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Soft Tissue Mobilization vs. Massage: Is There a Difference?

By: Debra McCormick, PTA of The Green Room Physical Therapy

Is there a difference between Soft Tissue Mobilization and Massage?

The short answer to this question is YES.

While there are similarities and the two may seem the same, there are significant differences between these two treatment methods. Massage is the general concept, but soft tissue mobilization is the specific how and what.

Massage is the use of rhythmically applied pressure to the skin and soft tissues of the body. Massage is used to reduce tension, anxiety, stress, and promote overall circulation, relaxation, and flexibility. Massage is defined as the rubbing and kneading of muscles and joints by the hands especially to relieve tension. Massage is an overarching technique that may be applied by massage therapists.

A Physical Therapist can utilize Soft Tissue Mobilization techniques to enhance the healing process and decrease irritation to soft tissue. Physical Therapists include soft tissue mobilization, myofascial release, strain-counter strain, muscle energy techniques, joint mobilizations and manipulations, and mobilization with movement as part of their treatment to assess dysfunction, increase joint range of motion, decrease pain, and improve healing.

Soft Tissue Mobilization is performed by Physical Therapists or Physical Therapist Assistants to:

  • Loosen soft tissue restrictions and improve movement and muscle activation.

  • Therapeutically assess and treat soft tissues (ligaments, muscles, tendons, and fascia) for the purpose of creating beneficial effects on the nervous, musculoskeletal, lymph, and circulatory systems.

  • Stretch and apply deep pressure to break up rigid muscle tissue, relax muscle tension, and move fluids trapped in the tissues that cause pain and inflammation.

Physical Therapists will use these techniques to treat soft tissue injuries including muscle strains and sprains.

Being able to implement soft tissue mobilization techniques requires a significant amount of training in human anatomy and physiology and understanding how manipulating the tissues will impact physical function. Soft tissue mobilization is just one of the strategies that we use to help our patients meet their functional goals and reduce or eliminate their pain. Interested in Physical Therapy that incorporates manual therapy, including soft tissue mobilization into your Plan of Care? Give us a call or request an evaluation here!

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