Massage and Manual Therapy

What's the difference between massage and manual therapy?

At Momentum Physical Therapy in Bozeman, Montana, I'm often asked how manual therapy and massage are similar or different. At first glance, it may be easy to mistake certain types of manual therapy for massage therapy. However, there are significant differences between these two treatment methods.

The American Medical Association defines the two as follows:

Massage Therapy – Entails hacking, cupping, plucking, kneading, and skin rolling. It can alleviate stress or tension and improve circulation.

Manual Therapy – Includes joint manipulation and mobilization, soft tissue mobilization, and manual traction. It can assess a person's injuries and limitations and enhance healing.

The definition of manual therapy differs slightly depending on the medical professional's scope of practice. For example, in the physical therapy field, manual therapy utilizes skilled, hands-on techniques, including but not limited to manipulation/mobilization, used by the physical therapist to diagnose and treat soft tissue and joints to reduce pain, increase range of motion, decrease swelling or inflammation, assist the body in muscle or soft tissue repair, extensibility and/or stability, and facilitate movement to improve function.

Manual therapy is one type of intervention a physical therapist uses to evaluate and treat injuries and limitations.

The term "Manual Therapy" includes the term "Massage Therapy" as an integrative part. However, these two terms are not exactly interchangeable. Massage therapy is considered a specific type of manual therapy. Licensed massage therapists and physical therapists are two qualified providers to perform massage therapy.

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