Manual Therapy v. Massage – Anthony Lo
- Posted on: Aug 10 2022
What exactly is the difference between the services provided at a physical therapy clinic and a health spa? To the untrained eye, manual therapy and massage can look very similar. As a matter of fact, there may be some overlapping features of both services. However, the key to understanding these two separate services are knowing what their goals are.
Manual therapy (services rendered by a licensed physical therapist or physical therapist assistant) and massage therapy (services rendered by a licensed massage therapist) each have their own procedures and treatment goals. As outline by the American Medical Association (AMA) and American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the procedures and goals for these two services are as follows:
Procedures include techniques such as effleurage (circular movements), petrissage (lifting/squeezing), and/or tapotement (stroking/percussion/compression). Treatment goals include restoring muscle function, increasing circulation, decreasing specific stiffness, and promoting tissue relaxation. Treatments are generally applied to a large area over several types of soft tissues and regions.
Procedures include manual traction, mobilization/manipulation (of joints), myofascial release, manual lymphatic drainage, and trigger point therapy. Treatment goals are aimed at restoring muscle/soft tissue function, increase range of motion without pain, and increase soft tissue/myofascial mobility. Treatments are generally applied to a specific area or region and can be both active and passive in terms of patient participation.
As evidenced by the procedures and treatment goals of both services, both are beneficial in their own way however have different objectives (eg. Massage therapy aiming to improve general soft tissue/muscle mobility versus manual therapy aiming to improve soft tissue/muscle AND joint mobility of a specific area). To further enhance therapeutic effects of manual therapy, physical therapists/physical therapist assistants will incorporate therapeutic exercises/activities as part of a client’s plan of care in order to rehabilitate and restore function to a specific joint and associated muscle group. As such, both manual therapy and therapeutic exercises (the thing most people want to skip) are integral to getting the most out of physical therapy!
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