Glossary of Massage Therapy Terms
For your convenience, we offer the following glossary of Massage Therapy terminology.
Acupressure is a Western term for a form of Asian bodywork therapy based on Chinese meridian theory in which acupuncture points are free, assistive, and resistive. An acupressure school will often offer training in massage therapy as well as acupressure. Acupressure schools train acupressure students in a broad variety of modalities.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice in which the skin is punctured with with needles at specific points for therapeutic purposes. An acupuncture school will often offer training in massage therapy as well as acupuncture. Acupuncture schools train acupuncture students in a broad variety of modalities.
Alternative therapy refers to methods or systems of healing outside of mainstream medicine. Alternative medicine is a very large category that can be said to include aspects of naturopathy, naturopathic medicine, ayurveda, herbal medicine, holistic medicine, holistic health, homeopathy, homeopathic medicine, acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy, shiatsu, reflexology, reiki, chiropractic, nutrition, animal (equine massage & canine massage), kinesiology, colonic, bioenergetics, tibetan medicine, breema, lomi lomi, chair massage, hydrotherapy, healing touch, doula, hakomi, holistic healthcare, energetic manipulation, feldenkrais, flower essences, guided imagery, tui na, ohashiatsu, shen, osteopathy, pilates, craniosacral, energy, feng-shui, healing philosophy, yoga, iridology, hot stone therapy, hypnotherapy, life coaching, polarity, myofascial, medical massage, and midwifery. An alternative medicine school may specialize in one or many of these specialties. Most alternative medicine schools teach many. An alternative massage therapy school will seldom specialize in only alternative massage therapy. Most alternative medicine schools offer training in other massage therapy modalities as well, and most massage therapy schools offer some alternative massage therapy training.
Amma is a massage therapy technique from China which finds the points on the body where various movements and manipulations are most effective.
Asian bodywork therapies (ABT) are forms of massage therapy and bodywork whose theoretical basis is Traditional Asian (Chinese) Medicine.
Aura stroking is done with long, smooth strokes that do not actually touch the body surface, but come close.
Ayurvedic massage is a system of soft tissue manipulation based in traditional theories of health and disease from India, i.e., Ayurvedic medicine. An ayurveda school will seldom specialize in only ayurvedic massage therapy. Most ayurveda schools offer training in other massage therapy modalities as well, and most massage therapy schools offer some ayurvedic massage therapy training.
Body Mechanics refers to the posture and biomechanics of the massage therapy practitioner when performing massage therapy. Good body mechanics protect the practitioner from injury and maximize the efficiency of technique applications.
Body-centered therapy refers to methods of healing that work primarily through the physical body, but which affect the whole person - body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
Bodywork is a general term for practices involving touch and movement in which the practitioner uses manual techniques to promote health and healing of the recipient. Most healing massage techniques are considered forms of bodywork.
Breema bodywork is performed on the floor with the recipient fully clothed. It consists of rhythmical and gentle leans and stretches which can lead to deep relaxation, increased vitality, and stimulation of the self-healing processes of the body.
CAM is an acronym for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Chirugy is healing with the hands.
Clinical massage therapy describes applications of massage for the treatment of pathologies. Also called medical massage.
Complementary Therapy refers to healing methods that are used as secondary treatments to enhance the effectiveness of primary treatments, and that contribute to a patient's recovery.
Contemporary massage and bodywork is a general category for systems of manual therapy that were developed in the 20th century, e.g., myofascial massage, neuromuscular therapy, polarity therapy.
Cryotherapy is the application of cold (e.g., ice) for its therapeutic effects.
Deep friction is a type of friction in which the practitioner's fingers do not move over the skin, but instead, move the skin over tissues underneath. Cross-fiber and circular friction are types of deep friction.
Deep tissue massage is performed with one finger, thumb, several fingers, or the entire hand.
Deep muscle therapy is a massage technique that focuses on using a very specific set of movements applied to all muscles, concentrating on all layers of the muscle that have become depleted of their regular blood and lymphatic flow.
Deep transverse friction is a specific type of deep friction used in rehabilitation to break adhesions, facilitate healthy scar formation, and treat muscle and tendon lesions. It is performed across the tissues, causing broadening and separation of fibers. Deep transverse friction was popularized by James Cyriax. Also called Cyriax friction.
Direct pressure, or direct static pressure, is the application of force to compress tissues in a specific spot; it is applied with a thumb, finger, elbow, or knuckle.
Draping refers to the use of sheets, towels, or other materials to cover recipients of massage therapy to preserve their privacy and modesty, to maintain professional boundaries, and for warmth. Professional massage therapy schools place a strong emphasis on the correct use of draping for all therapeutic massage.
