Manual Technique Courses Don’t Matter As Much As You Think
Let’s say you need to hire a carpenter. As you shop around online and browse the different potential hires, you see one who advertises his set of 20 different drills and power saws he likes to use to get the job done.
Is this the feature that gives you confidence in hiring him to build your deck, though?
Then why, as therapists, do we so often assume we will become better practitioners simply by taking countless continuing education courses on manual techniques and adding additional treatment tools to our practice?
I see many fellow professionals jumping on the con-ed train straight out of the gates, often as soon as they are immediately out of school. IASTM, ART, IMS; everyone wants to add to their toolkit. With so many options on how to treat a client’s pain, we would undoubtedly be able to reap the rewards of client and financial success, right?
Here is the deep, dark, reality of it, however.
At the end of the day, these courses just teach you multiple different ways on how to touch people. My explanation when clients ask me about the benefits of different types of treatment techniques is this:
“They are simply different methods of achieving the exact same goal”.
Essentially, having three different techniques under your belt is like having a hammer, a mallet, and a nail gun to join the same planks together to build a fence. It makes little to no difference in the finished product.
When I entered the work field, my first initiative was to simply get my hands-on clients and work on refining my foundations. Regardless of how many different methods I had to “release” a client’s quadriceps muscle, none of them will help me one bit if I don’t know when and why to do so and have a long-term plan to follow up with it. Whether I use the ART technique that I pay annually to display on my cards or the traditional massage strokes that I learned in my undergrad, I am going to achieve the same outcome.
What will be the difference-maker in your practice, then?
It will be if you can learn to use those techniques mindfully. It’s knowing where in the tissue to address instead of simply chasing pain. It’s creating an exercise plan coupled with proper education to put the onus of control into the client’s hands,
The only con-ed course I have taken to date, in fact, has been a joint-specific one on the TMJ. I didn’t feel the need to learn new techniques. I needed to understand anatomy and physiology better. Courses that help us refine our knowledge of how the body is structured and how it moves will be valuable. Even more valuable will be courses on truly understanding the mechanisms of pain, how to speak to our clients, how to properly educate them, and methods of moving them through stages of change as they recover.
“Soft skills” such as client communication and an ability to build a positive relationship with them are a much more valuable asset to a practitioner than manual techniques. We know from current research that a client’s predicted outcome improves based on how much they like their therapist, how much control they feel over their situation, and their belief in a treatment’s ability to get them better. The tool that you use to get these results isn’t made of metal, it’s made of trust.
In a professional climate where both clinicians and clients can find ourselves hung up on the latest, trending techniques to address pain, we often see a drop in quality of care because the clinician has forgotten to use those foundations. These types of practices, unfortunately, run the risk of poor client outcomes and treatment-reliance. While it’s ok to add a tool to our kit here and there, where appropriate, we owe it to our clients to constantly return to our basics (whether or not you want to incorporate con-ed techniques) and educate them on the real things that will help them find relief.
I don’t care how many different types of power saws the carpenter has. I care about if he knows how to properly measure and place the cut.
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The author wrote an article about how it’s not important to take manual therapy CE classes, sounding as if he had a lot of experience with them. Then he stated that he has only attended one CE class. Further, his professional background is not manual therapy; he’s an ATC and exercise physiologist with some training certs. His practice is exercise-based.
In short, this author lacks credibility in writing about this topic. An author who is primarily a manual therapist with experience attending a variety of CE classes would be far more credible.
Jason Erickson so would it have made a difference if I wrote the article? Because I agree with the point of the article.
And his practice isn’t entirely exercise based, he does plenty of manual therapy in his practice. His profession is also a 4 year degree similar to a physio, so would you think differently if a physio wrote it?
The point of the article is still valid regardless of who wrote it. We can take 20 different courses on different manual therapy techniques which are all just teaching us different ways to touch people. While it’s important to have some different techniques to use, it’s far more important to build a therapeutic relationship, build trust, and educate our patients.
If this article was written by an author who was primarily a manual therapist with experience attending a variety of CE classes, I’d take it more seriously. Though there is some merit to the opinions stated in the article, it relies on the mistaken assumption that manual therapy classes do not emphasize anatomy, physiology, “how the body is structured and how it moves”, “truly understanding the mechanisms of pain, how to speak to our clients, how to properly educate them, and methods of moving them through stages of change as they recover.”
The quality of manual therapy classes varies greatly, but all of the things this author wants to learn more about can be found in a number of classes that also teach ways of touching clients in helpful ways. Perhaps the author should attend more classes and discover more of what he hasn’t learned yet. I have yet to meet a PT, MT, ATC, or any other manual therapist who couldn’t learn to be better from many manual therapy classes.
Many of the worst therapists I’ve met were those who had little/no continuing education, and relied primarily on what they had learned in school. The author of this article might be excellent for someone with only five years of professional practice, but every day the things he learned in school become more and more outdated.
Hi Jason. I understand what you are saying about my profession, but I think you have the wrong idea about it. As an Athletic Therapist in private practice, my treatments are half manual therapy and half exercise. I don’t know the exact scope of American ATC’s, but as a Canadian AT, my specialization with exercise does not take away from my manual skills.
With that being said, I do not rely on just my knowledge from school to treat patients or claim that extra tools and skills have no effect. I’m cautioning against therapists relying on those tools while ignoring pain science. I keep current with research on the topic and have found myself as a much stronger practitioner than what my bachelor’s left me with, so don’t think that I stopped after school with no desire to improve.
I’m sure anyone who has kept themselves up to date with pain science has found success with clients who have previously seen other therapists who simply try to scrape or needle away the pain with no other mindful thought beyond chasing the pain and treating the tissue. Conversely, we also all personally know those practitioners who take all the courses for gaining the skills but abandon their foundations while treating there techniques as magic bullets.
This isn’t a “manual skills suck” article. It’s a statement that other areas of focus hold more potential for client recovery and that rushing to add tools does not automatically equate to an ability to help clients.