Physiotherapy and remedial massage are both great options to help treat and manage aches and pains.
Sometimes it isn’t clear which is best for a particular situation.
This is a common question that we get: ‘what is the difference between remedial massage and physio?’ And ‘which should I book in for?’
While they have some similarities, they also have some differences.
Our Remedial Massage Therapist, Matthew Robinson, has provided this information can help your decision-making in deciding physio vs remedial massage.
What is remedial massage therapy?
There is a neat summary of what it is on the remedial massage therapy page, but to put it simply, it is a hands-on treatment that is mainly directed at muscle and fascia.
Its aim is relieving pain and muscle tightness or spasm.
Massage has other benefits like relaxation, stretching, soft tissue mobility, lymphatic drainage and more.
Remedial massage is a term that encompasses a wide range of massage techniques.
A therapist will use relaxation techniques, deep tissue massage, and much more to achieve the aims that the patient has.
Think of it as massage to ‘remediate’ or improve something!
Here are two scenarios
1. You have woken up with a new sharp back pain that is stopping you from standing up straight.
2. You have been gradually getting sorer shoulders which you have had on and off for years, but it’s worse at the moment with extra time at the desk.
Physio or massage?
When should you book for physio over remedial massage?
Physiotherapy is an allied health profession that requires a university degree. Their training means they can assess, diagnose and manage a variety of injuries and conditions.
If you have a problem that is acute (new) and you haven’t seen a doctor or had any other kind of formal assessment or diagnosis made, physio is going to be a better starting point.
Our physios tend to think very ‘big picture’ meaning they treat using a ‘whole person approach’ rather than just treating an isolated body part.
This means that if you have a longstanding back problem, they will consider the whole package, not just your back. In the literature, this is referred to as a ‘biopsychosocial approach’, and the evidence is that necessary if you are trying to treat a longstanding problem.
We tend to provide a healthy mixture of hands-on treatment, exercise and education.
The hands-on treatment can involve soft tissue massage techniques, but your physio is going to want to look at movement patterns, posture, strength, flexibility, effect of repeated movements.
They might give you some targeted exercises or general exercise to do as well.
They will definitely explain the problem, why it hurts and give you a plan and a timeframe.
Physiotherapy would be a better fit for the first scenario above.
When should you book a remedial massage over physio?
Remedial massage is considered an alternative or complimentary health practice.
The main focus is relieving muscles of soreness and tension.
Remedial massage might include some basic muscle activation exercises and incorporate some stretches, but it largely focusses on the hands-on treatment of massage.
People that regularly have massage are usually familiar with what they normally respond to with massage, which can make it a little easier to decide if it is a ‘massage problem’ or a ‘physio problem’.
The second scenario above would be suited to remedial massage, but equally a physio would be a reasonable choice too.
There is some overlap with what physio and massage can achieve. Both therapies can be used to treat and manage acute and chronic pain.
In short, if you aren’t sure what you are dealing with, if you really need diagnosis and someone to work out what is wrong, I’d suggest starting with physio.
For me as a massage therapist, I think it’s always important to highlight that massage doesn’t and shouldn’t replace exercise as part of your general health.
While muscle tension or fatigue can inhibit or restrict your ability to stretch or load muscles, exercise has an important role to play in your self-management.