Eclectic practitioners combine two or more systems of massage therapy and bodywork into their own unique approach to manual massage therapy.
Effleurage is a Western massage therapy technique that includes movements that slide or glide over the body with a smooth continuous motion.
Epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin.
Esalen massage is a genre of bodywork based on a simplified form of Swedish massage, whose main purpose is to enhance nonverbal connecting with the inner self and with others.
Full-body Western massage refers to a massage session lasting from 30 to 90 minutes, in which traditional Western massage techniques are combined into a routine to address the whole body.
Healing means enhancing health and wellbeing. It is the process of regaining health or optimal functioning after an injury, disease, or other debilitating condition.
Holistic massage refers to forms of massage which take into account the wholeness of human beings, i.e., body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
Hydrotherapy is the use of water in different forms for its therapeutic effects. See thermal therapies.
Infant massage involves soft tissue manipulation and joint movements designed to enhance the growth and development of newborns and children.
Integrative health care is an approach to healing in which mainstream medicine and alternative healing methods are offered as equal options for treating patients.
Jin Shin Do is a modern synthesis of traditional Chinese acupressure/acupuncture theory and techniques, breathing exercises, Taoist philosophy, and modern psychology. It was developed by Iona Marsaa Teeguarden in the 1970s in the United States.
Lomilomi is an ancient massage therapy healing art developed by Hawaiian healing specialists.
Lymphatic drainage massage (LDM) is a form of contemporary massage designed to assist the function of the lymphatic system by the application of slow, light and repetitive strokes that help move lymph fluid through the system of vessels and nodes (also manual lymph drainage).
Manual therapy refers to healing methods applied with the practitioner's hands touching or moving the recipient's body.
Massage is the intentional and systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body to enhance health and healing. Joint movements and stretching are commonly performed as part of massage. The primary characteristics of massage are touch and movement. Massage schools train massage students in a broad variety of modalities.
Massage school is a general term for schools that teach massage programs, massage courses, and massage classes. These massage therapy programs, massage therapy courses and massage therapy classes vary widely in the depth of material presented. Massage schools offer credentials ranging from massage therapy degrees to massage therapy diplomas to massage therapy certificates. Many states require practitioners to hold massage therapy licenses, and prospective students should make sure that the massage therapy school they attend prepares its students for massage therapy licensing requirements.
Massage therapy is a general term for health and healing practices involving touch and movement which are based in massage and related manual techniques. It is sometimes used synonymously with the term bodywork. The term massage therapy has been adopted by some massage practitioners to define their profession, which is a licensed profession in many states. Massage therapy schools train massage therapy students in a broad variety of modalities.
Medical massage See clinical massage.
Modality is a method of treating a medical condition. Massage is considered a modality in the tradition of physiotherapy, along with other modalities such as ice packs, hot packs, ultrasound, or whirlpool baths.
Ma-uri massage is a new form of massage introduced in 1990 by Hemi Hoani Fox, who cites its roots in Hawaiian Lomi-Lomi Nui dance, claiming increased energy flow within the body and mind.
Myofascial massage is a general term for techniques aimed at restoring mobility in the body's fascia and softening connective tissue that has become rigid. Also called myofascial release and myofascial unwinding.
Natural healing refers to a philosophy that shows preference for methods of healing derived from nature, the belief in an innate healing force, and a holistic view of human life. Natural healing schools train natural healing students in a broad variety of modalities.
Neuromuscular therapy (NMT) is a form of contemporary massage therapy focused on deactivating myofascial trigger points.
Passive Touch is simply laying the fingers, one hand, or both hands on the body. Passive touch may impart heat to an area, have a calming influence , or help balance energy.
Person-centered massage refers to maintaining awareness of the whole person during a session, as opposed to focusing strictly on the pathology, i.e., pathology centered.
Petrissage is a Western massage technique category that includes movements that lift, wring, or squeeze soft tissues in a kneading motion; or press or roll the soft tissues under or between the hands.
Polarity therapy is a form of bodywork that uses simple touch and gentle rocking movements with the intention to balance life energy and to encourage relaxation.
Pregnancy massage refers to massage and bodywork adapted to meet the needs of pregnant women and relieve some of the discomforts related to the pregnant state.
Principle-based massage utilizes a broad base of knowledge and skills to plan a unique session or treatment strategy, as opposed to relying on a set protocol or formula.
Referred pain is pain that is present at one point, but whose source is elsewhere.
