Healthcare can be hands-on, in the most literal of ways. When it comes to rehabilitation, manual therapy, which is treatment applied by the hands of a physician, can be a valuable recovery tool and sustained orthopedic wellbeing. Historians have found evidence of the practice dating back as far as 4,000 years. It is a time-tested therapy.
Often associated with physical therapy and chiropractic care, manual therapies include a range of procedures, from massage to joint manipulation. Manual therapy is also practiced by orthopedic doctors, athletic trainers, occupational therapists, and osteopaths. This specific therapy may be less understood by the general public, but it can be highly effective in pain reduction and rehabilitation.
When does a doctor decide if you could benefit from manual therapy? The American Academy of Orthopedic Medicine describes the diagnostic process as: “A manual medicine diagnosis is made using a comprehensive history, detailed and specific physical examination including osteopathic, orthopaedic, neurologic, rheumatologic and chiropractic exams, appropriate radiologic studies and the specific laying on of hands to palpate musculoskeletal parameters including but not limited to asymmetry of related musculoskeletal components, range of motion abnormalities of mobility, tissue texture changes, circulation of fluids and energy.”
In layman’s terms, tests will be conducted first to ensure that manual therapy will benefit you. And if that is the case, your doctor will use her or his hands to apply pressure to soft tissue or a joint to either mobilize or manipulate the affected area. Your doctor may prescribe manual therapy as a means to relieve pain, improve range of motion, correct issues associated with aging or to support injury recovery.
Osteopathic Manual Therapy — What’s the Difference?
When researching manual therapy online you may read about osteopathic manual therapy, which has been getting more attention in recent years. This is a type of manual therapy that is performed by an osteopathic doctor. Orthopedic doctors and osteopathic doctors are different categories of physicians. According to WebMD, “One of the keys to osteopathic medicine is the idea that tightness and restriction in your nerves and muscles can be caused by or lead to other problems.” In orthopedics, the emphasis is primarily on treating the musculoskeletal system.
Despite the difference in the area of specialty by the practitioner, the manual therapy techniques employed are typically the same. Both will treat conditions with the following techniques:
- Myofascial — targeting muscles to promote flexibility
- Massage — to reduce pain and possibly inflammation
- Direct pressure to soft tissue — to relax hypertonic muscles
- Stretching — to prevent injury
- Tapping — to alter muscle-firing patterns
Are There Risks?
You may wonder if you can be injured during manual therapy. Training and experience are essential. Never partake in manual therapies from an unlicensed provider. If you’re interested in manual therapy and want to know if it’s a potential solution for your pain or injury, talk to your MOSH doctor first. An experienced physician will oversee your care to minimize risk. ScienceDirect acknowledges, “…risk of harm with manual therapy interventions is certainly present but a common-sense approach to patient and technique selection combined with proven adequate orthopedic diagnostic skills seems appropriate for minimizing manual therapy-related adverse events and optimizing the risk-benefit ratio with regard to the use of manual therapy interventions.”
Does it Work?
It’s difficult to find conclusive proof that manual therapy is 100 percent effective. Even after 4,000 years of practice, scientists are still studying it. This is a complex task because the list of manual therapy procedures is almost as long as the ailments that require solutions. According to the National Library of Medicine, the results are mixed: “Massage is effective in adults for chronic low back pain and chronic neck pain. The evidence is inconclusive for knee osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain syndrome, migraine headache, and premenstrual syndrome. In children, the evidence is inconclusive for asthma and infantile colic.” This is yet another reason why you should not partake in manual therapy without the care and guidance of a licensed physical therapist, medical doctor or chiropractor.