Therapeutic Massage Versus Relaxation Massage

Dec 8, 2008Updated 8 months ago

Therapeutic Massage in a Clinic
For some folks massage therapy is an occasional “splurge” or treat, usually at the day spa around a holiday, birthday or on vacation. Other clients of massage therapy may receive a therapeutic massage weekly for chronic health conditions such as headaches or back pain. Massage is even used in palliative care for relief from cancer treatment symptoms.

Comparing Therapeutic Massage to Relaxation Massage

A relaxation massage is a rather straightforward session using classic Swedish massage techniques. The massage therapist will use light to medium pressure, depending on the client’s preference, and the intent of the session is to help the client relax. This type of massage is often performed in a day spa or resort. Spa add-on treatments might include a paraffin hand treatment, a sea salt or sugar body scrub, or a mud or cream application to the body. Relaxation massage might be scheduled as part of a half-day package and the client might also plan to receive a facial, pedicure or haircut in the same visit.

Therapeutic massage sessions are setup quite differently from a spa massage. The setting may be a clinic, hospital or private practice office. A first time client may spend extra time at his or her session to complete a very thorough intake form detailing current and past health complaints. This type of session may retain a large relaxation element to it but advanced techniques are likely to be used for pain and chronic health issues. A therapeutic or clinical massage practitioner will see a client very frequently for the first few weeks or months. This might include half hour massages three times a week, or weekly hour massages for a couple of months. Advanced techniques such as deep tissue massage and trigger point therapy may be used in a more clinical setting.

Clinical Massage Applications

The more clinical, or therapeutic, applications of massage therapy might include:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic body aches and pains
  • Cancer massage or palliative care massage
  • Pediatric massage – especially in cases of special needs children such as Autism and Down’s syndrome
  • Sports injuries
  • Repetitive stress or strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Whiplash and accidents
  • Arthritis
  • TMJ or jaw complaints
  • Posture and weight issues

Choosing a Massage Therapist

Picking a massage practitioner based on wellness needs is a wise idea. The potential client of a therapeutic massage should interview a few massage therapists over the phone prior to an appointment. Here are some possible questions to ask a massage practitioner:

  • What is his experience working with this condition/complaint?
  • Did he receive specific training to help with this condition/complaint?
  • How frequently does he recommend sessions to start with?
  • Will the session frequency be tapered off when the condition/complaint improves?
  • If he is not familiar with this condition/complaint can he recommend a colleague who specializes in this area? Or perhaps a bodywork modality that would be a better fit?
Some clients assume that the massage therapist in a busy spa or salon will be able to offer a more therapeutic or clinical massage outcome. This is infrequently the case since most spa or relaxation massages are booked closely together allowing little time for a clinical assessment. Likewise the training a massage therapist in a spa setting has is frequently geared towards relaxation and spa massage techniques making her unqualified to offer a more advanced treatment.

Further Reading:

How to Get the Most Out of Your Massage

Massage at the Office