What is Manual Therapy?

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In my training as a physical therapist, it wasn’t until I discovered the art of manual therapy that my work transformed into something truly exciting and impactful.  The first time I saw a manual therapist treat a patient in pain, I knew I had to learn more – as I watched, the therapist read the patient’s body like a storybook or, more precisely, a biography. He sifted through the body’s twists and bends and layers of tension until he honed in on the root of his patient’s issue (which was not where I would have ever guessed it would be).  In one session, the therapist was able to unravel the tension and reorganize the twists and bends to change how the patient moved, felt, and looked. As I watched, the therapist seemed to me equal parts skilled clinician and expert magician. It was such an artful blend of applied anatomy and focused attunement to the patient- I’d never seen anything like it. In awe of how powerful and effective this approach was, that moment launched me into career-long study of manual therapy.

So, what exactly is Manual Therapy?

Manual therapy is a broad term that refers to hands-on treatment techniques where the practitioner is using their hands to specifically move or influence the tissues of your body. Manual therapy techniques include everything from joint mobilization/manipulation (think chiropractic adjustments), to soft tissue treatments like trigger point release and myofascial release, to craniosacral therapy, visceral mobilization (treating internal organs through touch), and more. It can be practiced by a number of different types of practitioners including: physical therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and massage therapists. Manual therapy can take many different forms depending on the background of the clinician and the needs of the patient. It will always involve some form of therapeutic touch aimed at restoring normal movement of the physical structures of the body.

For many people, manual therapy is a great addition to their existing health regimen. It can be used for many different types of people with a variety of different health issues including:

  • Physical pain (anywhere in your body)

  • Tension/stiffness in muscles or joints

  • Headaches/migraines

  • Digestive issues (e.g. constipation, bloating, abdominal discomfort)

  • Trouble breathing

  • Pelvic floor issues

  • Recovery from surgery (even old surgeries you had a long time ago)

  • Recovery from injuries, falls, car accidents (even old ones)

  • Poor circulation/swelling

  • Symptoms of chronic illness

  • Stress/difficulty relaxing

If you want to know more about manual therapy or are curious to find out if it might be helpful for your body, ask for recommendations for a manual therapist from your other health care providers (or knowledgeable friends/family) and reach out to the manual therapist to see if they have experience treating people with your type of symptoms/history. As always, when adding a new practitioner to your team, trust your gut – if you get a good feeling about them, go ahead an make an appointment and listen to your body to let you know if it feels like a good fit.