Quite often people come to me and share that it was not that easy to decide whether they needed a physio or a massage. Today I will give you a general guideline which will hopefully give you some clarity in that question.
Massage therapy works with the soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia). Its main focus is to lengthen and relax tight-shortened muscles, smooth out trigger points (knots and tight bands in muscle tissue) and encourage blood flow into the tissues for quicker recovery and toxin release. Massage will also have powerful relaxing effect on nervous system therefore helping to relieve stress, depression and anxiety.
Massage can best help you if your symptoms are reasonably mild and have come on over longer period due to poor posture, bad sleeping position, overuse, stress. For example, neck and shoulder pain because working hours at the computer, low back pain and sciatica due to lots of travelling or growing belly in pregnancy, overall muscle soreness because started to exercise recently and changed your exercise routine, have had lots of stress lately, not sleeping well etc. All these situations mean your body is under stress over some time period and will develop painful spots in different areas of your body. Massage is a great tool for restoring normal function of your muscles and it is best for your body to have massage regularly to maintain musculoskeletal balance. The frequency varies usually from 1 week to 2 months and is dependant of your certain circumstances like your job, how often you exercise, pregnancy and postpartum, etc. In between your session therapist will introduce you to different stretches which you should be doing daily at home or at work.
Remedial massage therapist has a good understanding of anatomy and physiology, they might do some functional assessment during the session however massage therapist is not qualified to diagnose a condition. A good massage therapist will always be aware when the condition needs referral to a physiotherapist or any other specialist.
If you have quite severe pain and it has appeared quite suddenly (whether you know what has caused it or not) then it would be better to go to physiotherapist. It is more likely acute injuries like sporting injuries, bad fall, severe back pain, can’t turn your head, accidents, degeneration etc.
Physiotherapist will usually work on one body part at a time. After assessment and diagnosis, physiotherapist may use some soft tissue techniques. They are also qualified for traction, mobilisation and manipulation of spine and other joints. Physios are also able to use electrotherapeutic devices like ultrasound and TENS machines. They can refer clients to x-rays and MRI-s for better diagnosis.
Physiotherapists are qualified to prescribe stretches, strengthening exercises and exercises to improve your posture. A good physiotherapist will be able to create an individual treatment plan for your best recovery which will most likely be a mix of physio treatments, massage and strengthening exercises (pilates for example).