Joint manipulation: What’s poppin’ ?
What is it?
Joint manipulation is a technique that has been researched and put into physical therapy practice since 1916. However, joint manipulation has been described as a part of medical treatment dating back over 4000 years. Other professions such as chiropractors and Osteopaths use joint manipulation as well; although techniques can differ among our different professions.
By definition, joint manipulation is a quick stretch applied to a joint with enough force to cause a release of nitrogen gas. When the nitrogen gas releases it causes the popping sound that we hear, much like taking a suction cup off a window as the pressure quickly changes there is a sound when the gas bubble is released. With this change in joint pressure, we achieve neurophysiological (nervous system) and biophysiological (muscular and joint) effects; such as improved muscle function, decreased pain perception and improved joint mobility.
Why is it useful?
Joint manipulations are useful to incorporate in physical therapy treatments as it has been shown to decrease overall duration of therapy and healing time. EMG studies have been able to show increased muscle function/activity immediately following the manipulation which makes it beneficial to use prior to doing our therapeutic exercises as it can help restore correct movement patterns to allow performance of exercises without increased pain.
Who benefits from it?
Joint manipulations are used most in the spine but can also be used in the joints in the extremities, such as elbow, wrist, fingers, SI joints, hip, ankle and feet. It is used when the joint is feeling stiff or if movement is restricted.
Does it hurt?
Techniques taught and used in physical therapy are not painful and most patients are able to report immediate improvement afterward.
Is it safe?
Joint manipulation is very safe, in fact it is safer than taking over the counter NSAID medications. The most serious adverse effect from spinal manipulation is estimated at 1 case per 100 million and side effects from NSAID use is produced in 30% of users.