What is Manual Therapy? 

With regard to the physical therapy field, manual therapy techniques are used by physical therapists to diagnose and treat soft tissue and joint structures.  The therapists use their hands to apply a varying amount of pressure, stretching, or mobilization to the soft tissues depending on the needs of the patient. 

Manual Therapy

Manual Therapy Techniques Can Help: 

  • neck and back pain
  • post-surgery for the neck, back, hips, knees, shoulders and ankles
  • headaches
  • hip pain and bursitis
  • knee pain and arthritis
  • ankle sprains and arthritis
  • shoulder impingement and frozen shoulder
  • fibromyalgia

Common Manual Therapy Techniques:

Soft Tissue Mobilization (STM)  – STM utilizes gentle movements (massage) of the soft tissues that have restricted range of motion.  After an injury, the fascia, muscles and ligaments can tighten up.  Treatments are usually spot specific massage to the injury area to help reduce pain and increase muscle flexibility and function. 

Manual Joint Mobilizations – This is a group of techniques that uses passive motion of the affected joint to achieve relaxation, decrease pain and improve motion of the joint.  Joint mobilization treatment varies depending on the joint stiffness / hypermobility and the pain associated with moving your joint.

Myofascial Release – This manual therapy technique addresses the fascia, the thick covering over muscles.  The goal is to restore its elasticity or flexibility of movement so the muscles are not “bound down” and “frees them” from tightness, spasm or scar tissue adhesions.  Myofascial release assists with muscle relaxation, pain management and decreasing swelling of the involved areas.

Deep Tissue Mobilization (DTM) – This technique focuses on the deeper layers of muscle tissue.  The therapist applies deep finger pressure or friction and utilizes slower strokes across the grain of the muscle, tendon and fascia.  DTM is used to release chronic muscle tension and scar tissue. It is common to experience some soreness during or after the treatment, however it should go away within a day or so.

Muscle Energy Technique (MET) – MET is a manual therapy technique which involves the voluntary contraction of a muscle in a precisely controlled direction at varying levels of intensity against a distinct counterforce which is applied by the therapist. These isometric contractions and stretches help mobilize the soft tissue and relieve spasm and pain.  MET is used to lengthen a shortened, contracted or spastic muscle or strengthen a weakened muscle.  Muscle energy techniques are most commonly used with spinal and pelvis misalignment, back pain, scoliosis and sacral-iliac joint dysfunction.

Manual Cervical Traction – The purpose of manual traction is to provide a very specific and controlled distraction force to the spine in order to alleviate pain or compression of a disc.  Manual traction is also used as a tool to determine if mechanical traction is an appropriate modality.  Since the therapist can control the level of pull and the angle of pull, many patients prefer manual traction.

Just about every physical therapist does some type of manual therapy technique.   However, it takes a lot of time, hands-on learning and skill to become adept at performing the more complex manual therapy techniques.  To be able to assess the joint restrictions and feel the differences in tissue consistency takes a special ability. 

Manual therapy techniques are most effective when combined with therapeutic exercise and patient education.  A comprehensive program better provides the opportunity for you to achieve your goals of reducing pain, improving overall function and returning to the activities that you enjoy!