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What is Manual Therapy?

Updated: Jul 5

Life happens. Even with the best intentions of taking good care of our bodies, injury and pain can happen. Whether you are a serious athlete who pulled a muscle during practice or you are a hairdresser with shoulder pain, the discomfort is real.


During these times many people will seek out professional help to rid themselves of the pain. Manual therapy can be part of the treatment plan prescribed to get you flourishing again.


What is Manual Therapy?

Manual therapy is a form of therapy where clinicians use their hands to achieve desired results for their patients instead of using devices or machines. Using their hands they apply techniques to soft tissues, muscles and joints to improve flexibility, range of motion, tissue mobility, movement and reduce pain.


According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT) (2018), orthopedic manual therapy is defined as: “an advanced specialty area of physical therapy practice that is based on manual examination and treatment techniques integrated with exercise, patient education, and other physical therapy modalities to address pain, loss of function, and wellness.”


At Couve Health, our goal is a synergistic approach to a person's wellness. Early, consistent, and skillful manual therapy combined with patient education and exercise is paramount.


What is the Difference Between Manual Therapy and Physical Therapy?

Sometimes these two names can be confusing. Often the terms, manual therapy and physical therapy are used interchangeably. But in general, manual therapy is a form of therapy provided by a musculoskeletal healthcare provider.

Types of Manual Therapy


Depending on the individuals specific needs, below are the more common treatment techniques for manual therapy:

  • Joint manipulation - This is a quick passive, thrust-style technique that takes a joint beyond its normal range of motion with the intent to improve mobility and/or reduce pain.

  • Joint mobilization - Slow repetitive oscillations are applied within a joint’s range of movement limits that promote mobility and increase the range of motion in a joint.

  • Soft tissue massage - This is where direct pressure via a gliding motion is performed over a muscular or connective tissue area. This helps to improve tissue relaxation, mobility, or pain in the region.

  • Friction massage - This is where penetrating pressure is applied through the finger tips to increase circulation and release areas that are tight. This can be a cross finger approach that is a more irritating form of massage and will temporarily increase inflammation and break up scar tissue in an effort to promote healing and reduce pain.

  • Passive stretching - This is where a stretch is held for an extended period of time with a goal to improve range of motion and increase flexibility in an area.


Doctor Bojilov performing manual therapy at Couve Health in Vancouver, Canada
Manual therapy is a form of therapy where clinicians use their hands to achieve desired results for their patients

When is Manual Therapy Used?

Did you strain your back playing golf? Do you now feel like every time you twist in your chair you get a sharp pain in the muscles in your lower back?


In this case, manual therapy would be a good option. Your clinician would use a combination of massage and mobilization to the spine to help your muscles relax and reduce your pain.


Sports injuries aren’t the only time that manual therapy can be used. Consider another example: You slept wrong and now you have neck pain, which makes turning your head painful. Your clinician performs a quick manipulation to your cervical spine (neck) and “popped” your upper back. End result is that you walk out feeling much better!


In addition to back and neck issues manual therapy can be implemented as part of a treatment plan for other issues such as:

  • Knee pain

  • Post-surgical tightness

  • Accident-caused injuries

  • Work related injuries

  • Sciatica

  • Hip, knee and elbow problems

Manual therapy is very beneficial in the following areas:

  • Calming high pain levels

  • Improving range of motion in stiff or arthritic joints

  • Reducing feelings of tightness

  • Improving muscle performance or activation

At Couve Health, we provide comprehensive care based on each patient's needs and goals with an emphasis on decreasing pain and improving quality of life. When manual therapy is prescribed, it is conducted by one of our chiropractors or one of our skilled physiotherapists.


We will make sure you are comfortable with any manual therapy technique that is used to get you moving freely again. Our comprehensive approach includes manual therapy and movement together. Book your appointment with Couve Health online by clicking here.


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