Home Massage Your Guide to Massage Therapy Terms — Richard Lebert Registered Massage Therapy

Your Guide to Massage Therapy Terms — Richard Lebert Registered Massage Therapy

Your Guide to Massage Therapy Terms — Richard Lebert Registered Massage Therapy


Whether you’re a seasoned massage therapist or a curious newcomer, this glossary is here to be your one-stop shop for understanding terms as it relates to massage therapy.

A fascia – A fascia is a sheath, a sheet, or any other dissectible aggregations of connective tissue that forms beneath the skin to attach, enclose, and separate muscles and other internal organs

Active Inference – A normative framework that elucidates the neural and cognitive processes underlying sentient behavior, beginning with first principles. This framework posits that perception and action work in concert to minimize a shared functional known as variational free energy.

Active listening – Placing all of one’s attention and awareness at the disposal of another person, listening with interest and appreciating without interrupting.

Acupuncture – Acupuncture interventions are defined in accordance with the World Health Organization as body needling (traditional, medical, modern, dry needling, trigger point needling, etc.), moxibustion (burning of herbs), electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture, microsystem acupuncture (such as ear acupuncture), and acupressure (application of pressure at acupuncture points).

Adhesion – A fibrous band of connective tissue that develops in response to inflammation, trauma, or surgery, resulting in the union of two adjacent structures.

Affect – An abstract mental state characterized by valence and arousal.

Affordances – Are opportunities for action that the environment offers a person based on the state of their body and other factors such as their cultural background, interests, and existential concerns.

Allodynia – Pain due to a stimulus that would not normally cause pain, such as light touch or mild changes in temperature.

Allostasis – The flexible regulation of physiology, underwriting maintenance of variables within specified ranges by pre-emptive responses based on current and predicted future physiological states, external environments and behavioural goals.

Allostatic load – The ’wear and tear’ on the body associated with chronically high levels of stress and arousal.

Bayesian Using the experience of prior events to calculate the probability of future ones.

Biopsychosocial approach – The biopsychosocial approach systematically considers biological, psychological, and social factors and their complex interactions in understanding health, illness, and health care delivery.

Clinical massage – Soft tissue therapies intended to target muscles with specific goals such as relieving pain, releasing muscle spasms or improving restricted motion, performed by a practitioner.

Clinical practice guideline – A systematically developed statement that aims to assist clinicians in providing quality care to patients.

Cognition – The process or processes by which an organism gains knowledge of or becomes aware of events or objects in its environment and uses that for comprehension and problem solving.

Cognitive behavioral therapy – A therapy that is used to help people think in a healthy way with a focus on thought (cognitive) and action (behavioral).

Compassionate – A compassionate approach to care involves recognizing, acknowledging and working to alleviate suffering.

Complex system – One in which the properties of the system are highly dependent on interactions of its many parts, possibly involving feedback and cycles, as well as nonlinearities. In this context, “complex” should not be equated with “complicated,” which would refer to a system that has many components.

Comprehensive assessment – Comprehensive assessment refers to listening to the pain narrative and conducting a subjective interview and physical examination. This assessment aims to obtain information about pain-related impairments, activity limitations, participation restrictions as well as personal and environmental factors influencing pain, health and function. Comprehensive assessment also needs to accurately screen, identify and triage conditions that require immediate action, that would benefit from non-urgent referral to other health services, or that would benefit from modifications to the pain management plan.

Crepitus – Used to describe the grating, crackling or popping sounds and sensations experienced under the skin and joints or a crackling sensation due to the presence of air in the subcutaneous tissue.

Cryotherapy – The local use of low temperatures (e.g., ice).

Cupping massage – A form of massage which utilizes cupping glasses being moved over the skin once suction (negative pressure) is created. The aim is to increase local blood circulation and relieve muscle tension.

Descending modulation – The process by which pathways that descend from the brain to the spinal cord modify incoming somatosensory information so that the perception of and reactions to somatosensory stimuli are altered, resulting in increased or decreased pain.

