Chronic pain affects millions of Americans. Many orthopedic conditions are chronic, and they cause serious pain. Physical therapy is a good way to alleviate pain and improve quality of life.
Physical therapy involves manual therapies for pain relief, as well as exercises for strengthening and flexibility. Manual physical therapy is a specialized kind of treatment delivered with the therapist’s hands as opposed to a machine or device. Many patients come to their first physical therapy appointment expecting to get ultrasound and hot packs. However, the therapist first assesses your condition before devising a treatment plan.
The physical therapist is interested in why a muscle or structure is not functioning properly, and see back exercises as more than the driving mode of recovery. Exercise is viewed as a complement treatment to manual therapy. With manual therapy, the therapist uses his/her hands to apply pressure on muscle tissue and to manipulate joints, which is used to decrease back pain caused by tension, spasm, or joint dysfunction.
Many physical therapists have the option to use manual therapy, but many do not spend the time to become efficient in this area of practice. Patients should request manual therapy, which is used to relieve pain. However, because this treatment is not standard, insurance reimbursement may be limited.
Manual therapy is used for joint pain. Joints that do not have adequate mobility or range of motion can benefit from physical therapy. Certain musculoskeletal conditions cause limitations, which in turn, creates discomfort, pain, and altered function. Manual physical therapy involves restoring motion to stiff joints and reducing muscle tension so the patient can regain a natural movement without pain.
Types of Manual Physical Therapy Techniques
Manual physical therapy techniques are aimed at relaxing restricted joints and tense back muscles. The goal of therapy is to increase flexibility and decrease back pain. The types of movement include:
- Soft tissue work – This involves application of pressure to the soft tissues, such as subcutaneous tissue and muscles. This massage maneuver and pressure relaxes the muscles, breaks up scar tissue, increases circulation, and eases soft tissue pain.
- Mobilization and manipulation – This uses measured movements of varying speed (slow to fast), distances (called amplitude), and force (gentle to forceful) to pull, push, and/or twist bones and joints into position. This helps loosen tight tissues in and around the joint, helps with alignment and flexibility, and reduces pain in the joint and surrounding tissues.
Other Therapy Maneuvers
Some commonly used physical therapy maneuvers include:
- Soft tissue mobilization – Muscle tension will decrease joint motion and cause muscle spasms. For these patients, the therapist will use soft tissue mobilization (STM), which breaks up inelastic or fibrous muscle tissue, such as scar tissue form a back injury, and moves tissue fluids. The therapist will localize the area with the most tissue restriction through assessment. Once this is identified, the restrictions are mobilized with STM.
- Strain-counterstrain – This technique focuses on correcting abnormal neuromuscular reflexes that cause postural and structural problems, resulting in tender points. The therapist finds these points and holds the muscle area down. Through mild stretching, this allows the body to reset its muscle to a normal tension level.
- Joint mobilization – This involves loosening up a restricted joint and increasing the range of motion by providing speed (velocity) and increasing distance of movement (amplitude). These mobilizations move the bone surfaces on each other in ways the patient cannot move the joint himself.
- Muscle energy techniques (METs) – These maneuvers are designed to mobilize restricted joints. METs utilize a voluntary contraction of the patient’s muscles against a controlled counterforce, which is applied by the therapist from a precise position and in a specific direction. The operator takes the joint to a new level where the patient them contracts the muscle.
OSPI offers top orthopedic services in the East Valley with Board Certified doctors. Physical Therapy is offered along with chiropractic and pain management too!