What is manual therapy?

Manual therapy is a type of physical therapy. The therapist uses their hands rather than machines or other tools. They apply pressure to muscle tissue and joints to reduce pain, improve mobility, limit swelling and inflammation, improve flexibility and help you achieve other goals.

There are several types of manual therapy. While all physical therapists have basic knowledge of manual therapy, many of them don't practice it often as other types of physical therapy.

Therapists can treat all joints with manual therapy. However, they use it most often on people's spines.

Common techniques used in manual therapy are:

  • Massage
  • Manual traction
  • Lymphatic drainage
  • Manual manipulation

What to expect from manual therapy

Before manual therapy, your therapist performs a full evaluation of your condition. This often involves an assessment of your muscles, bones and nerves. They'll also assess your level of pain and decide if you're a good candidate for manual therapy. From there, they'll put together a plan for your treatment.

For soft tissue work, expect the manual physical therapist to put pressure on muscles and other soft tissues. The pressure, much like massage, helps to relax the muscles. It can also increase your circulation and relieve muscle pain. These exercises can also help move fluid in your body and break up scar tissue.

Mobilization or manual manipulation helps with flexibility and alignment of your joints. The therapist pulls, pushes and twists your bones and joints to get them back into proper position. These are measured movements that vary in force and speed.

The specific techniques you might do during manual therapy vary depending on your needs. Your manual therapist may also give you some exercises to do at home between sessions.

Common conditions requiring manual therapy

Your doctor may prescribe manual therapy if you have one of the following conditions:

  • Muscle strain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Back pain or injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Joint pain or mobility problems
  • Other musculoskeletal conditions

Mercy Health locations that can treat you