Manual therapies have been used to treat musculoskeletal disorders for thousands of years. Practitioners around the world—in countries with many different cultural influences and diverse medical traditions—have used their hands to manipulate various parts of the body to stimulate healing. "Manual" literally means "by hand." Thus, manual therapies consist of healing techniques that use the hands. There are more than two dozen techniques used worldwide. Among the most commonly known are acupressure, chiropractic, massage therapy, physiotherapy, and reflexology.
There are other, lesser-known manual therapies, including cranio-sacral therapy, manual lymphatic drainage, and myofascial release. We examine the most common therapies here:
Using the hand, the elbow or various devices, an acupressure practitioner applies a light force on various parts of the body following patterns. More than half of the scientific studies on acupressure showed that this technique was effective, but some critics have claimed "a significant likelihood of bias."
Most chiropractic work involves manipulation of the spine to achieve better vertebral alignment. Lower back pain is perhaps the primary complaint which leads patients to a chiropractor. Chiropractors are expert at treating musculoskeletal conditions without the use of drugs or surgery. Among others, many top athletes swear by their chiropractor's hands to keep them performing at their best and help them avoid injuries.
This is perhaps the oldest of the manual therapies. Massage practitioners chiefly use their hands, but also other parts of their body to apply pressure, rolling motions and other techniques to muscles and joints, to stimulate circulation and relax the patient. In today’s high-stress world, massage is proving ever more popular.
A trained reflexologist applies pressure to various parts of the feet, hands or ears to stimulate organs within the body associated with the part to which pressure is being applied. It is a philosophy that is similar to acupuncture—using points on the body to restore energy flow. Although there is not yet much scientific evidence to support its effectiveness, anecdotal evidence shows that patients are happier and more relaxed after treatment.