Right out of the gate, this is the wrong question to ask. Can you be your own manual therapist? 100%.
YouTube, Reddit, Tik Tok, Google. There’s information everywhere. You can pretty much be your own anything. Plumber, personal trainer, stylist, baker, realtor, financial advisor. Anything.
The right question to ask: should you be you own manual therapist? Nope. Full stop.
The dangers of self-treatment for injury or acute pain, without the assistance of a certified professional, include:
- Further injury
- New injury
- Unsafe practices and pain reducing techniques, ie. drugs, etc
Not to mention, “non-adherence to physical rehabilitation is often high – particularly in self-managed, home-based programmes, despite good adherence being important in achieving positive outcomes” (Essery et al., 2016).
It’s easy to watch a video on how to cure knee pain. What’s not so easy, without the help of a professional and often imaging, is to discover the cause of your pain and, thus, the correct solution. Guessing will often result in making current injuries worse, as well as wasting valuable time.
Even though we don’t recommend you go it alone on your manual therapy journey, we know there are reasons that someone might choose to do it themselves. Financial, emotional and even physical factors, like distance to a professional if you live in a rural area, might all play factors to varying degrees. We don’t all have the benefit of benefits and that alone can make or break whether a person seeks treatment from a professional manual therapist or not.
So, if you are determined to do your own thing here are some guidelines you should consider sticking to when becoming your own manual therapist:
Step #1: Consult with a Professional
Even if you aren’t planning on working long term with a physiotherapist, chiropractor, athletic therapist or another professional, even just your family physician, an initial consult is key. Even a virtual consult is better than nothing.
We have a saying that we live by “assess, don’t guess.” A professional can help assess your movement patterns, joint health and requisition imaging if there are no clear answers after initial poking and prodding. Knowing without a doubt what is causing your pain will be invaluable. Plus, if it’s something like a tear then self-treatment likely won’t be enough.
It should also be common practice not to start any new forms of physical therapy or exercise without first consulting your doctor.
Step #2: Do your Research
Now this step is crucial if you’re determined to self-treat. Doctors YouTube, Instagram and ChatGPT will not cut it here.
You MUST find credible sources written/backed by medical or scientific professionals, drawing upon proper research and findings. When it comes to your body and your health, a yoga instructor’s social media page is not good enough to justify standing on your head for 20 minutes to cure lower back pain.
I’m not saying they can’t be right…occasionally…What I am saying is that in a world where anyone can say anything you have to wear your critical thinking cap anytime you’re taking in information. Even now. Don’t take our word at face value. Look into our resources, question things in the comments, challenge us. We should all be held accountable for the information we choose to put into the world.
Find the right kinds of resources to back up everything you do in the name of your health. And one article should not be law. If something works then there will be ample research backing up a claim. Dig. And dig deep.
If this doesn’t sound like something you want to do, it’s time to touch base with a professional.
Step #3: Find the Right Tools
This is almost carry over from step #2. There are so many therapeutic tools you can use at home these days. TENS machines, massage chairs, foam rollers, Theraguns, and more. You have to do your research. Not all tools were created equal and not all will be effective for your particular issues.
Find credible sources and read reviews.
Also, not all issues need fancy bells and whistles (as much as I would love to get a shiatsu neck massager). Some issues can be cured with exercise alone and others might be resolved with a single band or even just a lacrosse ball.
This is, again, why we highly recommend an assessment at the very least. A professional can help guide you in the right direction and make recommendations.
Step #4: Be Consistent
We said it above, but it deserves repeating. One of the toughest parts of self-treatment is compliance. Have you ever been to a physiotherapist who sent you home with homework? Exercises, heating/icing protocols? Did you do it? The odds suggest probably not.
No matter what the reason, we are not great when it comes to home-based fitness and self-care. Life gets in the way. We’re lazy. Our boyfriend’s aunt’s neighbour’s fish caught a cold. The reasons are endless. Even though consistency is one of the top indicators for success in anything, but especially when it comes to physical fitness and wellness.
If you struggle to hold yourself accountable when it comes to your health then being your own manual therapist won’t work. Just like with a professional, you need to schedule appointments and show up. Otherwise you won’t see or feel progress.
Step #5: Check in Regularly with a Professional
This step is especially important if things feel like they’re not getting better or they’re getting worse.
Even if you feel like you’re on the mend, it can help to check in with a professional for general maintenance. You can ensure things are healing correctly and nix future issues before they ever really begin to cause problems.
