Physical Therapy & Massage, the power couple

As I made my way through school for therapeutic massage over four years ago, I found myself fascinated by how something so seemingly simple as intentional and decisive touch could yield such impactful effects on pain management and posture, among other things. Within an hour, I can work on someone and rearrange how they move through space and time for their betterment. Beyond the many other benefits of therapeutic massage, such as increased blood and lymph circulation, decreased anxiety and depression and faster muscle recovery post exercise, I realized that it could potentially be a powerful advantage in the healing process of the structural injuries and disabilities that physical therapy already yields.

In light of this revelation, it has always been my professional dream to work for a physical therapy clinic. At other places I have worked, I have seen clients that were encouraged to receive bodywork by their physical therapists. I would even ask those clients working concurrently with a PT (physical therapist) to inform their respective PT’s for specifics concerning their reasoning to receiving massage. I would ask for specific muscles and modalities to focus on or even avoid to better help the PT help the client. As a result, I have seen clients heal faster from injuries like whiplash, repetitive strain and orthopedic surgeries. In these cases, I have even seen clients use physical therapy and massage therapy side by side to successfully avoid major surgeries altogether.

One of the ways that physical therapy patients can benefit from massage is the continuation of soft tissue work that PT’s start in their sessions. Often times, a PT has only so much time to make muscles and connective tissue looser and more mobile, not leaving enough time to warm tissue to make the process less invasive to the nervous system. This is why physical therapy is sometimes synonymous with pain. After assessing, screening and testing the soft tissue, a certified massage therapist, or CMT, can pick up where a patient’s PT left off with more time to warm the tissue and soothe the nervous system before manipulating it.

Another added advantage to combining massage and physical therapy is the extra set of trained and experienced eyes to check for abnormalities. There have been several instances where I have noticed different things that could be causing discomfort and perpetuating injury that a PT did not see or initially recognize. Having that extra reference source to what could be affecting a patient’s well-being can expedite recovery and healing.

Athletes have been utilizing massage because of the positive effects it has on muscle repair, specifically muscle cell repair, from the incredible demands of intense training and performance for several decades now. Massage therapists have become a staple of most professional sports organizations around the world. Here is how massage therapy can be advantageous to a physical therapy patient. One of the major functions of physical therapy is to retrain how muscles fire to improve mobility and posture and to prevent injury through what often includes a series of various exercises. Along with the reorganization of muscle function comes the propensity of sore and/or inflamed muscles. It has been my experience that physical therapy patients tend to recover faster from the sometimes grueling regimen of physical therapy with massage thus accelerating the healing process.

I have seen people combine the two unique forms of therapy to create a more cohesive approach to recover from or even avoid surgery, correct posture and improve range of motion and mobility. While Physical Therapy and Massage Therapy can yield a bevy of benefits individually, it has been my experience that those who utilize them both concurrently often accelerate reaching goals of recovery, healing and overall wellness.

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Source: [Edited for Ideal Therapy]