Manual therapy is a specialized technique in physical therapy which is delivered with the use of the hands rather than any machine or device. A physical therapist would use his or her hands to exert pressure on the affected muscle tissues. Joints are also manipulated with the goal of decreasing pain that is caused by joint dysfunction, muscle tension and spasms.
Manual therapy is helpful in treating joints that have limited range of motion and mobility. This is especially true in some musculo-skeletal conditions. This can help in reducing and preventing pain and discomfort as well as any limitation on movement, posture and function.
The effective use of manual therapy can restore movement to stiff muscles and joints. By reducing muscle tension, the patient can move freely with little or no pain. There are several types of techniques used in manual therapy and these are:
- Soft tissue technique which uses massage and other physical therapy procedures to apply pressure to the affected soft tissues. This is helpful in relaxing the muscles, increasing circulation, breaking up the scar tissues and in easing pain
- Manipulation and mobilization is a form of manual therapy that includes measured movements with varying speed, distance and force to pull, push or twist joints and bones into a desired position. This technique loosens any tight tissues, reduces pain and assists in the alignment and flexibility of the target muscles.
- Muscle energy technique is another form of manual therapy and is aimed to improve movement of restricted joints. This is done by using the voluntary contraction of the target muscles when a controlled counterforce is applied directly to it.
Stretching the muscles is an important part of manual therapy. Passive exercises can be done with the physical therapist moving the limbs of the patient through a full and complete range of motion. Massage techniques can also lengthen and relax tight muscles.
Flexibility is another goal of manual therapy. It allows the muscles to stretch and contract so it can move more freely and painlessly.
A physical therapist can perform static stretching by taking a target muscle to its point of resistance and holding it in position for about 20 – 30 seconds. It is then moved to its second point of resistance when it relaxes.
Neuromuscular stretching needs the active assistance of a therapist and is also commonly called as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF.
Another form of stretching used in manual therapy is corrective stretching. This can also help soften and loosen scar tissues.
There are many techniques of manual therapy. Its application will depend on the medical condition of the patient.