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What’s the difference between physiotherapy and remedial massage therapy?

By Jason Gibson
Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Given people can turn to either treatment for musculoskeletal pain, what actually is the difference between the two, is there any overlap and why should you choose one over the other?

To get to the bottom of this common conundrum, let’s look at what causes musculoskeletal pain, and the origins and benefits of both treatments.

Musculoskeletal pain

Relates to aches and pains that are usually caused by injury to the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, or nerves. This can be caused by sports injuries, general jerking movements, car accidents, falls, fractures, sprains, dislocations, and direct blows to the muscle, but can also simply be caused by some of the many bad lifestyle habits we get into such as sitting poorly in front of the computer.


Physiotherapy dates back 100 years, when the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists was formally created by a group of remedial massage therapists. So back then there was no difference between these 2 treatments.

Remedial massage has some clinical limitations and so, physiotherapy began to develop techniques, procedures and equipment to overcome some of those limitations, and over time, massage has become a smaller part of physiotherapy training.

Remedial massage, in one form or another, has been the most effective treatment for minor soft tissue conditions for thousands of years. It lost some of its popularity in the 20th century, but has seen a great revival over the last 20 years.

Benefits of Physiotherapy

Today physiotherapy deals with more and more serious conditions, so the minor soft tissue problems may not be given the importance they deserve.

Today treatments tend to focus on restoring movement through rehabilitation programmes of exercises and correct movement to regain as much function as possible. Heat treatments or acupuncture may also be used.

A benefit of physiotherapy is that it can be available free on the NHS, although long waiting lists often lead to patients choosing private treatment. It is also a protected term, so if patients choose to go private know they are being treated by a qualified practitioner.

Remedial massage therapy

Remedial massage deals with many minor and chronic muscular problems which respond well to hands-on soft tissue manipulation. There are several types of treatment available, including kinesiology taping, which you may see sported regularly by top athletes, and a good therapist will always work out the most suitable course of treatment for a client’s condition.

Unlike the term “physiotherapist” which is protected, anyone can call themselves a massage therapist, so it is important to check that who you are paying for is registered with the Institute of Sport and Remedial Massage (ISRM), as we are at JGSM, to ensure your practitioner is qualified and is continually keeping up with the latest techniques.

A good partnership

Physiotherapists use very little massage these days, but remedial massage therapists use nothing but massage, so the two are clearly very different.

But they do work very well together because tight muscles can pull a joint out of place and even once popped back in the muscles will need some manipulation.

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