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Soft Tissue Mobilization versus Massage: Are they the same thing?

Soft Tissue Mobilization versus Massage: Are they the same thing?



I recently overheard a conversation between two women in a coffee shop.  One was describing how getting a massage felt so good.  The other commented about how she just goes to a physical therapist when she feels like getting a good massage.  It was obvious after a few seconds that both women had some misconceptions about the role of massage therapists and physical therapists.  A massage is not the same thing as the soft tissue mobilization provided by a skilled physical therapist.

Massage is defined as the rubbing and kneading of muscles and joints by the hands especially to relieve tension. Soft tissue mobilization is a specific assessment, evaluation and treatment of soft tissues (ligaments, muscles, tendons, and fascia) for the purpose of creating beneficial effects on the nervous, musculoskeletal, lymph, and circulatory systems.  Massage is an overarching technique that may be applied by massage therapists or physical therapists.  Soft tissue mobilization is applied very specifically for the treatment of musculoskeletal, lymphatic, or neurological effects.  The intention and implementation technique is very different.  Massage is the general concept, but soft tissue mobilization is the specific how and what.  Just like cardiovascular exercise is the overall concept but high intensity interval training is the specific training technique.

Being able to implement soft tissue mobilzation techniques requires a significant amount of training in human anatomy and physiology and understand how manipulating the tissues will impact physical function.  Physical therapists specialize in evaluation, assessment and treatment of movement function disorders.  Soft tissue mobilization is just one of the strategies that we use to help our patients meet their functional goals.

If you have any strains, sprains, or questions about the techniques that physical therapists use to help people get back to functioning, please contact us.  You can call Professional Physical Therapy and Training at 973-270-7417.  Our offices our located within the YMCA locations in Madison and Summit, NJ.  You do not need to be a member of the YMCA to visit with us.


Image courtesy of Ambro /

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