There are many styles of manual therapy, but there are three distinguished forms of manual therapy: mobilization, manipulation, and massage. They all start with the letter ‘m’ and they seem to do similar things. However, there are certainly differences between the three forms. The similarities in these forms will help improve mobility in restricted areas such as joints, connective tissues, or skeletal muscles. The difference is in their technique, focus, and strategy. As with any treatment, using these forms in conjunction with each other can deliver more synergy than using only one. But, what is the difference between mobilization, manipulation, and massage? Continue reading to find out!

Mobilization by definition is to make something moveable. In manual therapy, mobilization is a careful process of stretching soft-tissue and joints to improve elasticity. Mobilization is used to relieve joint stiffness and pain. The goal is to reach normal, pain-free movement. Often, these stretches are small, gentle, and rhythmic. Thus, it is usually the first form to be used for treating joint and soft-tissue problems. It is often the gentler approach in introducing motion back into painful and stuff joints in comparison to the other methods.

Manipulation is a more intense version of mobilization because swift thrusts are performed on the patient and is often accompanied by an audible popping sound from the release of pressure. The goal of this form is used to adjust your joints and it is frequently done on the neck and back. Professionals aim to take pressure off sensitive nerves or tissue, restore blood flow, increase range of motion, and promote the release of endorphins that act as natural painkillers. Because of its increased intensity of the treatment, manipulation is not the first thing that doctors would recommend.

Massage can relax muscle tissue, decrease nerve compression, increase range of motion, and improve circulation as well – similar to the previous forms. However, this form mobilizes soft-tissue such as muscles, ligaments, or tendons. Thus, massage is focused on rubbing and kneading soft-tissue without changing joint position, whereas mobilization and manipulation concentrates on moving hard-tissues. Keep in mind that some pain may be difficult to locate – whether it may be in the soft or hard tissues, thus a conjunction of treatments will help you recover faster.

All three forms can be used in conjunction with each other because muscles and joints rely on each other for movement and power. The soft and hard tissues are closely related to each other so when one gets treatment, the other should too. As well, to perform these treatments, all three forms require hands-on involvement by a professional. Although massage can be done without a professional, you can get better results from a professional. However, mobilization and manipulation would need a professional’s supervision and guidance because a professional is better at judging one’s range of motion. In the end, the overall goal of each form is the same: to provide relief to the area being treated.

Other styles of manual therapy include: chiropractic, acupressure, bone setting, joint manipulation/mobilization, spinal manipulation/mobilization, osteopathy, shiatsu, tui na, physiotherapy, myofascial release, massage therapy, and more. Each style has a long origin history and they each specialize in different techniques.

Difference Between Manipulation, Mobilisation And Massage – Treatments. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from

How Can Massage Help My Health and Wellbeing? (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from

Manual therapy. (2018, March 06). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from

Mobilisation, manipulation and massage – what is the difference? – The Physiotherapy Partners Blog. (2017, February 16). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from

Spinal Manipulation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from

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