Physical therapy conjures images of exercising on stair-climbers or parallel bars, but the power to heal—and heal quickly—also rests in the hands of skilled therapists delivering manual therapy.
Through manual therapy, trained therapists utilize hands-on pressure and manipulation to restore flexibility and relieve pain. When combined with the traditional exercises of physical therapy, manual therapy can hasten recovery and minimize the need for medication.
What is Manual Therapy?
The American Physical Therapy Association defines manual therapy techniques as “skilled hand movements and skilled passive movements of joints and soft tissue.” A trained physical therapist uses hands-on manual therapy to improve flexibility, increase range of motion, induce relaxation, and reduce pain and swelling—in short, minimize the consequences of surgery and injury, and restore lost functions.
While almost any physical therapy (PT) patient can benefit from manual therapy, it’s especially beneficial for:
• Orthopedic surgery patients: Orthopedic procedures promise new lives to those suffering from deteriorating joints, but the aftermath includes pain, swelling, and stiffness. Manual therapy offers a speedier recovery from any orthopedic procedure, including knee replacement, knee or shoulder arthroscopy, ACL reconstruction, and rotator cuff repair.
• Low back pain: At some point in their lives, 80% of American adults will experience low back pain. Whether the cause is a physical condition, heavy lifting, or long hours at a desk, manual therapy realigns and strengthens the spine’s complex system of bones and tissue to reduce pain and improve movement.
• Injuries: Mishaps can happen at any time. The pain and stiffness of sprains and strains can make it hard to report for work or care for family. As long as the injury doesn’t require surgery, research shows that the sooner manual therapy can be delivered, the faster the recovery.
How manual therapy helps:
The first visit to a physical therapist starts with an assessment to determine pain levels and movement limitations. In many cases, the primary goals of the resulting treatment plan will be to reduce pain and swelling in order to increase the range of motion.
In delivering manual therapy, physical therapists might move joints through their range of motion without any help from the patient, or conduct “joint mobilizations.” That’s when physical therapists use their hands to zero in on micromovements at key bone linkages, conducting manipulations that patients can’t do themselves, and encouraging flexibility by degrees. The small advances in movement add up to improved mobility for the entire structure, known as the joint capsule.
Manual therapy techniques may also include:
• Soft tissue mobilization using rhythmic stretching and pressure to loosen tense muscles.
• Strain and counterstrain to reset muscles to the point of greatest comfort.
• Muscle energy techniques, which is when the patient contracts a muscle for a few seconds while the practitioner applies a precise counterforce, with the goal of mobilizing restricted joints and lengthening shortened muscles.
A key benefit of manual therapy is an efficient use of the time spent in PT. Trained practitioners direct their efforts to the areas of greatest need. A “test-treat-retest” approach continually assesses the effectiveness of each technique, finding those that work and discarding those that don’t deliver progress.
BenchMark Physical Therapy is a family of physical therapists, occupational therapists, and hand therapists committed to inspiring and empowering people to reach their full potential. Its providers know that connecting with patients on a personal level helps to build trust. This trust is crucial in allowing patients and therapists to work together to make the best use of advanced certifications and refined techniques. A focus on proven methods and a hands-on approach help the BenchMark team achieve the goals of the patient in a safe and effective manner.