Memorial Health - October 18, 2021
by Douglas G. Andrews II PT, DPT, SCS, ATC, CSCS

From time to time, everyone could use a hand in their lives, specifically when referring to their health and wellness. The right physical therapist can provide a hands-on approach to the course of treatment by incorporating “manual therapy” into the plan of care.

The American Physical Therapy Association defines manual therapy as skilled hand movements and skilled passive movements of joints and soft tissue that are intended to:

  • improve tissue extensibility
  • increase joint range of motion
  • induce relaxation
  • mobilize or manipulate soft tissue and joints
  • modulate pain
  • reduce soft tissue swelling, inflammation, or restriction

There are many different approaches, styles, and techniques available depending on the specific provider’s level of training and experience. Some common techniques may include joint mobilizations, joint manipulation, myofascial release, muscle energy techniques, passive or active assisted range of motion, targeted therapeutic massage, etc.

Research has shown us that physical therapy (PT), including manual therapy, at a dose of 30–45 minutes per session, for four to eight weeks is effective in treating low back pain and neck pain. What a great alternative to pain medicines!

Quite often our goal as physical therapists is to equip the patient with the tools that they need for long-term success in resolving their specific condition. We usually accomplish this by teaching specific home exercises or prescribing a gym program that the patient will perform independently after completing their PT plan of care. Manual therapy can also be used as an adjunct during the course of the patient’s treatment as a tool to help them toward their short- and long-term goals. It is typically not a stand-alone tool but is often a very critical component of the treatment approach and one piece of the puzzle in solving the big picture.

While exercises can be taught, manual therapy on the other hand is often hard to reproduce without a skilled therapist. That’s one of the great advantages of seeing a physical therapist rather than just following written instructions or pictures on a handout. Manual therapists spend years and years honing their craft and developing their skills because we strongly believe in the benefits that it can provide.