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What is Clinical Massage?

Healthcare vs. Personal Care Massage
There are two main categories of massage therapy: personal care and healthcare massage. Personal care massages are typically offered with the primary focus on general relaxation or wellness enhancement. It may be provided in spas, salons, private massage clinics, health clubs, or other locations. Healthcare massage targets a wide range of compromised health conditions. Clinical massage falls under the latter, embodying treatments with specific therapeutic goals, such as injury recovery and medical-condition management.

Clinical Massage: The most Inclusionary term
Traditionally, clinical massage has been a form of healthcare massage with a broad definition encompassing a range of modalities, settings, client populations, and approaches. It is an outcome-based practice where goals are established in consultation with the client or possibly with one or more healthcare professionals. The term implies a level of care beyond basic relaxation techniques, requiring assessment and tailored treatments for specific medical conditions. These conditions range from oncology and geriatric massage to orthopedic and sports massage.

Medical Massage: Less inclusionary, little consistency
While often used interchangeably with clinical massage, medical massage has stirred more debate regarding its definition. It is generally associated with therapy for patients with health conditions, similar to clinical massage. However, some use medical massage as a more specific term than clinical massage, often including physician referral requirements or insurance billing. The term medical massage does not have the longevity of the term clinical massage. It still seems to be in growth pains as some use the term interchangeably with clinical massage, while others retain the insurance billing and physician elements. When seeking training, it is always wise to explore what modalities are taught and what kind of training and expertise the provider has.

Orthopedic Massage: A Specific Focus
Orthopedic massage is another form of healthcare massage that incorporates a broad set of modalities. This term is used less but is the most specific of those three. It’s a specialized form of clinical massage focusing on the locomotor (movement) tissues of the musculoskeletal system, with techniques designed to treat musculoskeletal pain, injuries, and dysfunction specifically. It borrows its name from medical orthopedics. Its scope is narrower than clinical or medical massage because it specifies the types of health conditions it addresses.

Challenges in Massage Terminology
The massage therapy profession grapples with an array of terms, often leading to confusion. As a profession, unlike other healthcare fields, it is unlikely that we will ever have standardized terminology. However, establishing clear definitions for broad categories like clinical and medical massage would enhance communication, reduce confusion, and promote a more professional image. The public and those seeking training are wise not to focus on names but on the skillset and training of the specific provider.

Learn more about our online orthopedic and clinical massage programs here!

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