How Is Massage Therapy Different from Physiotherapy?

How Is Massage Therapy Different from Physiotherapy?

As both massage therapy and physiotherapy revolve around improving health and wellbeing, it’s not surprising that some confusion has arisen as to the differences between the two. Both require the therapist to manipulate the body in some way, but the practices are not interchangeable, although they can be used in conjunction with one another depending upon circumstances.

What Massage Therapy Provides

Massage should never be considered the red-haired stepchild of physiotherapy; this practice stands on its own and provides numerous benefits to those who experience it. Massage therapy involves manipulation of the soft tissues of the body. Massage has been practiced for thousands of years in all societies and is excellent in various ways:

  • Massage therapy helps the client to achieve a state of relaxation, freeing them from the stress of daily living.
  • Massage releases neurotransmitters such as endorphins, which alleviate pain and produce a mild feeling of euphoria.
  • Sore, tight muscles find relief under the skilled hands of a massage therapist. Massage is also wonderful at relieving the pain of trigger points.
  • Increased circulation is another benefit of massage therapy, assisting not only in helping to heal strained muscles, but also bolstering the cardiovascular system, including lowering blood pressure.
  • Massage also helps to increase the flexibility of the joints, making sprains less likely to occur and relieving some of the discomfort of arthritis.

Massage therapists must complete a minimum of 12 months full time study to meet Medibank Private standards as well as a designated number of training hours to assure that they are competent to deal effectively and safely with their clients.


Physiotherapists undergo a more rigorous educational program than do massage therapists, often necessitating several years at a college or university. Although massage therapists must have a good knowledge of anatomy, physiotherapists must also understand the treatment of different medical problems, and will provide a program that affects not only the therapeutic aspects of the treatment, but also the diet and lifestyle of the patient.

Although the actual history of physiotherapy extends back to Ancient Greece, the true beginning of the art began in Europe in the 19th Century, and the practice soon spread to the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The returning wounded from World War I provided quite a bit of stimulus to develop physiotherapy further.

Physiotherapy is often used after someone has undergone a serious surgical procedure or has been involved in an accident. People recovering from hip implants, knee replacement, heart attack or stroke will require a physiotherapist to help them recover their health and return to normal as much as possible.

This branch of the healing arts uses a number of different methods to achieve the goals set out for the patient.

  • Exercises are an important part of physiotherapy – patients must often be taught how to walk after stroke or accident, and exercises also play a large part in developing strength in arms or hands post-surgery.
  • Massage is also a part of physiotherapy, and the therapist uses this to help with circulation problems or atrophied muscles. Resistance training as well as manipulation of the spine and joints is also included.
  • Those who must use a wheelchair or crutches are assisted in their proper use by a physiotherapist.
  • Physiotherapy also uses electrotherapy to assist patients. In addition to ultrasound, therapists will use diathermy (the use of electric current to produce heat on a specific part of the body for a number of reasons). Physiotherapists also use TENS, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, to help alleviate pain or stimulate muscles.
  • Those who undertake physiotherapy also are adept at splinting and taping to help mitigate injuries.

Physiotherapists often work in close association with doctors and nurses either in a hospital or clinical situation. Some physiotherapists work more or less independently and are available for private consultation like massage therapists.

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