment.
Xie and her team, which included NYITCOM-Arkansas osteopathic manipulative medicine faculty and medical students, successfully replicated human migraine triggers and symptoms in a rodent model, closely mirroring the neck inflammation and volatile molecules that occur in human migraines. After OMT was applied, the researchers observed positive biomarker changes in the test subjects, which indicated that the intervention helped to relieve their migraine symptoms. The findings suggest that OMT may also be an effective, migraine-fighting treatment in humans.
“Our findings provide the critical groundwork for future human studies and demonstrate that D.O.s, who are the only trained and licensed professionals who can provide OMT, may be uniquely positioned to assist migraine patients,” said Xie, whose research aims to identify and test potential chronic pain treatments, with a focus on finding effective, non-opioid therapies.
The study also provided an excellent opportunity for future osteopathic physicians to hone their OMT skills while gaining invaluable research experience. Current and former NYITCOM-Arkansas students involved in the study include Katherine Byrd (D.O. ’21), Makayla Lund (OMS IV), Brandon Chung (D.O. ’21), Kaitlyn Child (OMS III), Danny Fowler (OMS III), Jared Burns-Martin (OMS IV), Mythili Sanikommu (OMS III), Hallie Henderson (OMS III), and Caroline Gregory (D.O. ’22).
When Xie received her NIH grant in 2020, she became the first NYITCOM-Arkansas researcher to receive an NIH grant while employed at the medical school, which opened just four years prior. In addition, the grant has allowed Xie and her students to study the challenges that OMT research faces. These additional findings were published in early January 2024 by the International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, in a paper providing practical solutions to help D.O.s design their clinical research.
“We are extremely proud of Dr. Xie and the groundbreaking work she’s leading,” said Shane Speights, D.O., NYITCOM-Arkansas site dean. “The research Dr. Xie is conducting at NYITCOM is invaluable to the osteopathic community in demonstrating just how vital OMT can be in addressing both chronic and acute pain.”
1This grant was supported by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1R15AT011097. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
By Casey Pearce