Manual therapy has long been a component of physical rehabilitation programs, especially to treat those in pain. The mechanisms of manual therapy, however, are not fully understood, and it has been suggested that its pain modulatory effects are of neurophysiological origin and may be mediated by the descending modulatory circuit. Therefore, the purpose of this review is to examine the neurophysiological response to different types of manual therapy, in order to better understand the neurophysiological mechanisms behind each therapy’s analgesic effects. It is concluded that different forms of manual therapy elicit analgesic effects via different mechanisms, and nearly all therapies appear to be at least partially mediated by descending modulation. Additionally, future avenues of mechanistic research pertaining to manual therapy are discussed.
Nearly all types of manual therapy have been shown to elicit a neurophysiological response that is associated with the descending pain modulation circuit; however, it appears that different types of manual therapy work through different mechanisms.