The popularity of Manual Therapy has skyrocketed over the last decade both among consumers and health care practitioners.  So what is Manual Therapy?  The American Physical Therapy Association defines it 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.

When we look at the two words in the term “Manual Therapy,” I can see why many are defining it much more simply as “hands-on therapeutic techniques.”  In no way am I dumbing down the term or its definition.  I simply want to convey that it is being defined in a very broad sense by a growing number of practitioners out there; and that there are important consequences to this trend.

When I search the Internet for information about people practicing and providing “Manual Therapy,” I am often amazed at the wide variety of practitioners who utilize the term and identify themselves as “Manual Therapists.”  Since this obviously will not change, it is important that consumers know that the people utilizing the term come from an incredible range of educational and clinical training backgrounds.

When I personally use the term “Manual Therapist”, I am specifically talking about a licensed Physical Therapist with advanced training (and preferably certification) in Manual Therapy.  Manual Physical Therapists are healthcare practitioners who not only have the training and skills to impart highly effective techniques with their hands, but also the education and training to evaluate and determine/diagnose the true cause of a person’s pain.

This is simply not the case if you are visiting a licensed Massage Therapist, regardless of whether or not they use the term “Manual Therapy.”  I have seen and even personally received hands-on therapeutic techniques from a variety of different professionals, including Massage Therapists, Chiropractors, and even Personal Trainers, but that does not mean I would define any of them purely as a Manual Therapist.  Nor does it mean that I am discounting the effectiveness and need for these professionals.  I utilize them myself regularly and refer my own patients to them quite often.

I’m simply posting this information to help clarify a term that is being used in a wide variety of ways by a number of different professionals. If you are a consumer looking for Manual Therapy, my suggestion would be to search for a licensed Physical Therapist with a certification and/or residency in Manual Therapy.  These credentials can only be given by educational institutions  that have strict oversight from proper credentialing organizations.

You can also be assured that these practitioners have undergone rigorous training in the diagnosis and treatment of issues from head to toe and have spent years in both the classroom and clinic to obtain their licensure and credentials.

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