Ectopic discharge – Trains of ongoing electrical nerve impulses that occur spontaneously without stimulation or originate at sites other than normal location (or both). This phenomenon typically occurs after nerve injury.

Electric muscle stimulation (EMS) – A passive physical modality that stimulates muscle contraction by electrical impulses.

Electroacupuncture – The stimulation of inserted acupuncture needles with an electrical current. The frequency and intensity of the electrical stimulation may vary.

Empathy – Empathy refers to the recognition and understanding of another person’s experience.

Enthesis – The site of insertion of tendons or ligaments into bones.

Evidence based medicine – Evidence based medicine is the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients. The practice of evidence based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.

Exercise – Any series of movements with the aim of training or developing the body by routine practice or as physical training to promote good physical health.

Exteroception – Perceptual inference based on sensory signals originating from outside the body (e.g. vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell).

Fibrosis – Thickening and scarring of connective tissue, most often a consequence of inflammation or injury.

Force-based manipulations refer to the application of mechanical forces to the outside of the body with therapeutic intent.

Force-based manipulations – Force-based manipulations refer to the application of mechanical forces to the outside of the body with therapeutic intent. Force-based manipulations can include light touch, soft tissue massage, mobilization, cupping, and acupuncture or other needling interventions.

General exercise program – An exercise program incorporating aerobic exercises, stretching, strengthening, endurance, coordination and functional activities for the whole body.

Guided imagery – A technique used to induce relaxation. Recordings are designed to help individuals visualize themselves relaxing or engaging in positive changes or actions. State of awareness is similar to that of a meditative status.

Healthy aging – The preservation of functional ability and well-being with older age.

High-value care – An intervention in which evidence suggests it confers benefit on patients, or probability of benefit exceeds probable harm, or, more broadly, the added costs of the intervention provide proportional added benefits relative to alternatives.

Homeostasis – The regulation of physiology, in which variables are maintained close to set points, which can be considered target values. In earlier notions of homeostasis, set points were fixed. Homeostasis has since been subsumed by allostasis, to reflect that no complex organisms operate via fixed set points.

Informed consent – This term describes an approach to care that ensures clients understand a therapeutic approach fully before giving consent to begin. When therapists establish informed consent, they fully disclose the purpose and benefits of a treatment approach to their client. They discuss any potential problems that might arise, what parts of the body will be massaged, how the client will be draped. Therapists empower clients to state any concerns or ask questions that they may have. Before proceeding, the therapist explicitly asks for permission to begin.

Interoception – Interoception refers to the representation of the internal world, and includes the processes by which an organism senses, interprets, integrates, and regulates signals from within itself.

Ischemic compression – A soft tissue therapy that involves sustained pressure to a muscle that is applied with the hand or a device, performed by a healthcare professional.

Kinesio tape – A thin, pliable adhesive tape applied to the skin.

Low-value care – An intervention in which evidence suggests it confers no or very little benefit for patients, or risk of harm exceeds probable benefit, or, more broadly, the added costs of the intervention do not provide proportional added benefits.

Manipulation – Manual treatment applied to the spine or joints of the upper or lower extremity that incorporates a high velocity, low amplitude impulse or thrust applied at or near the end of a joint’s passive range of motion.

Manual therapy – Techniques that involve the application of hands-on and/or mechanically assisted treatments, including manipulation, mobilization, and traction.

Massage – Massage is a patterned and purposeful soft-tissue manipulation accomplished by use of digits, hands, forearms, elbows, knees and/or feet, with or without the use of emollients, liniments, heat and cold, hand-held tools or other external apparatus, for the intent of therapeutic change.

Massage therapy – Massage therapy consists of the application of massage and non-hands-on components, including health promotion and education messages, for self-care and health maintenance; therapy, as well as outcomes, can be influenced by: therapeutic relationships and communication; the therapist’s education, skill level, and experience; and the therapeutic setting.

Mechanoreceptor – Specialized sensory neurons that normally detect mechanical stimuli. In the peripheral nervous system (PNS), different subtypes of mechanoreceptors are present that are specialized for the detection of different mechanical stimuli (e.g., vibration, light touch, firm touch).

