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Discover 15 Types of Massage Performed by Physical Therapists

massage therapy physical therapy

Somewhere, somehow, somebody confused massage therapy and manual physical therapy techniques.

It is understandable that these two techniques have been confused over the years because at first glance they look very similar. However, there are vast differences between the two. Often people will receive massage therapy to soothe and relax their muscles. This is performed with the use of rhythmically applied pressure to the skin and is used to reduce tension, anxiety, stress, and promote overall circulation and relaxation. There is typically no proper assessment prior to the session and it is performed in a generalized manner. However, when it comes to hands-on care there is no one size fits all.

This is what separates massage therapy and manual therapy. Manual therapy consists of a variety of techniques based on formal assessment performed by a Doctor of Physical Therapy. With proper assessment, the Doctor of Physical Therapy can utilize specific manual therapy techniques tailored to the current needs of the patient. These techniques are used to enhance the healing process, correct postural faults, decrease myofascial restrictions to improve muscle length, facilitate movement to improve function, increase flexibility, and reduce swelling and pain. Manual Therapy is one of many tools that Physical Therapists use to help patients manage their pain.

Both massage therapy and manual therapy can be utilized as part of a person’s treatment plan to promote their overall health. The key is to know when you will benefit from one versus the other. Below is a non-exclusive list of conditions Manual Therapy can be helpful for:

NeckHerniated Disc, Facet Joint Impingement, Hypomobility, Stiff Neck, Post-Surgical, Chronic Neck Pain, Whiplash, Muscle Spasm, Spinal Stenosis
HeadachesMigraines, Tension, Headaches associated with TMJ Dysfunction
ShoulderImpingement Syndrome, Rotator Cuff Injuries, Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis), Post-Surgical, Biceps Tendonitis, Labrum Tears
ArmTennis Elbow, Golfer’s Elbow, Biceps Injuries, Nerve Pain
Thoracic Spine
Scoliosis, Postural-Related Pain, Spinal Stenosis
Low BackChronic Low Back Pain, Herniated Disc, Facet Joint Impingement, Hypomobility, Spinal Stenosis, Post-Surgical, Lumbar Sprain or Strain, Muscle Spasm, Sciatica, Scoliosis
HipImpingement, Snapping Hip Syndrome, Lateral Hip Pain, Piriformis Syndrome
KneePatellofemoral Pain, IT Band Syndrome, Patellar Tendonitis, Meniscus Injuries, ACL Tears, MCL Tears, Baker’s Cysts, Osteoarthritis
AnkleAnkle Sprains or Strains, Arthritis, Achilles Tendinopathy, Plantar Fasciitis, Chronic Ankle Pain
Chronic Pain ConditionsFibromyalgia, Myofascial Pain Syndrome

With all these different joints and conditions, it is amazing manual therapy can do so much. This is because manual therapy is an umbrella term for many different techniques which can be used either stand alone or in combination. Below is a list of some different types of manual therapy techniques that we offer at TORQ PT. If you would like to learn more about any of the follow, we offer FREE phone consultations so you can talk to a PT about the differences between massage therapy and manual therapy!

Swedish Massage“Less is more” in some cases and this technique has been effective with its use of long gliding strokes to promote relaxation of the muscles and improve circulation.
Deep Tissue MassageSlow, deep strokes to improve the extensibility of structures, allowing patients to improve their motion. This technique is great for soreness, tight muscles, and recovery.
Sports MassageThis technique is specific to the patient’s primary sport and aims to improve performance and recovery while helping to prevent injuries. It works by correcting muscular imbalances which may have led to overuse or traumatic injuries on the field.
Trigger Point ReleaseThis is a combination between Swedish massage and deep tissue massage with various techniques to relieve tense parts of the muscles. These tense areas of the muscles will often produce pain in other areas of your body and targeting them can make a world of difference.
Assisted Stretching
Gentle targeted stretching can help to improve your posture, flexibility, and sports performance. Manual stretching is relaxing, making it one of the best ways to recover from a hard workout or long run.
Passive Range of MotionThis gentle technique helps to break up adhesions within the joint, calm nerves and teach the body new pain free motions. 
Joint Mobilization and ManipulationSkilled graded forces are applied to joints in a desired direction to improve motion and normalize the joint’s function. These techniques are pain-free and help to stretch the joint structure to promote optimal joint healing and movement. Joint manipulation can be applied using a specific force and may produce a cavitation or pop. 
Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue MobilizationGentle gliding techniques are used to help the Physical Therapist assess and locate altered tissue properties. This can be felt by the patient through sensations similar to vibration. The instruments can then be used to facilitate proper healing of tissues by offering a mechanical advantage to release deeper structures.
Percussive MassageThis is performed by using the TheraGun therapeutic massager. This device is an extension of a therapist’s hands and can be used to promote relaxation or target deep tissues. In combination with stretching, this technique is a home run.
Vibration TherapyUsed with special foam rollers and sports massagers, this technique can help promote relaxation and improve circulation. 
CuppingThe cups create negative pressure on the skin which penetrates to deep layers of the tissue. This facilitates relaxation, loosening of adhesions, and reduction of muscle tension. Due to the negative pressure of the cups, this can also free up space to reduce stress on nerves and help move fluid out from a swollen area.
Active Release TechniqueTo help release stuck tissues, pressure is applied to an area while the patient is instructed to move in certain ways to help relax the muscle.
Nerve FlossingSimilar to a plumbing snake, this technique uses the body’s nerves to help free up space. The result is more room for your nerves to glide freely and less pain associated with the nerves becoming trapped or compressed by soft tissue.
Compression Band FlossingThe Physical Therapist applies a latex elastic band which compresses the patient’s soft tissues. The patient is then instructed to perform certain motions, which then causes shearing of muscles and the fascial layer. When combined with various hands on techniques, the floss quickly frees up muscles and improves flexibility.
Assisted Foam RollingTraditional foam rolling can be boring and difficult to reach the right spots. Foam rolling performed by a professional can help to release these hard to reach areas and teach you how to perform these various techniques to promote long term health.

TORQ PT has many options when it comes to helping our patients get back to the things they love without the use of pain meds, injections, or surgery!

We offer FREE discovery visits with a Doctor of Physical for you to see if manual therapy is an appropriate treatment option and to answer any questions you have about our services!