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What Is Manual Therapy?

Manual therapy refers to an area of manual medicine treating musculoskeletal conditions; conditions related to the muscles, bones, joints, connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments, spinal discs and the nervous system to synergyistically work together.

Manual therapy is broad, and includes a lot of different techniques...and it's the easiest to define manual therapy as manual treatments that does not use any:

- basically any manual treatment without any devices or machinery.

There are two general types/groups of manual therapy:

  1. manual therapy techniques
  2. critical diagnostic analysis

Manual therapy Techniques

Manual therapy techniques are the "physical" ie hands-on manual part of manual therapy. These include:

Because these techniques are physical, they're most commonly recognized/familiar to public.

Critical Diagnostic Analysis

It's the second area of Manual Therapy, the Critical Diagnostic Analysis part that stands out in manual therapy - being able to assess, diagnose and determine what structure is injured and is the primary cause of pain is key.

If one doesn't deep dive to understand the core causes of the pain, and just layer on superficial treatment techniques such as ultrasound therapy, traction or TENS machine, yes, the patient may experience some acute pain relief.

However, as the core problem isn't resolved, the pain will recur ie come back...and this will repeat UNTIL the core problem has been treated and resolved. It's like if one is really hungry, but all one does is drink a cup of water. Yes, the water may cause you to be less hungry, but very quickly your hunger will come back.

What the manual therapist must then ask and clinically reason is:

  1. why is this pain present?
  2. what caused it?
  3. is there any primary or secondary causes?
  4. is there any aggravators or conditions that cause it to be aggravated?
  5. etc

Sometimes, things that are supposedly "straightforward" may not be so straightforward. We have had patients who came in with chronic back pain, and we treated the back pain first to relieve the pain, and then explained to patient and treated him for a seemingly-unrelated condition in his feet/toe. The next time he came to us, he said that the chronic back pain level are lower than before us treating him.

Usually, manual therapists also work with a multi-disciplinary team including

  • massage therapists
  • podiatrists
  • sports/rehab trainers

to help provide a more holistic and positive outcomes for patients.