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Manual Physical Therapy: Definition, Techniques, and Benefits

Chiropractic treatment is mostly a manual therapy and can be performed at home.

What Is Manual Therapy?

Manual Therapy is any technique or approach applied using a skilled practitioner’s hands to treat a patient’s painful or dysfunctional area.

Manual Therapy is a specific technique used in Physical Therapy, and the two terms can be used interchangeably. However, not all physical Therapy is done using Manual Therapy.

Physical Therapy refers to the treatment of a body part using non-invasive modalities, and Manual Therapy can be one of those techniques. Physical Therapy can also include exercise prescriptions and using modalities such as ultrasound or laser.

Manual Therapy Techniques

Many manual therapy techniques have been developed over time. Methods vary in their force application, duration of application, and effectiveness in various injuries.

They all have in common that the techniques are hands-on and delivered by a skilled practitioner with specific training to detect tissue abnormalities and dysfunction using their palpation skills through their hands.

Different Physical Therapy methods we are going to discuss in this article include

  • Soft Tissue Mobilization
  • Joint Manipulation
  • Strain-Counterstrain
  • Muscle Inhibition Techniques
  • Chiropractic Adjustment
  • Massage Therapy
  • Active Release Technique (ART)
Chiropractic is an alternative medicine which focuses on spines and nerves.

Soft Tissue Mobilization

Soft tissue refers to tissues of the body that are mobile and can be manipulated with hands. Examples include muscles, nerves, fascia, tendons, and ligaments. Soft tissue structures can often be palpated with trained hands. They can be distinguished from each other by your manual therapy practitioners.

Examples of techniques that primarily rely on soft tissue mobilizations are massage therapy and active release techniques.

Joint Mobilization

When two different bones meet in the body, they form a joint. A joint can be stuck, restricted, and impaired movement for many reasons. Joint mobilization techniques focus on helping a typical move better through light pressure and oscillatory movements or through a chiropractic adjustment, which is quicker and performed at a higher velocity.

Whether your practitioner chooses to utilize soft joint mobilizations or chiropractic adjustment depends on their skill level and the presentation of your symptoms.

Strain-Counterstrain

Strain counter strain refers to a specific technique in which the patient’s muscle contraction improves function and flexibility.

The practitioner will ask the patient to create resistance against the pressure using a particular group of muscles. Then, after the patient relaxes, the practitioner will assist the body part or muscle in going further into its range of motion or stretch.

This process is repeated 3-5x until a desired end range is reached and the muscle is stretched to its optimal position.

Muscle Energy Techniques (METs)

The muscle energy technique uses a series of contraction relaxation techniques to help a muscle gain more flexibility while improving joints. The MET technique is done by trained practitioners who can feel joint movement, assess joint flexibility, and limit stretching.

MET, when done appropriately, can significantly improve a joint’s range of motion and muscle flexibility.

Chiropractic Adjustment

A chiropractic adjustment is a type of manual therapy technique that utilizes high-velocity joint manipulation techniques using the chiropractor’s hands but can also be done using instruments that create less force and are more gentle, such as a drop table or an activator.

A chiropractic adjustment improves joint movement and biomechanics, making patients often feel better immediately.

Read more: Chiropractic Adjustment Defined; What Are the Benefits?

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is another discipline that falls under the broad umbrella of Manual Therapy.

Massage therapists use their hands and palpation skills to manipulate and treat soft tissues such as muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons. They assist in improved circulation and healing of the injured tissues.

Read more: 13 Types of Massage Techniques Everyone Should Experience

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is another profession that utilizes manual therapy techniques. Whether your physiotherapist chooses to do manual therapy or modalities is based on your injury, chronicity, and intensity of pain.

You can always discuss with your physiotherapist if you prefer manual therapy techniques over other modalities to find the right fit for you and your injuries.

Read more: What Is Physiotherapy and How it Can Benefit You?

Active Release Technique

Active Release Technique is a specific manual Therapy technique developed by Dr. Leahy. Active Release utilizes the patient’s movement (active component) to stretch a tight or adhered muscle, facia, ligament, or tendon.

ART has proven very effective as the patient controls the movement and stretching. At the same time, the practitioner applies light force to the problematic area.

What Issues Can Be Treated with Physical Therapy?

Manual Therapy can help with a large variety of conditions. All conditions that stem from a muscular, joint, nerve, or ligament problem can be helped with manual Therapy. Some examples are:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,
  • Lower back pain,
  • Sciatica,
  • Frozen shoulder,
  • Sprain and Strains,
  • Whiplash,
  • Neck pain,
  • Tension Headaches,
  • Golfer’s Elbow,
  • Tennis Elbow

Is Manual Therapy Suitable for Me?

Manual Physical Therapy is beneficial for a wide variety of conditions that can result in pain in the body.

Manual Therapy is safe, low risk, non-invasive, and yields fantastic results for treating musculoskeletal conditions. Therefore, if you are suffering from some type of body pain, manual Therapy is always recommended as a first option, as it can reduce pain and improve function relatively quickly and with minimal side effects.

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