6 Effective Physical Therapy Techniques

  • hand-massage
    From Hands-On Massage to Nerve Stimulation
    Physical therapy (PT) is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Your physical therapist will develop a plan of treatment specific to your needs. This plan might include several types of therapy. Options are hands-on techniques as well as many types of exercise. Your plan may also include such techniques as electrical and sound wave stimulation. Here are the details on six effective techniques and how they might help you.

  • doctor examining male patient's hands
    1. Manual Techniques
    Manual techniques are a hands-on type of PT. Your therapist may use his or her hands to move joints that you can’t. The name for this is passive exercise. You may need this type of therapy if you have stiffness or weakness. Manual techniques also include massage of joints or soft tissues. Massage therapy helps reduce swelling and muscles spasms. Hands-on PT can be very comforting. This helps you relax and have less pain.

  • woman-doing-strengthening-exercises
    2. Therapeutic Exercise
    Your physical therapist may teach you exercises that help strengthen muscles near an injury. This will help you get back the full movement of a joint. That's called full range of motion. You may need this type of exercise if you have a condition like low back pain. It also can help if you're recovering from surgery or an injury. These exercises strengthen and stretch the muscles around key joints. This helps you stay flexible. You might start exercises in a rehab clinic or other facility and continue them at home.

  • Green Ice Pack
    3. Hot Pack and Ice
    Both heat and cold can be part of physical therapy. An ice pack or an ice bath can decrease swelling. Icing slows blood flow to an injured area, which helps reduce inflammation. Icing may also help reduce pain. A hot pack increases blood flow. Heat can help loosen up a stiff muscle or joint. It may also help reduce pain from a muscle spasm. These techniques work well for conditions that cause swelling, stiffness, pain or spasms. A physical therapist will tell you how to apply heat and ice to your injury.

  • group-of-people-exercising-in-water
    4. Hydrotherapy
    Another name for hydrotherapy is aquatic physical therapy. It's movement or exercise done in water—like a pool or tub. Water supports your body and offers resistance to movement. But, it also lets you move freely so you can strengthen your muscles without putting weight on your joints or bones. Hydrotherapy can help you increase strength, flexibility and endurance. This technique is most effective for people who cannot tolerate weight-bearing exercise, like walking, because of pain or weakness.

  • woman-receiving-ultrasound-therapy
    5. Therapeutic Ultrasound
    This technique uses high frequency sound waves. The sound waves go painlessly through your skin. Your tissues absorb the energy from ultrasound. This process creates heat. Ultrasound energy goes through a hand-held instrument the therapist moves over the skin near your injury. The ultrasound energy increases blood flow and loosens tight tissues. It helps speed up healing. It's especially helpful for conditions that cause pain and stiffness.

  • electrotherapy-on-knees
    6. Electrotherapy
    This technique involves passing electrical energy through your skin. A common example is TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). Electrotherapy reduces pain by interrupting pain signals in nerves near the site of your injury. It may also change the way your central nervous system—your brain and spinal cord—processes pain. Your physical therapist may use a hand-held device or place electrodes on your skin. This technique helps many painful conditions.

6 Effective Physical Therapy Techniques

About The Author

  1. About Physical Therapist Careers. American Physical Therapy Association. http://www.apta.org/PTCareers/Overview/
  2. Manual Therapy Techniques. American Physical Therapy Association. http://guidetoptpractice.apta.org/content/1/SEC38.extract
  3. Low Back Pain Exercise Guide. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00302
  4. Practice Areas. American Physical Therapy Association. http://www.moveforwardpt.com/ForHealthCareProfessionals/Detail/practice-areas
  5. Treating Sports Injuries with Heat and Ice. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/sports-injuries/Pages/Tre...
  6. Miller D, Smith N, Bailey M, et al. Overview of Therapeutic Ultrasound Applications and Safety Consideration. J Ultrasound Med. 2012;31(4):623–634.
  7. DeSantana JM, Walsh DM, Vance C, et al. Effectiveness of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. Curr Rheum Rep. 2008;10(6):492–499.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.