Manual physical therapy is a specialized form of physical therapy delivered with the hands as opposed to a device or machine. In manual therapy, practitioners use their hands to put pressure on muscle tissue and manipulate joints in an attempt to decrease pain caused by muscle spasm, muscle tension, and joint dysfunction.
As a group, manual physical therapy techniques are aimed at relaxing tense muscles and restricted joints in order to decrease pain and increase mobility. In general, manual physical therapy techniques employ the following types of movement:
Soft tissue work, including massage, which applies pressure to the soft tissues of the body such as the muscles. This pressure can help relax muscles, increase circulation, break up scar tissue, and ease pain in the soft tissues.
Mobilization/manipulation, which uses measured movements of varying speed (slow to fast), force (gentle to forceful), and distances (called ‘amplitude’) to twist, pull, or push bones and joints into position. This can help loosen tight tissues around a joint, reduce pain in a joint and surrounding tissue, and help with flexibility and alignment.