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Massage vs. Physical Therapy to Treat Sore Muscles

Posted by Brian Spence on Nov 3, 2017 8:00:00 AM

Massage, Physical Therapy, Allied HealthWhen work or other life circumstances cause unexpected aches and pains in muscles and joints, the result is often a visit to a local physical therapist or masseuse to ease tension to prevent further injury. It might seem like the two are virtually the same, so deciding where to go might be a difficult choice, but the reality is that the two have less in common than you might think. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy may at times include massage techniques, but often focuses on deeper issues and different techniques for healing. Rather than just muscle massage, here are some things you can expect if you visit a physical therapist:

  • Muscle Stability Exercises that focus on creating stability in the injured muscles or joints.
  • Muscle Strengthening Exercises to prevent further injury and begin to rebuild muscles correctly.
  • Range-of-Motion Movement Exercises to increase mobility and possibly move into other types of treatment.
  • Guided Stretches that release sore or tight muscles over time.
  • Manual Therapy, a hands-on treatment plan that includes gentle pressure to joints and muscles to restore and heal.
  • Education on Injury Prevention to avoid further injury or prevent regression during treatment.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is sometimes included in physical therapy and typically includes direct pressure applied to muscles to ease aches or pain, but that may not treat the underlying cause of the pain. Some types of massage therapy include:

  • Swedish Massage, the most common massage style in the United States, utilizes gentle movements and motion on more superficial muscle layers.
  • Acupuncture, a less common massage style that focuses on massaging pressure points for pain relief.
  • Deep Tissue Massage is known as the most uncomfortable of the massage options and involves the use of hard, continuous motion deep into the muscles to treat muscle stiffness, soreness, and chronic pain.
  • Hot Stone Massage is a type of heat therapy where hot stones are strategically placed on the body to eliminate pain and loosen tight muscles.

Comparing the two lists above, you can see that there are several differences between physical therapy and massage therapy. Another noticeable difference is the standard length of time for each treatment. Physical therapists are likely to recommend a program that will last anywhere from 6-12 weeks, while massage therapy is more likely to occur on a need-to basis. For minor aches and pains, massage therapy might be a good option, but for more serious injuries and problems that involve more than just superficial muscles, a visit to your physical therapist is a good first step to take.

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