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You’ve been injured and you’re dealing with pain, and maybe your doctor has recommended physical therapy to help restore your range of motion or alleviate your discomfort. Or perhaps you have chronic pain that you’re looking to ease through physical therapy. But there are so many approaches out there to physical therapy that it can be hard to know which one is right for you.

More and more, physical therapists and patients are choosing hands-on physical therapy. What is the deal with this particular kind of physical therapy? Here’s what you need to know.

About Hands-On Physical Therapy

If not all physical therapy is created equal, what is hands-on physical therapy and why are more and more people opting for this kind of care?

Physiopedia defines orthopaedic manual physical therapy (OMPT, or hands-on physical therapy) as any hands-on treatment provided by your physical therapist. This might include moving your joints in a particular direction at varying speeds to regain movement. This is also referred to as joint mobilization and manipulation.

Hands-on physical therapy also includes muscle stretching, passive movements of affected areas of the body, and even moving affected body parts against the resistance a therapist provides to bolster muscle activation and timing. Hands-on physical therapy may also be used to improve mobility and function of impacted tissue or muscle groups.

Machine-Free Care

Manual physical therapy is a highly specialized vein of physical therapy. Therapists use their hands to put pressure on muscle tissue or manipulate joints to decrease pain caused by spasms, tension, and joint dysfunction.

Unlike other forms of physical therapy that rely on devices and machines, hands-on physical therapy doesn’t use any of these tools. Many patients expect to arrive at physical therapy appointments to work with ice, hot packs, ultrasounds, or light weights. These are definitely useful, but many therapists are now approaching physical therapy with a more personal approach to get a full understanding of what is happening with their patients’ joints and soft tissue. 

Take for example manual physical therapists who work with patients dealing with back pain. They want to know why a muscle isn’t functioning the way it should. While back exercises can help drive a patient’s recovery, it doesn’t tell us why the pain or injury occurred. With hands-on physical therapy, hands-on therapists aim to restore sacroiliac or lumbar joint function as a treatment for piriformis syndrome, instead of merely suggesting physical exercises.

How Hands-On Therapy Works

Manual therapy works because it approaches pain from 4 different fronts all at once:

  • Psychologically
  • Biochemically
  • Neurophysiologically
  • Mechanically

Through this passive movement of your joints, hands-on therapy allows stretching of your muscles, joints, and ligaments. Hands-on therapy can also help break up adhesions and even realign scar tissue, which can get in the way of your body’s full range of motion. 

Manual therapy can even stop the pain in the spinal cord and other injury sites by activating your body’s “natural high” center, also known as the endogenous opiate system.  It can also help you build confidence in the positive outcome of your therapy, working through the whole of your injury inside and out.

Therapists who practice manual therapy know that it’s not a one-size-fits-all treatment. For example, aggressive joint mobilization is not right for someone who is healing from a fracture, or if they have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis. For most conditions, a hands-on physical therapist will alter the treatment to best treat their unique physical conditions.

Hands-on therapy is a great option for many patients who have been in an accident or have had a traumatic experience. This might be injured nerves or tendons, burns, scars, or other common conditions like arthritis, tennis elbow, post-operative rehabilitation, joint placement, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even some neurological conditions.

Techniques Used in Manual Therapy

In hands-on therapy, there are many techniques that physical therapists use to relieve pain, and restore mobility. These techniques include:

  • Traction
  • Massage
  • Trigger point therapy
  • Active release techniques
  • Assisted active range of motion
  • Passive range of motion
  • Lymph drainage
  • Muscle, neural tissue, joint, and fascia stretches
  • Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization
  • Joint manipulation
  • Joint mobilization

Here at South Orange Rehabilitation and Wellness, we’re focused on helping our patients heal from the inside out, which involves hands-on techniques and personalized care. We treat each patient as an individual, which means we’ll come up with the best approach to care for you then we’ll treat and track your progress.

We’ll work directly with you, and we never rely on exercise machinery to do the work for us. We believe that the best way to help you recover—and stay that way—is through total holistic care. 

If you’re ready to get assistance with your new or ongoing pain, reach out to us today to make an appointment.