Manual therapy has a long history within the profession of physical therapy and physical therapists have greatly contributed to the current diversity in manual therapy approaches and techniques. Mechanical explanations were historically used to explain the mechanisms by which manual therapy interventions worked, new research reveals intricate neurophysiologic mechanisms are also at play and the beneficial psychological effects of providing hands-on examination and intervention should not be ignored.
The International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Physical Therapists (IFOMPT) defines manual therapy techniques 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.”
According the the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT) Description of Advanced Specialty Practice (DASP), orthopaedic manual physical therapy (OMPT) is defined as: any “hands-on” treatment provided by the physical therapist.
Treatment may include moving joints in specific directions and at different speeds to regain movement (joint mobilization and manipulation), muscle stretching, passive movements of the affected body part, or having the patient move the body part against the therapist’s resistance to improve muscle activation and timing. Selected specific soft tissue techniques may also be used to improve the mobility and function of tissue and muscles.”
Manual physical therapy is a specialised form of physical therapy delivered with the hands as opposed to a device or machine. It has an important place in Physiotherapy and when used appropriately by practitioners is a very effective set of tools literally at our fingertips.