How Massage Therapy and Physical Therapy Coincide and Work Together To Achieve Health Related Goals

Massage therapy. Physical therapy. What’s the difference? You might have asked yourself this question. In general, massage techniques are used to relieve tension in the muscle and soft tissue, and to restore normal length and therefore function to muscles. When function is restored, pain often decreases or goes away entirely.

Physical therapists and massage therapists both use massage techniques and both seek to restore function by using different techniques. Physical therapists generally see patients after an injury has occurred; they try to restore normal muscle and soft tissue function and decrease pain. When muscle injury occurs, muscles respond by becoming tight. Often, scar tissue is produced that shortens the muscle length, thereby restricting movement and causing pain.

The Focus of Physical Therapy

Physical therapists use clinical or medical massage therapy to loosen and relax muscles. This massage typically focuses on specific problem areas of injury to restore function. Physical therapists will also use techniques to restore the normal communication between muscles and the nervous system, thereby restoring normal function and mobility.

The purpose of medical massage is to treat certain medical conditions to restore function. Physical therapists will use techniques to break up and mobilize scar tissue, release muscle compression on nerves, reduce muscle tension and pain and improve circulation.

Physical therapy is generally very injury-focused, with the therapist working with the patient to try to restore full function as quickly as possible. Patients commonly see a physical therapist for auto injuries like back and neck injuries or neurological conditions like sciatica or similar ailments.

How Massage Therapy Is Different

On the other hand, massage therapy is considered a holistic or wellness technique and is more preventative in nature. Regular massage can reduce overall stress and can also reduce strain on a certain problem area before injury has a chance to occur. Massage therapists do specialize in certain treatments, and can also give good advice about improving posture, but generally, do not provide care after injuries. Most clients of massage therapy are healthy people looking to reduce stress, prevent injury and improve overall wellness. While a patient may see a physical therapist once in a lifetime, clients might have regular visits to a massage therapist for years and years.

Massage Links The Two Together

Massage is the common denominator between physical therapy and massage therapy. The two types of therapists often work together to help patients achieve health-related goals. For example, a massage therapist might see a patient who has an injury and will refer them to a physical therapist for treatment. Conversely, a physical therapist might suggest ongoing massage therapy to keep a certain muscle functioning smoothly.


Massage therapy is relaxing, and it reduces stress and relieves pain. Visits to a massage therapist can help to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. After all, if you regularly get stress relief and relax your muscle groups, you will be less prone to injury.


When a physical therapist performs his or her work, muscle relaxation is not the primary goal, even though it may be a result of the treatment. For massage therapists, relaxation and wellness are the primary goals. A massage therapist will manipulate both the muscles and soft tissues to provide stress and pain relief.


While massage is not meant to replace medical care, it is a foundational part of treatment that pairs nicely with physical therapy. More and more, physical therapists and other medical professionals are seeing the benefits of massage therapy, and as such, massage in being recommended more along with standard treatments for a number of medical conditions.

Massage is so much more than a way to pamper yourself. Massage can help with the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Pain
  • Soft tissue and sports injuries

If you’re thinking about massage, let your doctor know you're trying it and ask his or her opinion about how massage pairs with any medical treatment you are receiving.

People are turning to alternative health and wellness, and massage is one way to take charge of your health. Wisconsin requires licensing and certifications for massage therapists. We are fully licensed, fully trained and fully experienced to take care of all your massage needs. If you’ve been thinking about trying massage therapy, go for it! Give us a call and we will answer all your questions. We would love to have you as a new customer, and Ann will be happy to book your first massage therapy session. Give us a call today and start on the path to better health and wellness.