Manual Therapy: A Hands-On Approach

When you take a look at it, many physical and occupational therapy clinics provide manual therapy, but what is it? Is manual therapy just another fancy way of saying physical therapy?  NO.  The goals of manual therapy may be similar to that of orthopedic treatment – decrease pain, increase function and flexibility, but the process is different.

Manual therapy focuses on using the therapists hands instead of a machine or device.  While performing hands-on treatment, the therapist will look to find and alleviate the underlying cause of a patients pain.  A manual therapist will put direct pressure on a patient’s muscles and joints in order to manipulate them into proper positions. This combined with exercise, modalities and patient education can help a patient return to full function and prevent future injuries.

It’s important to note that there are different treatment techniques within manual therapy. Different injuries may respond better to different techniques, and therapists may also have a preference on what works best for their patients.  Some of the more popular techniques include:

  • Strain and Counterstrain (SCS): A gentle method that encourages moving the muscles towards positions of comfort rather than pain.  It’s mostly used for acute, traumatic and chronic conditions.
  • McKenzie Method: Focuses on centralization. Centralization meaning referred or radiating pain which promptly reverses and moves back towards the center of the spine and then decreases. The McKenzie Method is used worldwide and is commonly used for back, neck and extremity problems.
  • Myofascial Release (MFR): This technique is commonly used to relax constricted muscles and improve blood flow to help the muscles increase in flexibility and promote healing

Choosing a therapist that has attained a specialized certification in manual therapy, can help give you peace of mind.  When selecting a physical therapist it is important to understand that a degree or credential after a health care provider’s name provides identification of earned education, experience and competency criteria in their chosen field. Below you will find 3 of the main credentials to look for when you consider a therapist skilled in manual therapy.

Cert. MDT

The McKenzie Method of MDT is a reliable assessment process intended for all musculoskeletal problems, including pain in the back, neck and extremities (i.e., shoulder, knee, ankle etc.), as well as issues associated with sciatica, sacroiliac joint pain, arthritis, degenerative disc disease, muscle spasms and intermittent numbness in hands or feet.


A COMT Certification is considered the cornerstone of modern day Orthopedic Manual Therapy for treatment of both Spinal and Peripheral conditions, and uses primarily the assessment and treatment of the patient’s signs and symptoms to develop an effective treatment plan. This approach is patient-centric, and respects the diagnosis with an understanding of the pathology. It stands for Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist.


MOMT stands for Master of Orthopaedic Manual Therapy. The Ola Grimsby Institute was based on the Norwegian approach to manual therapy about 35 year ago. Over time the curriculum has been modified  to an eclectic approach which in itself is a school of thought. Through the various influences from other manual therapists, osteopaths and chiropractors our institute has grown from a technique concept to very extensive programs in assessments and interventions.