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Manual therapy: What is it and how can it help you?

Manual therapy is a very broad topic, covering many different types of treatment, and from many different types of practitioners. Manual therapy can be defined as: “Skilled hand movements intended to produce any or all of the following effects: improve tissue extensibility; increase range of motion of the joint complex; mobilize or manipulate soft tissues and joints; induce relaxation; change muscle function; modulate pain; and reduce soft tissue swelling, inflammation or movement restriction” (International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Physical Therapists).



Initially when practitioners first started using manual therapy to help improve pain after injury, they thought it was strictly having a mechanical effect. This means that the hands on treatment was helping to stretch or loosen tissue and improve tissue repair. However through more research they have also found other important mechanisms that help improve healing and pain relief. One of these is a neuro-physiological effect. Manual therapy helps stimulate the nervous system in a positive way to help inhibit muscle spasm, reduce joint pressure, and stimulate pain gating mechanisms to help reduce painful sensations. The other is through psychological effects. Research has actually shown that hands on therapy on someone during treatment helps improve their response to that treatment. It helps to build practitioner-client rapport as well.


An example of joint arthrokinematic movements


Another very common form of manual therapy is soft tissue release, or massage. Even this can be broken down into different type of therapy such as active release, trigger point release, myofascial release, cross friction massage, Swedish massage, and effleurage. I won’t go into detail about all of these, but the common theme is using hands on, manual therapy treatment, to relax muscles, improve blood flow, stimulate the nervous system, and help modulate pain.


If you have any other questions, or think that manual therapy may be beneficial for you, please do not hesitate to call us at 905-240-9355!

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