Mechanotherapy – Mechanotherapy refers to any intervention that introduces mechanical forces with the goal of altering molecular pathways and inducing a cellular response that enhances tissue growth, modeling, remodeling, or repair.

Mechanotransduction – Mechanotransduction refers to the conversion of a biophysical force into a cellular and molecular response.

Mobilization – Manual treatment applied to the spine or joints of the upper or lower extremity that incorporates a low velocity and small or large amplitude oscillatory movement, within a joint’s passive range of motion.

Multimodal care – Treatment involving at least two distinct therapeutic modalities, provided by one or more health care disciplines. The following were considered distinct therapeutic modalities: passive physical modalities; exercise; manual therapy which includes mobilization, manipulation or traction; acupuncture; education; psychological interventions; and soft tissue therapies.

Multimorbidity – The coexistence of two or more chronic conditions.

Muscle energy technique – A soft tissue therapy performed by a healthcare professional that involves a stretch to the muscle after the muscle was contracted against resistance.

Musculoskeletal health – Refers to the integrity and function of the locomotor system (muscles, bones, joints, nerves and associated connective tissues).

Myofascial release – A soft-tissue therapy aimed at relaxing contracted muscles and improving blood and lymph circulation in associated tissues. It uses slow and sometimes deep pressure applied directly to tissues.

Myofascial unit – An integrated anatomical and functional structure that includes muscle fibers, fascia (including endomysium, perimysium and epimysium) and its associated innervations (free nerve endings, muscle spindles), lymphatics, and blood vessels.

Needling therapies (traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture and other dry needling modalities) – Including traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) acupuncture and other dry needling modalities (myofascial trigger point needling, neuroreflexotherapy and Western medical acupuncture). These modalities are defined as any intervention where needles are inserted into classical meridian points (TCM acupuncture) or soft-tissue trigger points (other dry needling modalities).

Neurogenic inflammation – Inflammation evoked by the release of neuropeptides and inflammatory mediators that are produced directly by peripheral nociceptor afferents.

Neuropathic pain – Pain caused by a lesion or disease of the somatosensory nervous system

Neurotransmitter – A chemical released by neurons at a synapse for the purpose of relaying information via receptors.

Neuroplasticity – Changes in neural pathways and synapses that result from bodily injury or changes in behavior, the environment, or neural processes. This is consistent with the concept that the brain is a dynamic organ that constantly changes in response to internal and outside events throughout life.

Nociception – The neural responses of encoding and processing of noxious stimulus.

Nociceptive pain – Pain that arises from actual or threatened damage to non-neural tissue and is due to the activation of nociceptors.

Nociplastic pain – Pain that arises from altered nociception despite no clear evidence of actual or threatened tissue damage causing the activation of peripheral nociceptors or evidence of disease or lesion of the somatosensory system causing the pain.

Non-linearity – Outputs are not always proportional to the inputs. Small changes may lead to a large change in the systems and vice versa.

Noxious stimulus – A stimulus that damages or threatens to damage normal tissue.

Overdiagnosis – The labeling of a person with a disease or abnormal condition that would not have caused the person harm if left undiscovered, creating new diagnoses by medicalizing ordinary life experiences, or expanding existing diagnoses by lowering thresholds or widening criteria without evidence of improved outcomes.

Overuse – Provision of a service that is unlikely to increase the quality or quantity of life, that poses more harm than benefit, or that patients who were fully informed of its potential benefits and harms would not have wanted.

Pain – An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.

Patient education – A process to enable individuals to make informed decisions about their personal health-related behavior.

Person-centered – Person-centered approach is intended to emphasize the importance of placing the needs of the person living with pain at the center of pain management.

Placebo effects – Changes specifically attributable to placebo mechanisms (e.g., the neurobiological and psychological mechanisms of expectations).

Placebo response – All health changes resulting from administering an inactive treatment, including regression towards the mean and natural course of the disease.

Prediction error – Sensory input that diverges from current predictions.

