Hands-on treatment is referred to as “manual therapy” in the world of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Therapists use manual therapy to evaluate and treat patients with biomechanical limitations or deficits. So what does manual therapy include? This can be difficult to truly define, but to keep it simple we will discuss the benefits of massage therapy or soft tissue mobilization, as well as joint mobilization and manipulation.
Physical therapists may use massage techniques, or what we might refer to as soft-tissue mobilization. When we say “soft tissue” we are basically referring to muscles, and other connective tissues in the body that might be causing pain or limitations. This can be a vital part of the patient’s plan of care. Benefits of soft-tissue mobilization include: pain reduction, increased mobility/flexibility/range of motion, increased circulation, and reduction in soft tissue tension. Soft-tissue mobilization is performed with these benefits in mind. Not all patients will benefit for this form of treatment. Your therapist will help you decide whether this form of treatment will be right for you.
A trained manual therapist will likely include some form of joint specific mobilization or manipulation with similar goals in mind. Joint mobilization is a technique used to increase range of motion, reduce pain or muscle tension. This type of treatment is delivered as a gentle prolonged stretch or oscillation in a pain free range. A joint manipulation is an advanced technique that has multiple definitions. Basically, a manipulation is a high velocity, low-amplitude thrust applied to a specific joint. Manipulations are commonly used to treat spinal conditions, but may also be used to treat the extremities as well. Both joint mobilization and manipulation are performed with the aforementioned goals in mind.
If the therapist is able to improve range of motion and reduce pain, then therapeutic exercises can be performed to help strengthen and stabilize the joints. Joint mobilization and manipulation should only be administered by therapists that have received extensive training in manual therapy. Talk to your physical therapist to see if manual therapy is appropriate for your condition.
About The Author: Jeremy W. Przybylo, PT, DPT, DMT is the Prairie Spine and Pain Institute’s lead physical therapist. He is a key component of our integrated care program. Jeremy works one-on-one with patients to perform an initial evaluation that allows him to design a comprehensive treatment program tailored to each individual. He typically works with patients weekly, utilizing a combination of hands on manual therapeutic techniques and a scientific approach to rehabilitative exercise.