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Anitra Brown

The Difference Between Massage and Bodywork

By December 31, 2012

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I spent the last day of 2012 getting a massage from one of my favorite local therapists. She knows my body and all the hot spots that tighten up between sessions. We know each other well and enjoy each other's company. I get her best work, because she wants me to come back, and it's almost always relaxing.

Next week, I'm going for a Structural Integration session (also known as Rolfing) with another private practitioner. Structural Integration is considered a form of bodywork because it doesn't use the same classic movements as Swedish massage.

In Structural Integration Rolfing, the therapist works to release the body's misalignment, which causes pain, by working on the fascia. I did a full series of ten sessions last year and it helped me enormously. I actually was able to cut back on my massage and chiropractic sessions. I'm going back because my hip is starting to hurt again.

I still consider massage part of my ongoing maintenance. Bodywork like Rolfing, Alexander Technique and Feldenkraise is more about changing movement patterns that cause pain. But there are many forms of bodywork, and they all come at whatever issue you have from a different standpoint.

Most types of bodywork share similar goals, such as relief from pain, improved physical functioning, more freedom of movement, a balanced mind, and a heightened sense of body awareness, vitality and well-being. They also tend to emphasize active participation in your own health and wellness. That's a good resolution to have for 2013.

January 2, 2013 at 9:22 am
(1) Anthony says:

- Massage helps to work out your “hot spots” but is not considered bodywork?

- a professional massage therapist should be able to address hip pain

- your article makes it seem like professional massage therapy is not a form of bodywork and is merely a “pampering/luxury” service. perhaps you have never worked with a quality massage therapist.

January 2, 2013 at 10:44 pm
(2) Josh says:

This article makes it sound like “massage” is only synonymous with Swedish massage. There are many different types of massage.

The difference between massage and bodywork is simply that all massage is bodywork, but not all bodywork is massage. Bodywork is a broader category that includes massage. Massage is a subset of bodywork.

January 3, 2013 at 11:47 am
(3) Kate says:

The therapists at our studio incorporate many modalities into a massage. It could be anything from acupressure to deep tissue (which does address problems with the fascia) to sacro cranial. The massage is personalized to the client based on the issues they are having. Stretching and suggestions for additional stretching to do at home are also given so that clients can learn to do their own preventative maintenance.

January 3, 2013 at 2:45 pm
(4) Lorin Janae says:

I feel like your article is a little vague. It seems like you understand and have benefited from your own bodywork treatments but whether it was through Rolfing or Swedish massage it is still bodywork. As it has been mentioned, there are many modalities of massage, all of them considered bodywork. Reiki, which is a form of energy work, is also considered bodywork even though there is no direct body contact. I get, that for you, Rolfing is what helped you in particular, which is fine, but the massage you received from your LMT is also bodywork. The intention of any massage or bodywork session may be different based on client needs and the education or skill of the Therapist. It is all, however, considered bodywork. Maybe what you are trying to say is that YOU PREFER a deeper more orthopedic type of massage. Unfortunately, it did not come across that way. We Massage Therapists, take our work very personal and are proud of what we do as BODYWORKERS. We do not want to be told, in so many words, that our work does nothing but relax people. In order to get certain training for orthopedic techniques or modalities, we FIRST have to have massage training, which includes intense training about the different structures of the body. Without that training, I couldn’t take the necessary to courses for learning more orthopedic techniques and modalities. It all starts with that basic bodywork training. This could just be my opinion but I’m guessing others would agree. I’m glad some form of bodywork is working for you. Keep it up!

January 4, 2013 at 5:54 pm
(5) Anitra Brown says:

Thanks for pointing out that I didn’t make clear how much I value massage. I have been getting it regularly (at least once a month) my whole adult life.

In the full bodywork article I say:

“The term bodywork was first developed to describe hands-on modalities that can be quite different from the typical massage, where the therapist lubricates the skin with massage oil and manipulates the soft tissues of the body using a variety of massage strokes. However, many therapists consider massage to be a form of bodywork.”

I think there’s a distinction because you don’t necessarily have to have a massage license to do some forms of bodywork.

January 4, 2013 at 7:08 pm
(6) Anitra says:

Okay, everyone, thanks for your comments and giving me a chance to clarify.

March 12, 2013 at 1:00 am
(7) Crystal says:

Thank you everyone! I found the article & all comments very helpful. As a client, I don’t care what you call it. I’m just happy when my needs are meet by the professional therapist. The reason I’m researching this massage/bodywork lingo is so I can better communicate with my therapist. Maybe someone could write an article about that? As a client, I don’t know about the 100 types of massage you do or how to order it. That would be helpful.

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