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Massage Therapy: Misunderstood and Misconstrued


Massage therapists and their clients are at times unclear about the definition of massage therapy, which creates challenges for the profession.

Massage is generally defined as manipulation of soft tissue, whereas massage therapy is the systematic application of massage to enhance health and well-being.

It is common practice to use the terms “massage” and “massage therapy” interchangeably when, in fact, they are two separate concepts.

Let’s investigate the current definition to move toward clarity on what constitutes true Massage Therapy within the profession.

Massage Therapy

The experience of receiving a massage by manipulation of the soft tissue is a part of providing true massage therapy but just as important is providing client education on postural awareness, breath work, stretches to help maintain loose muscles, exercises to reduce pain, and, when applicable, promoting mindfulness of meaningful nutrition and proper sleeping habits…to name a few.

Studies have shown that some massage therapy clients were more compliant with following self-care instructions given to them by massage therapists† than by other health care providers. I attribute this in part to the close bonding between massage therapists and clients who frequent often and are therefore more readily accessible to compliance follow-ups at subsequent treatments.

Ethical Considerations & Trust

The current level of education for entry level massage therapists is not bad but is sometimes inadequate for constructing and carrying through effective treatment plans for complex cases.

Therapists are encouraged to continue their education by working alongside experienced mentors and work with as many different clients as possible over the course of their career to further develop their skills and therefore improve treatments and client outcomes.

When starting out, remember that just because you’ve done school doesn’t mean you know enough, monitor your clients progress closely and when it has stopped, but pain persists, refer the client to a different health care provider.

Massage therapy is a profession built on the idea of trust, recognizing and admitting when you are no longer able to help your client can be a challenge, but for the safety and well-being of your clients, as well as yourself and the future of your practice, pay attention and know when your clients need something other than massage therapy.

National Center of Biotechnology Information PMC5017817

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Alexandra's Elements Spa content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician or other qualified health provider regarding a medical condition. 

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