Reflexology is a form of bodywork based on the theory of zone therapy, in which specific spots on the feet or hands are pressed to stimulate corresponding areas in other parts of the body. Reflexology schools offer a broad range of reflexology modalities. A Reflexology school will often offer training in massage therapy as well as reflexology. Reflexology schools usually offer training in a broad variety of modalities.
Seated massage refers to massage therapy given with the recipient seated in an ordinary or special massage chair. It is called on-site massage when the chair is taken to a public place such as an office or commercial establishment. A chair massage school will seldom specialize in only seated massage therapy. Most massage schools train massage therapists for expertise in seated massage. Also called chair massage.
Shiatsu is a general term for Japanese bodywork based on Chinese meridian theory and Western science in which tsubo (i.e., acupoints) are pressed to balance the flow of energy or ki. Most Shiatsu schools offer training in other massage therapy modalities as well, and most massage therapy schools offer Shiatsu training.
Sports massage is the science and art of applying massage therapy and related techniques to ensure the health and wellbeing of the athlete and to enhance athletic performance. The major applications of sports massage therapy are recovery, remedial, rehabilitation, maintenance, and event (i.e., pre-, inter-, and post-event). A sports massage school will seldom specialize in only sports massage therapy. Most sports massage schools offer training in other massage therapy modalities as well, and most massage therapy schools offer sports massage training.
Stone massage is massage therapy in which hot or cold stones, usually basalt or marble, are used to massage the body.
Swedish massage is a genre of bodywork that includes traditional Western massage, Swedish movements, hydrotherapy, heat lamps, and other modalities. Swedish massage is a popular form of massage therapy in health clubs, spas, and resorts. A Swedish massage school will seldom specialize in only Swedish massage therapy. Most Swedish massage schools offer training in other massage therapy modalities as well, and most massage therapy schools offer Swedish massage training.
Tapotement is a Western massage therapy technique category consisting of brisk percussive movements that are performed in rapid rhythmic fashion. Forms of tapotement include hacking, rapping, cupping, clapping, slapping, tapping, and pincement.
Thai traditional massage is known in English as Thai ancient massage, and also as Thai classical massage, Thai bodywork, passive yoga, and assisted yoga. Thai massage emphasizes stretching and loosening the body.
Thermal therapies involve the application of hot and cold modalities for their therapeutic effects, e.g., hot packs, ice. See hydrotherapy.
Touch means "to come into contact with." Massage therapists touch their clients or patients in many ways, but primarily with their hands. Touch may happen on a physical or an energetic level.
Touch without movement is a Western massage therapy technique in which the massage therapist comes in contact with the recipient either physically or energetically, but no perceptible movement occurs that fits into the five traditional classic Western massage categories. Two common types of touch without movement are passive touch and direct static pressure.
Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM) is a system of healing based on Chinese medicine, and includes concepts such as yin/yang, the five elements, energy (Qi), and energy channels.
Treatment model is a concept that explains the intention of using specific interventions or modalities to alleviate medical conditions.
Trigger points are small, hyperirritable spots in muscle or related connective tissue that may cause local pain or pain in a distant referral zone. Trigger points may be relieved manually with ischemic compression techniques, deep friction, deep stripping, and stretching. See neuromuscular therapy (NMT).
Tui Na massage is a form of Chinese massage therapy that is similar to Zhi Ya, but focused more on pushing, stretching, and kneading the muscle.
Vibration is a Western massage therapy technique category that includes oscillating, quivering, or trembling movements; or movement of soft tissues back and forth, or up and down, performed quickly and repeatedly.
Wellness refers to a condition of optimal physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, and vocational wellbeing.
Wellness massage is massage therapy performed with the intention of promoting the receiver's general wellbeing. It goes beyond the treatment of specific conditions to help the receiver achieve high-level wellness.
Wellness massage pyramid is a model for understanding the possible contributions of massage therapy to high-level wellness.
Wellness model is a concept that explains good health and wellbeing as aimed at living a healthy vibrant, and meaningful life. Also called wellness perspective.
Western massage is a form of soft tissue manipulation and related techniques developed in Europe and the United States over the past 200 years. The technique categories commonly used to describe Western massage therapy are effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction, vibration, touch without movement, and joint movements. A Western massage school will seldom specialize in only Western massage. Most Western massage schools offer training in other massage therapy modalities as well, and most massage therapy schools offer Western massage training. See Swedish massage.
Zen Shiatsu is a form of Asian bodywork therapy from Japan developed by Shizuto Masunaga.
Zhi Ya massage is a form of Chinese massage therapy based on acupressure. It is similar to Tui Na massage except that it focuses more on pinching and pressing at acupressure points.