Physiotherapy and massage therapy both work to promote physical and mental health and well-being. Both therapies aim to restore the human body to its optimal function.
So, what is the difference between physiotherapy and massage?
Because both practices may use similar techniques, it can be hard to know which one is right for you.
Here is a quick run down of the difference between physiotherapy and massage.
What is Physiotherapy?
Physiotherapy is a medical profession which incorporates the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of a wide variety of health conditions.
These include injuries and movement disorders which cause
- reduced range of movement
- weakness and
- altered mobility.
Physiotherapists are highly trained professionals who implement treatment plans based on the most up to date evidence. They usually hold a bachelors, masters or professional doctorate degree and are registered with the Physiotherapists Registration Board.
They build and adapt management strategies based on solid clinical reasoning to treat different problems. These problems can range from acute to chronic and degenerative diseases.
As a result of this, physiotherapists usually work with various age groups – including children and adolescents, to adults and the elderly population.
A treatment plan will focus on therapeutic exercise, personal exercise programmes and can also involve manual therapy or ‘hands on’ techniques.
As a result, treatment may involve
- electrotherapy modalities such as TENS and ultrasound
- manual therapy techniques such as joint mobilisations and manipulations of the limbs or spinal vertebra
- deep tissue massage and soft tissue mobilisations
- dry needling and
- muscle energy techniques.
Physiotherapists often have links with GP’s and surgeons, and can refer for diagnostic procedures where appropriate, including x-rays and MRI scans.
How is Massage Therapy Different?
Massage therapy is an alternative medicine incorporating structured movements and techniques used to manipulate muscles and ligaments.
It is a manual or ‘hands on’ treatment utilised to restore soft tissue function and relieve pain and stress.
Massage therapists are certified and trained to perform techniques around the bodies soft tissue.
Techniques including kneading, gliding, vibration, compression and stretching. Therapists usually use their arms, forearms and elbows and hands.
These techniques result in stimulating circulation and blood flow, which boost the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells within the body.
Therefore, helping to reduce muscle tension or muscle spasm, resulting in improved physical and athletic performance and the promotion of healing.
Some massage therapists are also able to prescribe stretches and postural training, depending on their education.
Some benefits of massage therapy are to assist the body with
- recovery from intense workout sessions
- managing anxiety and depression and
- in women, help relieve pregnancy related pain and symptoms.
How Do I Know Which One is Best for Me?
Knowing the difference between physiotherapy and massage therapy is a great way to distinguish between which treatment is best for you.
- Physiotherapy is generally recommended when there is an injury or serious ailment, or as a part of a recovery program, post surgery.
- Massage therapy is more commonly preferred for mental and muscle relaxation and general well-being.
Nevertheless, a good massage therapist will know their limitations as a practitioner. What this means, is that they will often refer clients on to a physiotherapist if they feel that it out of their scope of their practice.
Likewise, a physiotherapist might refer a client to a massage therapist if they feel that the client needs more soft tissue work. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do the exercises they prescribe!
As a result, both physiotherapy and massage can work well in conjunction with each other. Which means that when both therapies are combined, they can provide a full-service approach to rehabilitation and recovery.
If you’re not sure if you need to see a Physio or massage therapist, we suggest that you book in with one of our skilled practitioners and from there, we can evaluate what you need.
Article written in conjunction with Sian Henderson of Sydney Physiotherapy.
Sian qualified as a physiotherapist in 2012 from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. With a diploma in sports massage and courses in sports injury first aid, kinesiology taping and dry needling, Sian utilises a range of manual therapy and ‘hands on’ techniques for symptom management.
Believing in a holistic approach to treatment, she also focuses on specific and progressive exercise prescription, providing patient centred care based on the most recent, up to date evidence.