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 back pain caused by muscle spasm, muscle tension, and joint dysfunction.
Manual therapy can be helpful for the treatment of joints that lack adequate mobility and range of motion in certain musculo-skeletal conditions. This limitation can cause discomfort, pain, and an alteration in function, posture, and movement. Manual physical therapy involves restoring mobility to stiff joints and reducing muscle tension in order to return the patient to more natural movement without pain. Thus, manual physical therapy may provide back pain relief both for patients with chronic back pain involving joint problems, such as sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and acute back pain from soft tissue injuries such as a back muscle strain or a pulled back ligament.
As a group, manual physical therapy techniques are aimed at relaxing tense back muscles and restricted joints in order to decrease back pain and increase flexibility. 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.