Often when people ring to enquire about the nature of the Sydney remedial massage services that we offer there is some confusion and misunderstanding about what the differences between physiotherapists and remedial massage therapists. Some people believe that we offer similar services but this is not the case. Whilst there is a degree of overlap between the two professions, there is significantly more that is different.
Historically there are suggestions that the first chartered society of physiotherapists formed from remedial massages so there is a degree of commonality between them. However, since that time physiotherapists and physical therapists have moved away from this background and offer distinctly different treatments and therapies from remedial massage therapists who have largely stayed constant with their approach. Remedial massage therapists still rely on the same touch and palpation skills to provide the same benefits for their clients and there is no reason why the effectiveness of the application of these skills will have changed over the years.
Massage therapists rely on touch to deliver remedial bodywork to their clients. There are many different massage modalities available such as deep tissue, sports, Swedish, Thai, trigger point therapy etc and they all work on the soft tissues of the body (mainly muscles but also tendons, ligaments and connective tissue/fascia). Massage therapists do not do any manipulation and, most importantly as a means of distinction from physiotherapists, they do not have sufficient training to be considered as diagnostic practitioners. If you are after a firm diagnosis of any condition you are faced with then you will need to see someone other than a massage therapist (although your masseur should be able to advise who to see for diagnosis).
People will most commonly see remedial massage therapists when they are suffering from muscular and soft tissue complaints. Sessions will typically last around an hour (or longer) and the therapist will use their hands, fingers, knuckles, elbows and forearms to provide the manipulation to the soft tissues. Although most remedial massage sessions have a direct therapeutic objective, for many people an added benefit is that, whilst the massage itself may be a little painful and intense, it will always provide a degree of relaxation for the massage recipient.
Physiotherapists will treat people who are suffering from injury or physical condition using a range of different techniques. Whilst hands on bodywork may be incorporated within this treatment, typically it is only a small component of any session. A typical physical therapy session will involve some assessment, some bodywork (if appropriate), application of ice, ultra-sound or tens machines and some corrective exercise therapy (which will normally involve exercises that the patient may do away from the clinic).
Typical injuries that may be treated by physiotherapists are both acute and chronic in nature. It is not uncommon for a physiotherapist to be seeing two or three patients simultaneously and so you may experience times during your session as the physiotherapists when you are not actually being formally treated by the therapist.
If you are not sure who you should be seeing then it is always advisable to talk to any potential practitioner about your requirements prior to booking. You have the right to expect an honest answer regarding their suitability and appropriateness (although sometimes it can be a little tricky to make complete assessment over the phone). You should ask them about the nature of the treatment that you can expect.
As a rule of thumb, if you are suffering from an acute injury or require a firm diagnosis of your condition then it is probably preferable that your first port of call be a physiotherapist. It may be that after a few sessions then massage therapy may become more relevant for your treatment (generally in our view most people would sooner experience a massage assuming that their treatment goals are met).
Regardless of the therapy you receive, then it is suggested that you talk to your therapist about goals and milestones with the treatment program. If you do not feel you are progressing at the rate you would like then it may be an idea to consider alternative treatments (although it is also recommended that you give a therapist a fair opportunity to make progress and not just chop and change after one or two sessions).