Can manual therapy increase flexibility?

Manual therapy techniques such as massage, cupping, and dry needling all work in similar ways but can they increase our flexibility?
Ashleigh Flanagan
February 18, 2021

In the short term, definitely. In the long term, it depends.

Manual therapy techniques such as soft tissue massage, manipulation, foam rolling, cupping, and dry needling all work in similar ways, both locally and systemically, to increase our ability to stretch further in the short term That effect can be quite profound, sometimes leading us mistakenly to believe that the route to greater flexibility is through manual therapy.

Some likely mechanisms by which manual therapies work include;

- Increased parasympathetic drive (rest recovery state) resulting in reduced threat and increased pain tolerance

- Increased tolerance to noxious input via habitation

- Increased viscoelastic properties of tissue

- Reduced sensitivity of mechanoreceptors

While these effects are short term, an important part of flexibility training is learning to tolerate the uncomfortable inputs. It takes time and consistency for our bodies to be reassured that stretching is not a threat and that we will act in ways to protect our bodies as needed. Manual therapies can help us recognise stretching inputs as familiar and safe. This reduces pain sensitivity and can give us confidence to stretch further.

Unfortunately, we cannot ‘release’ ourselves flexible. Improvements observed following manual therapy techniques MUST be consolidated by active flexibility training and will still require time and consistency to be maintained in the long term. That said these techniques can be a really valuable adjunct to flexibility training.

In this clip below, Adriahn is using a variety of manual therapy techniques and the result is clear.  These results are genuine, and there was no additional stretching, however, I have been able to put my toe to my forehead before, so this range is a little familiar to me.

The example used here of Functional Cupping is quite interesting. It is the equivalent of hiking up a hill with a heavy backpack and then taking off the back pack. In the same way that the otherwise arduous walk now feels much easier, despite you not being any fitter or the incline any gentler because you've removed the extra load. In our example, the stretching feel so much more comfortable once the additional load (in this case the cups) have been removed.

Despite being a physio I ‘never’ have soft tissue work done.

This experience has made me realise it’s crazy not to use all the help I can get.

If you'd like to see Ashleigh for a Flexibility Assessment you can book one by clicking here.

If you were curious about the functional cupping mentioned in this article, you can book a remedial massage appointment with Adriahn by clicking here.

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