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Physiotherapy vs. Massage Therapy: Which One Do I Need?

woman with shoulder and back pain

Have you ever suffered from pain or discomfort and you weren’t quite sure if you needed physiotherapy, or massage therapy? Both physiotherapy and massage therapy can help manage pain; however, there are many differences between the services. Two main differences include:

1. The purpose of each service

Massage therapy is commonly used for immediate relaxation of pain and muscle spasms, whereas physiotherapy is geared more towards rehabilitating muscle and joint function.

2. The level of education acquired by the health care providers

Physiotherapists in Ontario are required to have a Master’s degree, and to use the title Physiotherapist, Physical Therapist, or PT, they must be registered with a regulatory college such as the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario.

Registered Massage Therapists are required to complete a Massage Therapy diploma program recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (or equivalent), and in order to use the designations Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) or Massage Therapist (MT) they must obtain a Certificate of Registration from the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario.


Physiotherapy leg and knee exercises

Physiotherapy services are often affiliated with retirement residences and child development centres. However, physiotherapists can also be accessed through home care services as well as both publicly funded and private clinics. Often, when a person is admitted to the hospital for a surgery that requires ongoing treatment, such as a joint replacement or heart surgery, it is likely that he or she will be referred to physiotherapy for recovery. Physiotherapists create individually designed programs to help treat the specific needs of the client.  Some common treatments include:

  • Exercise programs developed for the individual’s strength, range of motion, and function
  • Joint mobilization and manipulation exercises to reduce pain and stiffness of muscles
  • Airway clearance methods for patients experiencing  breathing difficulties
  • Management of incontinence through pelvic floor physiotherapy
  • Treatment for arthritis and multiple sclerosis
  • Programs for fractures, sports injuries, and back and neck sprains

physiotherapy foot exercise

Individuals often seek physiotherapy treatment because they are in pain, or they may have an ongoing condition that requires long-term management. Physiotherapy can also be used as a preventative measure by providing education and daily exercises for injury prevention.

Physiotherapy might be the right choice if you:

  • Experience pain or lack of motion as a result of an event, ranging from a strain to a motor vehicle accident
  • Had surgery and are in need of rehabilitation
  • Are looking to incorporate more physical activity into your life and require better motion
  • Want to learn how to prevent injuries
  • Are looking to increase range of motion and/or manage an existing condition

Massage Therapy

Woman getting massage therapy treatment

Massage therapy is a therapeutic hands-on treatment used to manipulate soft tissue in the body, including muscles, ligaments, joints, tendons, and connective tissue. Some benefits of massage therapy include:

  • Alleviation of chronic pain conditions
  • Elimination/ reduction of muscle and joint pain caused by occupational stresses or intense workouts
  • Muscle massages for everyday discomfort and pain
  • Reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine to help stabilize the client’s mood
  • Improvement of sleep
  • Headache relief
  • Circulation improvement

Ontario’s massage therapists are primarily self-employed. They work in a number of settings such as massage therapy clinics, chiropractic clinics, health spas, long-term care facilities, community health clinics, hospitals, and private practices.

woman receiving massage therapy pinching

Massage therapy is often chosen as the appropriate treatment when the client is in need of immediate relief for pain and discomfort.

Massage therapy might be the right choice if you:

  • Require muscle and joint pain relief
  • Are in need of relaxation due to high levels of stress
  • Want to improve your posture
  • Need to decompress tired and overworked muscles

The decision between Physiotherapy and Massage Therapy will ultimately depend on your specific condition and symptoms. If you’re still not sure which service is right for you and would like to learn more, contact us today.

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