Orthopedic manual therapy, also known as orthopedic manual physical therapy, is a subspecialty of physical therapy.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists defines it as a clinical treatment that utilizes specific and skillful hands-on techniques, including but not limited to mobilization and manipulation. Physical therapists focusing on this sub-specialty treat joint structures and soft tissues for pain relief, reducing inflammation, stability, and stimulating relaxation.
Overall, orthopedic manual physical therapy aims to reduce pain and improve the overall physical function of patients.
More Than Just Hot Packs
Patients typically associate physical therapy with easy exercises, stretches, ultrasounds, and hot packs. In reality, it’s a clinical treatment approach that requires a skilled and professional healthcare professional.
Restoring Muscle Imbalances
The series of stretches and exercises that physical therapists recommend are developed from a complete and thorough diagnosis of each individual patient’s condition and preferred treatment results.
Restoring muscle, joint, and tissue imbalances and alleviating pain are the main focus of orthopedic manual physical therapy. Beyond this, orthopedic physical therapists also specialize in understanding why a muscle, joint, or tissue are not functioning sufficiently.
Manual orthopedic techniques are regarded not just as a complement to physical therapy but an essential contributing factor to complete recovery.
Specialists utilizing orthopedic manual physical therapy may look into, for instance, restoring the lumbar joint when treating piriformis syndrome instead of directly addressing and manipulating the target area through physical therapy techniques.
Skillful Use of Manual Techniques
Manual physical therapy requires the skillful use of manual techniques rather than relying on exercise equipment and machines. In this sub-specialty, specialists use their hands to manipulate muscle tissues and applying pressure on joints. These manual techniques help alleviate pain, muscle spasms, joint dysfunction, and muscle tension.
To be proficient in this area of physical therapy, the specialist needs to go through advanced training. Orthopedic manual physical therapists trained to identify a patient’s disorder and determine what tissues are affected, what’s causing the issue, and why. The therapist can then apply the appropriate manual techniques depending on the diagnosis.
Back Pain Management
All physical therapists, regardless of each individual specialties, have the option to use orthopedic manual physical therapy techniques in their practice.
However, not a lot of them dedicate the time and resources needed to be proficient in it. Patients should be made aware of all physical therapy techniques available. If they want a practitioner experienced in manual techniques, they are free to find one.
With that being said, many of the physical issues manual therapy address are not usually diagnosed with lab findings or imaging exams. It’s during motion and physical function evaluations these conditions are detected. Thus, insurance companies may not be as eager to cover this type of treatment method.
Orthopedic surgeons or other primary care doctors usually refer patients for physical therapy treatment. However, in some states, patients can seek treatment for lower back pain from physical therapists without the need for a referral from their primary care doctor or orthopedic surgeon.
Manual Therapy for Chronic Pain
Joints limited in range of motion and sufficient mobility can benefit from manual therapy techniques. These limitations, usually related to musculoskeletal conditions, can result in pain and discomfort. This condition also limits your function, movement, and affects your posture.
Stiff joints can benefit most in manual physical therapy techniques. This treatment can restore mobility as it reduces muscle tension – allowing patients to return to their normal functions.
Patient accounts and the available clinical data assert that manual physical therapy techniques can help patients. These patients usually suffer from acute back pain, joint problems, pulled back ligaments, or back muscle strains.
Back Muscle Relaxation
Manual therapy techniques used to manage back pain aim to relieve muscle tension, increase mobility, and alleviate back pain.
The technique involves:
Muscle manipulation – this uses movements measured in varying speed and intensity. It can range from slow to quick, gentle to more forceful. Also, distances referred to as “amplitude” refers to the pulling, twisting, and pushing of joints and bones into a specific position.
This helps in loosening up tight knots in the muscles and joints. It also helps in reducing the pain in and around the joints and tissues, ultimately assisting in alignment and flexibility.
Working the soft tissues involve manual massages. This applies the right amount of pressure to the muscles. The pressure helps calm the muscles down, improve circulation, and alleviate pain.