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Massage Therapy Vs. Physical Therapy

By Jason Marcus ; Updated August 14, 2017

Massage therapy and physical therapy are practices designed to maintain and improve body conditioning and functioning. Massage therapy is part of alternative and complementary medicine and includes structured movements for manipulating skin, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Physical therapy is a health care profession that provides care to people with limited abilities to move and may include therapeutic exercises, manual therapy techniques and adaptive equipment.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a touch therapy involving techniques for palpating and moving soft tissues of the body. According to MassageTherapy.com, "the massage system may include, but is not limited to, such techniques as, stroking, kneading, gliding, percussion, friction, vibration, compression and passive or active stretching within the normal anatomical range of movement." Swedish massage is the most common massage form and includes effluerage, a stimulating palm stroke, petrissage, a muscle lifting technique, and tapotement, a striking movement.

Benefits of Massage

Massage therapy can ally with standard medical treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. Massage is helpful for boosting immunity, controlling blood pressure, managing depression and anxiety, relieving pain and stiffness, sports-related injuries and stress relief. Additionally, as a passive exercise, MassageTherapy.com indicates that massage provides benefits including stretching tight muscles, stimulating lymph flow, increasing joint flexibility and improving circulation.

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Physical Therapy

Physical therapists develop fitness and wellness-oriented programs for maintaining and restoring movement and function. Limited movement can be the result of age, injury or disease. According to the United States Department of Labor, after assessing movement dysfunction, treatments can include "therapeutic exercise, functional training, manual therapy techniques, assistive and adaptive devices and equipment, physical agents and electrotherapeutic modalities." Physical therapy specialties include cardiopulmonary, neurologic, geriatric, orthopaedic and pediatric.

Benefits of Physical Therapy

The United States Department of Labor reports that "physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from, for example, back and neck injuries, sprains, strains and fractures, arthritis, burns, amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, conditions such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida, and injuries related to work and sports." The physical therapist creates a plan to promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability. The therapist also works to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs.

Medical Considerations

You should always discuss massage therapy with your doctor. Massage therapy is not a replacement for regular medical care. Physical therapists work in hospitals and outpatient clinics and may consult with other professionals including physicians, dentists, nurses, educators, social workers, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists.

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