The term “manual therapy” covers a range of hands-on techniques that physical therapists and other healthcare professionals use to promote healing. Manual therapy techniques are often used alongside other modalities — for example, guided exercise or orthopedic rehabilitation. This combined practice has a powerful effect on healing the affected area and restoring full function.
At JAG Physical Therapy, we offer manual therapy as part of our patients’ customized recovery plans for many different musculoskeletal health conditions. Our skilled, empathetic team uses a variety of advanced manual therapy techniques alongside many other PT methods as needed — book an appointment at your nearest NY, NJ, or PA JAG PT clinic to start your rehabilitation journey, or continue reading to learn more on manual therapy.
What Is Manual Therapy, and How Does It Differ from Other Physical Therapy Approaches?
Manual therapy is a specialized hands-on approach used by physical therapists to treat many different musculoskeletal issues. Manual therapy uses hand movements, massage, and joint manipulation to address a whole range of issues, such as swelling, inflammation, and restricted movements.
It’s different from other physical therapy techniques that you might be more familiar with, such as exercise or other specialized modalities like blood flow restriction therapy. Manual therapy uses the therapist’s touch first and foremost to trigger the body’s own healing responses and bring relief.
This therapeutic touch is delivered in a variety of ways, including:
- Joint mobilization. Here the therapist applies passive movements (which means manipulating a part of your body with no effort from you) to your joints with different levels of pressure or speed, depending on your needs.
- Active assistance range of motion. Known as AAROM for short, this works in a similar way to passive joint mobilization but requires the patient to participate in the actions themself.
- Soft tissue mobilization. Here, your physical therapist manipulates your muscles, ligaments, nerves, or tendons with a range of levels of pressure to offer relief.
- Stretching. This involves positioning a body part so that a particular muscle or muscles are stretched to promote flexibility and mobility.
- Manual traction. This involves manually pulling joints and their structures to relieve tension and enhance flexibility and mobility.
- Massage. Your therapist may use one of a range of massage techniques to promote relaxation, improve circulation, and relieve pain and stiffness. Types of massage include sports massage, reflexology, and trigger point release, which relieves tension in “trigger points” of tightness in the muscle.
- Craniosacral therapy. This type of therapy uses gentle pressure to relieve compression in the sacrum (the bone situated at the base of the spine), spinal column, and head, which can lead to pain and discomfort.
These are just a handful of techniques that your physical therapist may use — they will devise a program customized to your unique needs using one or more of these or other treatments.
How Can Manual Therapy Techniques Help Reduce Pain and Promote Healing?
There are lots of different ways manual therapy can relieve pain. Depending on the specific technique being used, it can improve blood circulation, release endorphins, help fluid buildup drain away, restore mobility, relieve pain and stiffness, or promote relaxation.
So, if you suffer from muscle tightness or stiff joints, for example, manual therapy using massage techniques can release tension and trigger relaxation of the area, as well as stimulate blood flow.
Or, for fluid retention, your therapist may perform a lymphatic drainage massage, which involves using hands-on techniques to direct the lymph (the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system) back toward the heart. At the same time, the whole lymphatic system is stimulated, enhancing your immune system.
Manual therapy is especially helpful in promoting tissue healing and reducing inflammation, so it can work successfully with a wide range of injuries and health conditions.
What Musculoskeletal Conditions Can Benefit from Manual Therapy?
Let’s find out more about the types of conditions that can be successfully treated with manual therapy.
Manual therapy techniques can benefit individuals with conditions such as:
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle spasms
- Hip problems
- Knee injuries
- Shoulder pain
- Ankle and foot problems
- Hand and wrist issues
- Fluid retention
- Sports injuries
- Post-operative issues
In short, manual therapy can address a whole range of issues that involve pain, stiffness, loss of mobility, or fluid retention. It can be used for acute conditions like pain following an injury or for chronic conditions like arthritis, or as a part of physical therapy during recovery from surgery.
Beyond Pain Relief: Additional Benefits of Manual Therapy in Physical Therapy
Manual therapy is versatile and can help with many different conditions. As well as reducing pain, its other benefits include:
- Improving mobility
- Improving range of motion and flexibility
- Improving motor control
- Improving overall function
- Reducing muscle tension or spasms
- Reducing sensitivity to pain
Manual therapy also works in a complementary way with other physical therapy interventions — for example, exercise or rehabilitation programs. It works best as part of a holistic approach, addressing the needs of the whole patient. Manual therapy not only works to heal a patient’s physical issues, but can enhance their overall wellbeing, too.
Schedule an Appointment with JAG Physical Therapy for Expert Manual Therapy
At JAG PT, we’re the leading PT provider in the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania area, and we use manual therapy as one of many modalities to help local people from students to senior citizens to professional athletes achieve their best physical health. Find your nearest clinic location or book an appointment with us today to get started.