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What’s the Difference Between Manual Therapy and Physical Therapy?

Picture of Armin Ghayyur

Armin Ghayyur

Have you suffered an injury? Are you looking into your options for your recovery?

When you first hear you need therapy, you might already have an idea of what that involves. Maybe you picture meeting with a physical therapist and doing a series of maneuvers designed to help you regain strength or motion. Yet, when you research therapy, you might come across two different terms: physical therapy and manual therapy.

What are the differences between these two modalities, and how do you know which one is the best for you?

Below, we’ll get into everything you need to know. Keep reading to learn more!

Physical Therapy

First, let’s define physical therapy.

Physical therapy consists of a set of movements and techniques proven to improve your body in some way. Its main purpose may be to do any of the following:

  • Expand your range of movement
  • Alleviate pain
  • Recover from an injury
  • Heal after a birth
  • Adapt to using a cane or artificial limb
  • Keep a chronic illness under control
  • Avoid disability or surgery
  • Improve balance to prevent slips and falls

When you pursue physical therapy, you’ll go to a therapist (known as a physical therapist, PT, or physiotherapist). This person is a trained professional who has gone through years of schooling and passed local exams. They will assess your condition and then create a personalized plan for helping you recover or improve.

What Types of Treatment Does Physical Therapy Entail?

There are many different types of physical therapy, giving the therapist the tools they need to create a personalized treatment for each patient. 

Depending on your situation, the therapist may employ the use of exercise or stretches, massage therapy, warm water therapy, or ultrasounds to calm muscles, practice sessions with a cane or walker, or rehabilitation for those needing to grow accustomed to an artificial limb.

Each session should stretch your capabilities while working toward goals within your reach.

Who Gets Physical Therapy?

A wide variety of people receive physical therapy on a daily basis. Anyone who needs to relieve muscular pain, recover from strokes or extreme physical conditions, various women’s health conditions, or regain strength after an injury may be recommended to pursue physical therapy.

If this sounds like you, consider contacting a physical therapist today to get started!

Manual Therapy

So, what is the difference between manual therapy vs physical therapy?

First, let’s clarify that manual therapy is a subset of physical therapy. As a result, all manual therapy is physical therapy, but not all physical therapy is manual therapy. 

What are the vital differences, then?

Think of physical therapy as a more all-encompassing term. Someone who pursues physical therapy might receive instructions for stretches and other forms of non-manual muscle manipulation or strengthening, or they may learn to adapt to changes in their body or health. In these cases, people will not receive manual therapy.

On the other hand, manual therapy consists of every type of physical therapy that incorporates the use of the therapist’s hands. In the past, therapists used to mostly focus on other forms of recovery. Now, though, if someone experiences a muscle injury or muscular pain, they look more closely at what may cause that pain and manually work with the muscle.

What Types of Physical Therapy Qualify as Manual Therapy?

Manual therapy usually works with your soft tissue or joints. When using manual therapy, your therapist may use or recommend you receive:

  • Professional massage
  • Scar mobilization
  • Lymph drainage
  • Active release techniques (methods designed to release muscle pain via pushing on points of the body)
  • Muscle strain counteractions
  • Myofascial release
  • Motions designed to increase your range of motion
  • Joint mobilization or thrusts
  • Mobilization from the Mulligan concept

Who Receives Manual Therapy?

At some point in their lives, many people experience soft tissue or joint problems. This usually manifests in muscular or joint pain.

The pain can come about for a number of different reasons. Some patients report pain after car accidents, injuries, or muscle overuse, while others experience it after a long time of sitting or standing in poor postures. 

Others receive it to recover from neck or back pain, tension headaches, hip, knee, shoulder, or ankle pain. If you have TMJ, which is pain associated with jaw movement, manual therapy can also help you.

Should You Get Manual Therapy or Another Form of Physical Therapy?

When deciding how to best recover from your ailment, you might wonder which form of physical therapy is best for you.

If you want a definitive answer, you should visit a physical therapist or doctor and receive their opinion. Your physician or therapist has the ability to assess your personal condition and situation and possess the expertise to recommend a personalized treatment plan. 

In general, though, people who receive manual therapy have soft tissue or joint issues that can be alleviated or resolved via manual manipulation. Those who suffer from therapy related to neurological conditions, chronic illness, or any other underlying problem may not receive much manual therapy at all.

No matter which type you receive, your physical therapist will evaluate you during your first visit. They will take down any information related to your injury or condition, observe how well you can move and perform simple tasks such as bending down and grasping items, and even monitor your heart rate as you do these things.

Then, they will be able to recommend at least one form of physical therapy for you.

Ready to Get Physical Therapy?

If you’re wondering about the difference between manual therapy and physical therapy, we hope this article clarified your questions.

In summary, manual therapy is a subset of physical therapy that involves the use of the therapist’s hands. The type of therapy you receive will depend on what your therapist believes is necessary to treat your condition.

Want to visit qualified physical therapists? Book an appointment with us today to take advantage of our services!


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