The Difference Between Physiotherapy and Massage Therapy

difference between physiotherapy and massage therapy


Massage therapy and physiotherapy are both healthcare specialties that deal with injury, pain, and mobility. While it’s obvious that these roles address the same patient conditions, what might not be so clear is how they do so differently. Both involve manual physical interventions to relieve patients’ pain, and both focus on the body’s ability to move and how this movement can be improved.

The key differences between these two types of therapy is that physiotherapy focuses on the anatomical structures of the body, while massage therapy emphasizes the soft tissue organs. Both disciplines use their areas of expertise to help patients heal faster from injuries or recover more quickly from surgery.


What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is the use of physical interventions to improve movement and reduce pain. It is often used to treat patients’ limitations in daily life due to injury or illness. Physiotherapists use a wide variety of manual techniques to treat these issues, including acupuncture, massage, electrotherapy, taping, dry needling, and exercise prescription. Because these manual techniques are used to treat a wide variety of issues, physiotherapy is often referred to as a “methods-based profession.”  Frequent uses of physiotherapy are for chronic pain, sports injuries and to improve range of motion.

The goals of physiotherapy vary based on the patient’s needs, but they can include improving function, reducing pain, increasing mobility and strengthening the body to prevent future pain injuries.


What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is a type of therapy that uses soft tissue manipulation to reduce pain, increase mobility, and improve overall health. Massage therapists work to relieve pain and tension in muscles and joints, as well as some internal organs such as the liver and kidneys. Local massage therapists use their hands, elbows, and forearms to apply pressure to different parts of the body in order to relieve pain, reduce stress and tension, and increase blood flow in the body, easing pain and increasing feelings of relaxation and overall health. Massage therapy can be applied to people of all ages.  Frequent massage therapy techniques include sports massage, Swedish massage and deep tissue massage.


How is Massage Therapy Different from Physiotherapy?

Massage therapy and physiotherapy both involve the application of manual techniques to improve mobility, relieve pain, and increase healing rates. These two disciplines, however, approach these goals from different perspectives, as they focus on different aspects of the body.

Physiotherapy focuses on the anatomical systems of the body (i.e. the skeletal, nervous, muscular, and circulatory systems) and their role in movement.

Massage therapy, on the other hand, focuses on the soft tissues that surround the body’s systems, such as muscles, fascia, connective tissues, and the skin.

Within these two disciplines, there are many types of massage and various types of physiotherapy. For example, a soft tissue massage addresses the soft tissues of the body, while a neuromuscular massage is used to address pain and dysfunction in the nervous system.


Differences in Techniques

Physiotherapy and massage therapy both employ manual techniques to treat patients with movement issues and pain. However, the way in which these techniques are performed differs between each profession. While massage therapists use soft strokes, palmar strokes, and other types of light movements, physiotherapists often use more forceful techniques, such as joint mobilizations. Massage therapists maintain a light contact between their hands and the patient’s body. Physiotherapists, on the other hand, often perform joint manipulations, which are more forceful and may even cause slight pain. Additionally, massage therapists are trained to avoid pressure on the patient’s abdomen, spine, and joints. Physiotherapists often manipulate these areas to address pain and improve mobility.


Key Takeaways

Massage therapy and physiotherapy are both approaches that help to relieve pain, heal injuries and improve mobility. Which one is right for you?  It depends in part on the exact nature of your condition, your overall physical condition, and what type of treatment appeals to you the most. 

Some conditions may be treated by either discipline, while others will require one or the other for effective treatment.  The best way to determine which treatment approach is right for you is to ask a professional.  Call Niagara Health & Rehab Centre to talk with a physiotherapy care-giver who can help you choose today.


Insurance Covered physiotherapy, chiropractor, massage therapy. Extended Health Coverage Direct Billing Available.

Clinic Hours:

Monday 8a.m.–7p.m.
Tuesday 8a.m.–7p.m.
Wednesday 8a.m.–7p.m.
Thursday 8a.m.–7p.m.
Friday 8a.m.–6:30p.m.
Saturday 8a.m.–2p.m.
Sunday Closed