Predictive processing – Functional mode wherein the brain learns statistical regularities in the body and in the world and encodes these regularities as ‘priors’ in order to predict impending sensorimotor events before they occur.

Qualia – A term for subjective sensations.

Radicular pain – A term that is often misused and only applies to pain resulting from pressure on a nerve root.

Relaxation massage – A group of soft tissue therapies intended to relax muscles, performed by a practitioner.

Relaxation training – Used to guide individuals to relax muscles not needed for various daily Activities. This may include progressive relaxation training (different muscle groups are systematically tensed and relaxed) or autogenic relaxation training (self-control of the body’s physiological reactions).

Resilience – Refers in general to a system’s capacity to recover, grow, adapt, or resist perturbation from a challenge or stressor.

Right care – Care that is tailored for optimizing health and wellbeing by delivering what is needed, wanted, clinically effective, affordable, equitable, and responsible in its use of resources.

Self-management support – A person-centred, collaborative approach used by healthcare providers to support people with health conditions to acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, support and confidence to take an active and leading role in managing their condition in the context of their daily lives’.

Shared decision-making – Shared decision-making is a consultation process where a clinician and patient jointly participate in making a health decision, having discussed the options and their benefits and harms, and having considered the patient’s values, preferences and circumstances.

Shock-wave therapy – A passive physical modality that is placed onto the skin; it involves acoustic waves associated with a sudden rise in pressure and are generated by electrohydraulic, piezoelectric and electromagnetic devices to send sound waves into areas of soft tissue.

Short term – Less than three months.

Soft tissue therapy – A mechanical therapy in which muscles, tendons, and ligaments are passively pressed and kneaded by hand or with mechanical devices.

Spinal manipulative therapy – is considered any “hands-on” treatment that involves movement of the spinal joints. Mobilization uses low-grade velocity (relative to manipulation) and small or large amplitude passive movement techniques within the person’s spinal joint range of motion and control, while manipulation uses a high-velocity impulse or thrust applied to a synovial joint over a short amplitude.

Strain-counterstrain – A soft tissue therapy that involves applied pressure to a muscle with positioning of the neck to provide a small stretch of a muscle, performed by a practitioner.

Syndrome – A group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms.

Tensegrity – An architectural system where the structures stabilize themselves by balancing countering forces of tension and compression.

The fascial system – The fascial system consists of the three-dimensional continuum of soft, collagen-containing, loose and dense fibrous connective tissues that permeate the body. It incorporates elements such as adipose tissue, adventitiae and neurovascular sheaths, aponeuroses, deep and superficial fasciae, epineurium, joint capsules, ligaments, membranes, meninges, myofascial expansions, periostea, retinacula, septa, tendons, visceral fasciae, and all the intramuscular and intermuscular connective tissues including endo-/peri-/epimysium.

Therapeutic alliance – A collaborative relationship characterized by a reciprocal trust between the client and the clinician, as well as the development of mutually agreed-upon goals and interventions.

Therapeutic ultrasound – An electrophysical treatment modality postulated to deliver sonic energy to deep tissue sites through ultrasonic waves, to increase tissue temperature and create non-thermal physiological changes, which are purported to improve symptoms and promote or accelerate tissue healing.

Traction – Manual or mechanically assisted application of an intermittent or continuous distractive force.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – A passive physical modality connected to the skin, using two or more electrodes to apply low level electrical current. Typically used with the intent to help pain management.

Treatment plan – Consistent with a massage therapy scope of practice, the treatment plan should aim to provide self-management support, facilitate engagement in physical activity or other meaningful activities, and support the effective management of symptoms.

Triggerpoint therapy – A form of clinical massage where pressure and/or longitudinal stroking is applied over a trigger point in a muscle.

Underuse – Failure to deliver a service that is highly likely to improve the quality or quantity of life, that represents good value for money, and that patients who were fully informed of its potential benefits and harms would have wanted.

Valence – The subjective feeling ranging from pleasantness to unpleasantness.

Yoga – An ancient practice involving postural exercises, breathing control, and meditation.



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