The History of Physical Therapy Continuing Education – The Development of Manual Therapy

Recently I was fortunate enough to interview one of the living legends of Physical Therapy. Before asking him about his specific techniques, I took the opportunity to ask him about the history of Manual Therapy in our profession. Here is what he had to say:

Interviewer: Definitely wanted to get you on the phone today to talk more about your approach to treatment and your techniques that you’ve developed, but before we get into that I’d just like to ask you a few questions about your background.

I noticed in your bio you credit being influenced by the likes of Stanley Paris, Dr. James Cyriax, Freddy Kaltenborn, Geoffrey Maitland, Robin McKenzie, and Robert Elvy.

That’s an impressive list of who’s who in the world of manual therapy, so I’d just love to hear a little bit more about your connection and interaction with these people. If you can think of any examples of perhaps you learned this from this person and it’s something you’ve always carried with you, or perhaps lead you down your own path in your manual therapy work?

Manual Therapy Expert: Well, first of all, all of those people contributed to my knowledge and I believe made me a better therapist. No matter who you go to in this world no one can fix everything so better the better armament you have to deal with patients, the better

Cyriax of course was a doctor and he gave us a system of diagnosis which is still practiced today. I’m a manipulative manual therapist and of course the only thing about dear old James Cyriax was that his manipulations were not as specific and they looked gross and always looked threatening.

But we were lucky because Stanley Paris, who was following Cyriax’s work and realized he didn’t have all the answers, went off in the early 1960s and did courses with Freddy Kaltenborn where he learned to manipulate spinal joints. Of course he came back to New Zealand and started to teach us what he had learned.

One weekend, 12 of us gathered in Wellington with Stanley. It was an interesting group. Robin McKenzie was there and also in the group were two people who eventually became McKenzie teachers in their later years. And there was Ian Searle. He became Secretary of IFOMPT for many, many years.

But anyway, he taught us what he had learned and as a result McKenzie goes off to Europe and he studies with Freddy.

Then we got courses underway in New Zealand on Freddy’s techniques and we brought him out in the 1960s virtually every year to teach or share with us his knowledge and his techniques and his assessments.

We were doing very well but it was always to do with just the spinal joints. Then Freddy said, “Well, we should know something about extremity joints.” He was going to teach us but believe it or not in 1970, or 1969, he had a minor heart attack and wasn’t allowed to travel.

So, he said to us, “Well, if one of you would like to come to across to Europe. I’m running a course in Helsinki and I’ll see you have a place.” Of course that’s where things began for me. I went and did that course and came back and my role was then to teach the extremity techniques, and McKenzie taught the spinal techniques for our association in New Zealand.

Interviewer: Fantastic.

Manual Therapy Expert: But that’s how we got started. Geoffrey Maitland, he taught us handling skills and Bob Elvy was the first one to – well, Bob Elvy was a very special Australian to me. He came up with a new form of assessment. He was looking at neural tension. He came up with a new form of treatment.

Dear old Bob then did some scientific research and he proved to the world, or showed the world, that nerves move independently through your tissues when you move structures. I thought he was an incredible boy. Of course since then David Butler’s running with what he started and become very successful.

But anyway, that’s how it all began and that was the beginnings for us of manual therapy in a big way in New Zealand.