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Manual therapy, manipulative therapy, or manual & manipulative therapy is a physical treatment primarily used by physiotherapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths to treat musculoskeletal pain and disability; it most commonly includes kneading and manipulation of muscles, joint mobilization and joint manipulation.
The three most notable forms of manual therapy are manipulation, mobilization and massage. Manipulation is the artful introduction of a rapid rotational, sheer or distraction force into an articulation. Manipulation is often associated with an audible popping sound caused by the instantaneous breakdown of gas bubbles that form during joint cavitation. Mobilization is a slower, more controlled process of articular and soft-tissue (myofascial)stretching intended to improve bio-mechanical elasticity. Massage is typically the repetitive rubbing, stripping or kneading of myofascial tissues to principally improve interstitial fluid dynamics.
The differentiation between a manipulation and mobilization from a regulatory perspective is that a mobilization can be stopped at any point should the recipient decide to forgo the remainder of the procedure. On the other hand, a manipulation cannot be stopped by the practitioner once initiated.
Manual therapy can be defined differently (according to the profession describing it for legal purposes) to state what is permitted within a practitioners scope of practice. Within the physical therapy profession, manual therapy is defined as a clinical approach utilizing skilled, specific hands-on techniques, including but not limited to manipulation/mobilization, used by the physical therapist to diagnose and treat soft tissues and joint structures for the purpose of modulating pain; increasing range of motion (ROM); reducing or eliminating soft tissue inflammation; inducing relaxation; improving contractile and non-contractile tissue repair, extensibility, and/or stability; facilitating movement; and improving function.
A consensus study of US chiropractors defined manual therapy as "Procedures by which the hands directly contact the body to treat the articulations and/or soft tissues."
Alternatively, Korr (1978) described manual therapy as the "Application of an accurately determined and specifically directed manual force to the body, in order to improve mobility in areas that are restricted; in joints, in connective tissues or in skeletal muscles."
In Western Europe, North America and Australasia, manual therapy is usually practiced by members of specific health care professions (e.g. Chiropractors, Occupational Therapists, Osteopaths, Osteopathic physicians, Physiotherapists/Physical Therapists, and Physiatrists). However, some lay practitioners (not members of a structured profession), such as bonesetters also provide some forms of manual therapy.
A survey released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focused on who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), what was used, and why it was used in the United States by adults age 18 years and over during 2002. According to this recent survey, manipulative therapy was the 3rd most commonly used NCCAM classification of CAM categories (10.9%) in the United States during 2002 ( table 4 on page 10) when all use of prayer was excluded. Consistent with previous studies, this study found that the majority of individuals (i.e., 54.9%) used CAM in conjunction with conventional medicine (page 6)
A number of professional peer-reviewed journals specialize in the dissemination of information associated with manual therapy. The Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy, Manual Therapy, and the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics are PubMed indexed journals that have provided readers with useful research on manual therapy for over 15 years. Peer reviewed information has improved the quality of information that is provided to practicing clinicians and has dispelled a number of myths commonly associated with manual therapy.
There are many different styles of manual therapy. It is a fundamental feature of ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and some forms of New Age alternative medicine as well as being used by mainstream medical practitioners. In one form or another it is probably as old as human culture itself and is a feature to some degree of therapeutic interactions in traditional cultures around the world.