Manipulation is a manual therapy treatment technique that your physical therapist may elect to use. An advanced form of mobilization, manipulation is a skilled technique that involves the sudden, small movement or thrust that is performed at the end of joint range to help restore motion. The technique is performed primarily to the joints of the neck and back, but it can also be performed on other joints if needed.
Some people refer to manipulation as “cracking of a joint” because the movement of the joint sometimes produces a clicking or cracking sound. Others refer to manipulations of the spinal joints as “adjustments.” However, at SSPT, we do not consider this technique as a method to “put something back in.” Rather, the technique can help free up or unlock a joint, resulting in improved movement and, ideally, sustained improvements in function. For example, if a person has “slept wrong” or turned quickly and finds it difficult to turn his or her neck, manipulation can help “unlock the joint.” In this case, only a few visits of manipulation are typically needed to free up the joint for full normal function.
Manipulation is not used with all patients. Each person is evaluated and tested to see if the technique is appropriate. Specifically, we use the mobilization techniques of manual therapy—which include manipulation—to:
Orthopedic manual physical therapists and chiropractors use similar manipulative therapy techniques. However, the difference in treatment approach is that physical therapists treat more than just the joint. Physical therapists use manipulation in conjunction with other complementary treatment techniques, such as therapeutic exercises and ergonomics training, to address the cause of your discomfort, relieve your pain, restore function, and prevent further problems.
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