We often do maintenance sessions with our previous clients to check in and make sure everything still looks good.
Our athletic and registered massage therapists regularly work with clients to help alleviate pain and rehab injuries, old and new. Some we see regularly and some we see only once. Regardless of frequency, it’s always best practice to ensure that our clients have a clear idea of what their injury is and the steps necessary to achieve success when healing.
It is also common practice to give our clients homework. The rate of recovery increases when clients do additional self-treatment at home in addition to working with a professional manual therapist. Not just because of the extra time spent on the injury, but because of the level of specificity a certified professional can give. They can lead you to the correct forms of rehab for your particular injury from the very beginning with little guesswork.
Examples of self-treatment modalities we might explore with our clients include:
Traction is a form of decompression therapy that eases pressure on joints. “[It] is a modality that uses force to elongate soft tissue and separate bone surfaces at the joint. The aim is to address general joint hypomobility, reduce subacute inflammation, treat nerve root impingement, and treat disc herniations”.
Though typically facilitated by a therapist for lower back pain, this form of therapy can be achieved with bands on your own and for almost any joint in the body.
This type of self-treatment is “a popular intervention used by both rehabilitation and fitness professionals to enhance myofascial mobility” (Cheatham et al., 2015). Typically, this type of therapy is facilitated with a foam roller or lacrosse ball. Perfect for at home.
Unfortunately, this type of therapy is still relatively new and there has not yet been enough research done to suggest optimal guidelines for things like treatment times, frequency, pressure or rhythm.
Trigger Point Therapy
In its simplest definition, trigger point therapy is the releasing of tender knots found in muscle tissue. This can be done with dry needling or massage. It is also possible to release knots by trapping a lacrosse ball between the muscle and a hard surface (like a wall or floor) and gently rolling out the tissue.
We’re pretty sure this one needs no explanation. Massage is a manual therapy that involves the manipulation of soft tissue and muscles. There are many different styles of massage that vary in technique, application and pressure.
Massage can be done on your own to a number of muscles; however, there are often hard to reach places, such as the back, that will either require assistance from another person (ideally a registered massage therapist) or device (such as a massage chair).
This form of therapy requires a massage gun that “uses rapid and repetitive pressure combined with vibration therapy. The massage head moves quickly and forcefully, applying pressure directly to your soft tissue, while the vibrations engage the outer layer of skin” (UCLAHealth, 2022).
Massage guns can be purchased easily and inexpensively online and are often a staple in many home-therapy routines.
When using a massage gun though, it is important to note that they are not appropriate for all people. While some people experience great relief from using a massage gun, we have had a number of clients note worsening of symptoms or pain after use, particularly in clients with fibromyalgia and other chronic forms of pain.
Our advice here is to start on the lightest setting, progressing slowly and carefully over time.
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) Machine
You may have seen commercials for these types of machines on tv. These guys are small, battery powered machines connected to electrodes that apply a mild electrical current to your tissue through the skin.
It might be important to note, however, that there is actually very little scientific research supporting the use of a TENS unit for benefiting individuals with chronic pain.
Heat, Ice and Elevation
Heat, ice and elevation are techniques that are typically used on newer/acute injuries.
For more information on treating newer injuries, like rolling your ankle, check out our blog “Make PEACE with your Injury, then give it some LOVE: A guide to Injury Management”.
Your best bet for success is to work with a professional and check in regularly while doing home-based programming on your own. Be your own manual therapist, but do it under the care of a professional.
For help on starting your journey to recovery, whether it’s to book a consult or find out what equipment is right for your home therapy journey, don’t hesitate to reach out!
We’re also happy to book appointments for initial consultations or maintenance sessions (both virtually and in-person).
Cheatham, S. W., Kolber, M. J., Cain, M., & Lee, M. (2015). The effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, Muscle Recovery, and performance: A systematic review. International journal of sports physical therapy. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26618062/
Essery, R., Geraghty, A. W., Kirby, S., & Yardley, L. (2016). Predictors of adherence to home-based physical therapies: A systematic review. Disability and Rehabilitation, 39(6), 519–534. https://doi.org/10.3109/09638288.2016.1153160
Traction therapy. Traction Therapy – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/traction-therapy
UCLAHealth. Considering a massage gun? here’s what you need to know about percussive therapy. UCLA Health System. (2022, February 2). Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.uclahealth.org/news/considering-a-massage-gun-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-percussive-therapy#:~:text=What%20is%20percussive%20therapy%3F,the%20outer%20layer%20of%20skin.