The role of manual therapy in your fitness program

There went Thanksgiving!  December holidays are just around the corner, and if you’re a planner like me, you may already be contemplating what you’d like to incorporate into your New Year’s fitness and wellness goals.  Whether or not your personal thought process has taken you into next year already, at a time when many fitness advocates will be pushing for more time spent working muscle and elevating heart rates, I’d like to propose another idea:  include more constructive relaxation for your muscular-skeletal system by incorporating some manual therapy.  Receiving manual therapy can help you overcome or avoid injury, and can make the time spent working on strength and endurance more productive.

While most of us are familiar with massage therapy, manual therapy tends to be a less familiar term.  Let’s start with a definition.  What is manual therapy?  Massage and manual therapy use treatments which include kneading and manipulation of muscle tissue, joint mobilization, and stretching.  The difference between massage and manual therapy lays primarily in the intent:  generally speaking, the intent of massage therapy is relaxation, whether achieved through calming the nervous system with the soothing aspects of massage or by techniques which reduce muscle tension.  In contrast, the primary intent of manual therapy is addressing the cause of a specific dysfunction. Dysfunction can cause injury or pain, or in less extreme cases it can lower performance levels, making it harder to reach an athletic or fitness goal.  Manual therapy may include more orthopedic tests and evaluations than you would expect from a relaxation-based massage.  While massage is often done with sheets and oil, manual therapy is more likely to occur clothed, with minimal amounts of lubricant applied to the skin.  At Corpo Kinetic, we use both massage and manual therapy with our clients, as appropriate to each individual’s needs and goals.

Three reasons manual therapy can be a positive addition to your fitness program:

1)  Get an evaluation before you begin.  Want to start jogging, but not sure if that ankle you sprained last spring is up for it?  A manual therapist can evaluate the strength of the muscles you’ll be taxing, and make a recommendation for whether or not they feel you are ready to begin.  They can also help clear up any remaining stiffness or lack of mobility left in the ankle so that it’s less likely to get re-injured.

2)  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Getting excited to start something new, starting off strong, then getting sidelined by an injury not only can set your progress back, it’s absolutely no fun.  While safe training and good body mechanics can take care of a lot in prevention of injury, it’s a rare human who comes with no areas of concern in their body, whether it be the elbow broken as a kid, the knee which acts up every once in awhile, or the back which used to give you trouble.  Getting a manual therapy “check up” as part of your fitness program can make sure all parts are working at their optimal level.  If small areas of muscle tension begin to build up, a manual therapist can help discover what may be off, and help release the problem areas before they become something larger.

3)  Optimal performance comes from a balance of strength and mobility.  If your fitness goals include a “performance” goal, such as running your first 10K, biking up Skyline Boulevard, or improving your golf swing, you’ll need strength to get there, but you’ll also need mobility in your joints and muscles.  For example, your best running time will come when you can push off strongly with the hip extensors, and then have the length in your hamstrings and mobility in your hip socket for the leg to swing forward in your full stride length.  If you’re training enough to get the strength, and not seeing the increases you want in your performance, consider adding some manual therapy.