Manual therapy is a type of clinical physical therapy technique. It uses skilled and sophisticated hands-on movements to diagnose and treat soft tissues and joint structures. A physical therapist physically kneads and manipulates your joints, muscles, and tissues in order to diagnose biomechanical injuries, reduce pain, and promote proper healing. Being skilled in these muscular techniques is what sets physical therapists apart from other health care practitioners.
Since there are many different types of manual therapy techniques, a physical therapist will be able to determine which technique best fits your needs.
Manual Therapy for Your Injury
Any joint, muscle, or tissue that is inflamed or tense would actively benefit from manual therapy. Manual therapy isn’t limited to a specific part of your body. Overall, that means that any joint or muscle can actively be treated by manual therapy. The range of conditions vary and manual therapy could treat knee osteoarthritis, shoulder impingement, or even inflammation in the jaw.
Manual therapy effectively addresses the mechanical, biochemical, and psychological qualities of the treatment process. You’re expected to see better range of motion in stiffer joints and pain relief by improving how your brain processes pain signals. One of your body’s main systems that control pain is activated by specific muscle movements, which means that manual therapy can help ease how much pain you experience.
Soft Tissue Techniques: Used when a muscle, tendon, or ligament is too tight and causing pain.
- Soft Tissue Mobilization (STM) / Myofascial Release (MYR)
This is a hands-on therapeutic technique that is designed to restore mechanical movement and increase range of motion by releasing tension within the fascia. The fasciae are sheets of fibrous tissue that surround and support muscles by separating them into layers. Following some kind of trauma or injury, fascia and muscles may shorten and restrict movement and blood flow. Depending on where your restrictions are located, your physical therapist will apply different directions of pressure to break down muscle adhesions.
A physical therapist utilizing strain/counterstrain techniques will look for specific “tender points” in the body that indicates which fascial structure is involved. The technique is mainly used to reduce chronic and acute muscle spasms anywhere in the body. Once your physical therapist locates the fascial structure involved in the spasm, they position your body for a certain amount of time (i.e. 90 seconds to 5 minutes) so the muscle is shortened and relaxed. By subduing the spasm, major muscle groups are able to return to pain free functions.
Joint Techniques: Used to restore range of motion and flexibility for an injured joint.
- Joint Mobilization
Physical therapists will use these manual mobilization techniques when joint structures are somehow limiting the normal motion (i.e sliding, pivoting, etc.) of your joints. Using small and specific movements, a physical therapist manually moves a target synovial joint through natural levels of resistance. These motions stretch and strengthen the tissue surrounding the joint bone—normalizing joint motion, reducing spasms, and controlling pain.
- Muscle Energy Techniques (METs)
Muscle energy is an active technique used to reposition a dysfunctional joint and treat the surrounding muscles. It can be used to lengthen a shortened or spastic muscle or mobilize a joint that is stiff our restricted. The patient is guided through performing a specific muscle contraction against a resistive barrier, the physical therapist’s manual contact with the joint. Your physical therapist continues with this process until your muscle stretches further each time and range of motion improves.
- Thrust Techniques, High Velocity/Low Amplitude (HVLA)
This form of manual therapy applies a quick, shallow, and repetitive pressure to a particular joint. Your physical therapist manually finds joints that are not moving symmetrically or incorrectly. They then engage the barrier of motion in the joint with distinct rapid movements to restore natural motion. Therefore, the process allows for that particular joint to open and close properly and improve mobility and stability in the affected joint.
- Mobilization with movement
This form of manual therapy involves mobilization of the joint involved with active movement by the patient in that particular joint. This allows the joint to start gliding actively and reduces the restriction in that particular joint quickly. It’s not uncommon for a patient to obtain 5-15 degrees of motion in a restricted joint such as the wrist.
Devices vs. Manual Treatment
Many patients arrive at their first session expecting to get hot and ice packs, an ultrasound, some electrical stimulation, and a complete workout. High-tech devices used during physical therapy are very effective in reducing muscle spasms and providing pain relief. However, you have to consider the physical therapy process from the overall perspective. Consider manual therapy as the driving force of the treatment plan. Both high-tech tools and physical exercises are powerful complements to manual therapy methods.
Why Does Manual Therapy Need an Expert?
Why do these techniques need to be performed by an expert? A physical therapist’s extensive knowledge of anatomy, joint mechanics, and muscle physiology makes them highly trained in manual treatment techniques. Each technique is specific to a certain type of injury and a specific part of your muscular system. For example, some specific techniques have hundreds of distinct movements that a manual therapy expert is trained for. Physical therapists have to consider how much pressure to apply, how quickly to move, where to apply therapy, and for how long to do so. In some cases, they have to direct your specific movements against their point of contact as well. Expect manual therapy to be a prime method in reducing movement restrictions and getting patients to move better.
Call Excel Spine and Sports Rehab PC today to schedule an assessment and start your way towards recovery. You may reach us at 469-443-0458.