Although the terms are often used interchangeably, manual therapy and massage therapy are very different practices with different goals and performed by professionals with very different qualifications.

While manual therapy and massage therapy can be used as helpful complementary healing techniques, they are not the same thing. Here are some of the differences.

Qualifications of the practitioner

Going for a massage at a spa or physiotherapy office can be a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. It can also be helpful if you’re healing from an injury or hoping to alleviate chronic pain. To be a massage therapist in British Columbia, a person must complete a two-year certification process at an accredited school, which also includes practical training under supervision. Once completed, the massage therapist is certified and then governed by the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia. If you need to undergo manual therapy physiotherapy, you will need a qualified physiotherapist. Unlike a massage therapist, to practice in British Columbia a physical therapist must first obtain a bachelor’s degree from an approved institution and then go on to complete the Master of Physical Therapy degree.

Purpose of the practice

Although both massage and manual therapy physiotherapy involve a qualified practitioner placing hands on a patient in various positions and movements to promote healing and wellness, massage has a more generalized intention and a less targeted approach. Massage aims to promote relaxation, reduction of tension, increased flexibility, and improvement of circulation, and can also have added mental health benefits such as stress reduction and lessened anxiety. Massage therapy can be performed on the scalp, arms, legs, lower and upper back, as well as on legs, hands, and feet. The pressure of the movements is most often dictated by the client and there aren’t many restrictions to the amount of time that needs to pass between massages.

In the case of manual therapy, physiotherapists use extensive knowledge of human anatomy and the specific condition, complaint, or injury of their patient to create a treatment plan that targets the injured area with therapies designed for those exact muscles, joints, and soft tissues. Manual therapy has a wide range of treatment procedures to address inflammation, positional faults, pain, and immobility. Some examples of manual therapy could include soft tissue mobilization, myofascial release, and manual traction.

Bringing your treatment home with you

Typically, patients attend massage therapy for all the benefits already stated as well as to simply relax away from home and let go of the business of daily life, even if only for an hour. Massage can be a wonderful way to balance a busy life and keep your mental health in check. While a partner may be able to give a massage at home, people usually go for massage treatments because of the level of skill of the massage therapist as well as for the relaxing atmosphere you can’t always recreate at home. With manual therapy, your physiotherapist will likely give you homework to take home and practice each day. Part of your treatment plan will include a set of exercises that can be done at home to help reinforce the therapy you received at the physiotherapy clinic.

When choosing between massage therapy and manual therapy physiotherapy, it’s important to consider the nature of your complaint and the level of treatment you hope to receive. Discussing your concerns with both massage and physiotherapists can help you determine which practitioner is right for you so you can start the healing process.