What does ‘hands on” physio really do? 

Physiotherapist’s as well as other professionals often utilise hands-on techniques or manual therapy as part of their treatment approach. There are a plethora of different techniques out there. These techniques aim to focus on many different tissue issues and some even claim to be a special ‘fix’ for certain issues people may have.

So, what does hands on physio really do? When we place our hands on clients, our aim is to desensitise sensitive areas of the body. In essence, we are talking to your nervous system when we do this. We know from the research that we are not changing the local tissues we are treating i.e. muscle, ligaments, tendons or fascia or any other connective tissue structures. We know that even weeks of aggressive stretching cannot change the length or quality of these tissues. In reality, we are calming the nervous system down in a sensitive area.

Think of what happens when you bang your knee off the coffee table or when you get stung by a nettle. Our natural instinct is to rub the painful area with our hands. What we are actually doing here is sending a different stimulus from the skin up to our spinal cords. By doing this we are interrupting the danger signal that was sent due to banging our knee. Manual therapy can work in a similar way. We apply a stimulus with our hands to an area of the body that is sensitive or painful, thus altering the danger signal and reducing pain.

What hands-on treatment does not do is identify the source of pain or identify bones or joints that are ‘out of place’. Firstly, pain is far more complicated than having a sore muscle or a sore tendon. Pain is much more to do with our beliefs and understanding rather than what is happening at the tissue level. Secondly, our bodies are extremely robust and resilient. Structures such as discs, our spine and our sacro-iliac joints don’t just simply move out of place, as this is practically impossible. That nice pain relieving effect we get when we receive  a massage or a spinal manipulation is due to a calming of the central nervous system in response to hands-on treatment. 

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