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What is Joint Manipulation?

By Alex Terris
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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Joint manipulation is a method of mobilizing a joint in order to aid the treatment and recovery of an injury. The purpose of joint manipulations is to increase the range of motion and mobility of the injured joint. It’s usually considered to be an alternative treatment used by practitioners such as chiropractors and osteopaths. The technique of joint manipulation uses a high level of force to push the it beyond the level of which the patient is able to do normally and increase the range of passive movement. Joint mobilization often causes a loud crack or click.

The method of joint manipulation is usually used on synovial joints — which covers most of the types of movable joints in a human — that are causing pain. People who’ve had joint manipulation performed can sometimes find relief from pain associated with muscles and bones. It can also help to increase the range of motion of a particular joint, which allows the body’s kinematic chain to function more correctly. One of the theories as to why joint manipulation has these effects is that there may be a possibility it can release trapped plica or synovial folds.

There is still some debate as to whether joint manipulation is safe to perform. Even though it has been used for a long time there is evidence to suggest that at least in certain situations it should not be used. Although some clinical studies have shown the risk of permanent injury or damage due to the manipulation of joints to be low this could be attributed to the fact that most cases of injury are not reported. There are certain situations where there is no doubt that manipulation should not take place such as if the joint is near a tumor or growth plate.

Although the potential long-term risks are not yet fully understood, there are often short-term side effects to chiropractic techniques such as manipulation of the joints. These can include a headache or fatigue — especially if the manipulation was in the spine or neck. The patient may also feel a general discomfort in the area of manipulation for a short time after it took place.

Despite the fact that clinical evidence has so far only shown that joint mobilization can induce a temporary relief from pain, reduce the recovery time for a back sprain and increase the passive movement range of a joint, it is still used for a number of different conditions. For example, it’s commonly used for many spinal injuries. The clinical effectiveness and safety of this practice is yet to be determined.

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