Although there is much overlap between the fields of massage therapy and physical therapy, current Western practice of each provides a complement to the other rather than duplication of services. Massage therapy encompasses the techniques of touching or rubbing the patient’s body in order to relax the muscles, to enhance circulation or to loosen adhesions. Physical therapy often involves stretching and exercise to rehabilitate injured tissues and restore range of motion. By capitalizing on the strengths of each practice, a complementary treatment can be developed that provides maximum healing in an efficient and effective manner.
Historically, many of the activities we commonly associate with either massage or physical therapy, such as rubbing and stretching, were usually practiced together by the same person. In Axel V. Grafstrom’s 1898 “A Text Book of Mechano-Therapy,” he refers to Per Henrik Ling as being the father of the techniques later known as physical therapy. Ling has often been cited as one of the first to use aspects of massage to complement his physical therapy. Massage has been utilized as a key technique employed in physical therapy since its inception.
The primary focus of physical therapists is to restore the patient to maximal function, using a series of strengthening exercises, activities and stretching to accomplish the recovery of the muscles. Massage, when used in a complementary capacity, works to create the optimal internal environment for muscle tissue to heal and function through increased circulation and lymph flow, relaxes chronically contracted muscle tissue and may loosen scar tissue adhesions that restrict normal movement. It prepares tissue to respond better to physical therapy treatment.
Massage therapy can further enhance the beneficial effects of physical therapy by helping patients to relax mentally, therefore decreasing stress-related chemicals such as cortisol in the brain and enhancing endorphins and other mood-elevating chemicals. This improved attitude helps patients to relax and respond more completely and with less pain to the treatments provided by the physical therapist. The improved mental outlook associated with massage therapy can also help patients to feel less depressed about their impairments, to be more positive about their ability to recover and to be more tolerant of the healing and rehabilitation process.
Read more at livestrong.com.