Therapeutic vs Relaxation Massage

What’s the big deal? A massage is a massage, right?

If this is the first thing that occurs to you, chances are good that you’ve never had a true therapeutic massage. (It may also be called remedial, medical, clinical…)

An important thing to note: a deep tissue massage is not automatically a therapeutic massage.

So what is the difference?

The most important difference is the purpose of the treatment. If you are ‘just’ doing general care, you are most likely going to be getting a relaxation massage. (I don’t think this is a bad thing; far from it. We don’t take good enough care of ourselves.)

A therapeutic massage, however, has a specific area of focus. If it’s a small area or it resolves quickly during that session, and there is time to work on other areas, many therapists will include therapeutic work in a relaxation massage. That is especially common in deep tissue or sports massages, as clients often book these with a specific issue in mind.


However, a true therapeutic massage will include a number of things your typical spa doesn’t. A detailed intake, going over your previous care, problems, possible causes, and accessory problems is pretty much standard.

Many therapists also include tests to see the extent of your problem, from a simple range of motion demonstration, to hands on tests that may remind you of the Physical Therapy homework you were supposed to be doing. Tests that involve passive range of motion (where the therapist moves the area instead of your muscles) can easily (and unobtrusively, with a few questions about how it feels) be done during the session. You may not realize they are doing it all, particularly if they look for physical clues of pain (frowns, eyebrow and other muscle twitches, deep breaths) instead of asking for a pain scale.

Plan of Care

The other common thing that a therapeutic massage will include is a plan of care. While massage therapists cannot diagnose, we are trained to work in conjunction with PT’s, Doctors, Chiropractors, and other health professionals and know how to space our work for maximum relief. If your therapist says they expect this issue to return in a few days and asks about setting up a session for next week, they aren’t just trying to make you a regular (although any good business person hopes for it). They are also letting you know that there is more going on that you don’t necessarily feel right away. They should be able to give you a projected time frame for recovery (based on the average response for your age/ weight/ activity level, etc. More on this in future posts).

When to book therapeutic specifically

If you have a recurring issue, or an injury preventing you from doing your preferred activities, consider investigating a massage clinic that advertises therapeutic bodywork. It will get you back up to your performance level faster than a spa massage.

Contact us for more questions at or call 704-806-8380 to schedule a session, or book online below, with a Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist!

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