Manual therapy is a type of physical therapy delivered with skilled hand movements, as opposed to a device or machine. This treatment involves manipulating and massaging the muscles and joints to address a patient’s musculoskeletal condition or injury, such as by increasing joint mobility, reducing muscle tension, and reducing inflammation. During manual therapy, the physical therapist or other healthcare professionals carefully and precisely moves joints in specific directions to stretch and activate muscles, improving joint function. Manual therapy can also involve soft tissue techniques and massage to target muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments. This treatment approach can be accompanied by other physical therapy interventions like guided exercises, heat/cold therapy, and electrical stimulation, for a comprehensive, individualized regimen.
Manual therapy is a core area of physical therapy and is known to provide many benefits in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. It can provide relief from both chronic joint pain and acute soft tissue injury. This technique is often utilized to:
- Assess muscle and joint function
- Improve range of motion
- Mobilize soft tissues and joints
- Train muscles during rehabilitation
- Induce relaxation and pain relief
- Increase circulation
- Reduce swelling and inflammation
Certain pre-existing conditions require precaution from physical therapists when considering or administering manual therapy. These include hypermobile joints and a recent joint replacement. Some techniques within manual therapy have more specific contraindications, such as fractures and severe degenerative joint disease for joint mobilization, and acute soft tissue injuries and skin disease for soft tissue techniques.