Medical Massage versus Relaxation Massage

Massage has a reputation for being relaxing and a great opportunity to de-stress. These are great benefits to massage, but massage, particularly different modalities of massage, have more to offer than relaxation (as if we need more!). Many massage therapists are working to leverage the benefits of these various modalities, such as neuromuscular massage, towards becoming integrated members of your healthcare team to treat specific pathologies. Although relaxation massage may treat a pathology (specifically conditions related to stress) or a medical massage will often provide relaxation the focus and intention behind these sessions will be different; and you will want to look for a massage therapist with additional certifications in medical massage modalities.

Below are some differences between medical (or clinical) massage and relaxation (or wellness) massage to help you determine which style might be best for you. If you are recovering from a specific injury or condition you may want to consult with your physician, physical therapist, or other member of your healthcare team about incorporating massage techniques into your treatment plan.


Medical Massage

Relaxation Massage


Treat pathologies, follow course of treatment from referring healthcare practitioner

Relaxation and stress relief

Reason for treatment

Medical necessity – scientific, problem-solving

Client request – intuitive, nurturing

Termination of care

Maximum medical improvement/completed course of treatment

Clients needs have been met or have changed

Measure of success

Functional (measurable) outcomes

Client satisfaction

Primary massage techniques/modalities

Clinical massage techniques such as myofascial release, neuromuscular massage, trigger point therapy, orthopedic massage, structural analysis

Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, craniosacral therapy, hot stone massage

Client condition

Usually seeking treatment for a specific issue related to injury

Maintenance/proactive care

Additional reading:

Have you ever used medical massage to treat a condition?

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