Medical Massage Therapy and Bodywork Glossary


This glossary includes some of the most popular techniques and terms used in medical massage therapy and bodywork.  This glossary is included for consumer’s informational purposes only.  Medicine Hands, Inc. does not endorse one form of massage or bodywork over another.  

This glossary includes some of the most popular techniques and terms used in medical massage therapy and bodywork.  This glossary is included for consumer’s informational purposes only.  Medicine Hands, Inc. does not endorse one form of massage or bodywork over another.  

Acupunctureis the system that involves pricking the skin or tissues with needles, used to alleviate pain. Originating in ancient China, acupuncture is now widely practiced in the West.

Active Release Techniques (ART)is a comprehensive method of Soft Tissue Treatment to help such conditions as Carpal Tunnel, Sports Injuries, Headache Relief, Occupational Health, Industrial Injury, using protocols in a combination of examination and treatment. The ART specialist uses his or her hands to evaluate the texture, tightness and movement of muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments and nerves during treatment. Abnormal tissues are treated by combining precisely directed tension with very specific patient movements.

Acupressure – Acupressure is a form of bodywork based in traditional Chinese meridian theory in which acupuncture points are pressed to stimulate the flow of energy or chi.

Bodywork– Bodywork is a general term for practices involving touch and movement in both Eastern and Western practices where the practitioner may use manual and energetic techniques to promote health and healing in the recipient.

Boundary – A boundary is a limit that separates one person from another. Its function is to protect the integrity of each person.

Chair Massage – Chair massage refers to massage given with the recipient seated in an ordinary or special massage chair. Recipients remain clothed in chair massage. It has been called on-site massage when the chair is taken to a public place such as an office or commercial establishment.

Chiropracticis the diagnosis and manipulative treatment of misalignments of the joints, especially those of the spinal column.

Competency – Study and development of a particular professional knowledge base and skills associated with and applied in practice within that knowledge base.

Counter-Transference – A practitioner’s unresolved feelings and issues which are unconsciously transferred to the client.

Craniosacral – Cranio refers to the cranium, which is the bony part of the head. Sacral refers to the bony bottom of the spine called the sacrum. In the 1900s Dr. William Sutherland, an osteopathic physician, discovered cranio movement. In the 1970s Dr. John Upledger, an osteopathic doctor, helped to further Sutherland’s discovery as both an evaluative tool and a corrective one. Craniosacral therapy is a light touch manipulation of the head and bottom of the spine to restore optimal cerebrospinal fluid movement.

Cryotherapyis the local or general use of low temperatures in medical therapy or the removal of heat from a body part.

Deep Tissue Massage – Deep tissue massage is also called deep muscle therapy or deep tissue therapy. It is an umbrella term for bodywork systems that work deeply into the muscles and connective tissue to release chronic aches and pains.3

Dignity – The quality or state of being worthy, honored or esteemed.5

Dual Relationships – An alliance in addition to the client/therapist relationship, such as social, familial, business or any other relationship that is outside the therapeutic relationship.5

Feldenkrais Method® – The Feldenkrais Method is an educational system which uses movement to bring about more effective ways to function. Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born Israeli, was a physicist, and mechanical and electrical engineer before developing his movement theories. Feldenkrais is offered in two forms. One form is called Functional Integration®, which is a one-on-one session. The other form is called Awareness Through Movement®, which is group lessons.

Integrity – Honesty. Firm adherence to a code of values.

Manual Lymph Drainage – Manual lymph drainage is a gentle method of promoting movement of lymph into and through the lymphatic vessels. It reduces edema, a condition in which the tissues of the body contain an excessive amount of fluid.

Massage – Massage is the intentional and systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body to enhance health and healing. Joint movements and stretching are commonly performed as part of massage. The primary characteristics of massage are touch and movement.

Massage Therapy – Massage therapy is a general term for health and healing practices involving touch and movement, which are based in massage and related manual techniques.

Multidimensional Relationships – Overlapping relationships in which the therapist and client share an alliance, in addition to the therapeutic relationship.

Myofascial Release – Myo means muscle and fascia is the elastic connective tissue wrapped around muscles and other parts of the body. During myofascial release restrictions (stuck areas) are located and gentle sliding pressure is applied in the direction of the restriction to stretch the tissues. The stretching of tissues and the heat imparted by the practitioner’s hands are thought to help produce a softer consistency of fascial tissues.

Neuromuscular Therapy – A systematic approach to myofascial treatment that attempts to interrupt the neuromuscular feedback that maintains pain or dysfunction.

Ortho-Bionomy™ – Ortho-Bionomy is a technique where points of pain are located and then the body is gently moved to fold around the point and rest in a position where there is no pain. The body is placed in the most comfortable position called the preferred position. In doing this, reflexes are initiated, relaxing muscles and freeing the body of its stresses and tensions. Ortho-Bionomy was developed by British osteopath Arthur Lincoln Pauls, D.O.

Polarity Therapy – Polarity therapy is a form of bodywork that uses light touch and gentle rocking movements intended to balance life energy by affecting general and muscular relaxation. Polarity therapy was developed Dr. Randolph Stone, who was trained in natural healing methods of chiropractic, naturopathy and osteopathy.

Pre-natal Care/Massagefocuses on the mother-to-be as she goes through physical changes due to pregnancy, using techniques that comply with protocols that are safe for the unborn child.

Post-natal Care/Massagerefers to care of the mother from birth of the child until about 6 weeks after childbirth to aid in the body’s recovery.

Pregnancy Massage – Pregnancy massage is the massage of pregnant women (prenatal) and women after giving birth (postpartum). It address the special needs of pregnant women such as discomforts in the low back, feet and legs.

Progress Notes – Notes written, by a practitioner certified by NCBTMB, and kept in a separate client file that indicates the date of the session, areas of complaint as stated by client, and observations made and actions taken by the practitioner.

Reiki – Reiki is a Japanese word pronounced “ray-kee” and means “universal life energy.” It is a light touch or no-touch technique for channeling this omnipresent energy to promote healing.

Reflexology – Reflexology is a form of bodywork based on the theory of zone therapy, in which specific spots of the body are pressed to stimulate corresponding areas in other parts of the body. Foot reflexology, in which pressure techniques are applied only to the feet, is the most common form of reflexology.

Rolfing® Structural Integration– Rolfing Structural Integration was developed by Ida P. Rolf as a form of hands-on manipulation and movement education that works with the connective tissues, called fascia, in order to balance the whole body in gravity. The 10-session series may cause deep changes in the body that are emotional as well as physical. The Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration is the original school developed by Dr. Rolf and the only school that teaches Rolfing Structural Integration and graduates Rolfers™.

Shiatsu – Shiatsu (Japanese for “finger pressure”) is a system for healing and health maintenance that has evolved over thousands of years. Shiatsu derives both from the ancient healing art of acupuncture and from the traditional form of Japanese massage, amma. The goal of each of the different types of shiatsu being practiced, Zen shiatsu, tsubo point therapy, shiatsu massage and water shiatsu, is balancing energy flow.

Scope of Practice – The minimum standards necessary for safe and effective practice and the parameters of practice determined by the certificant’s professional training and education, and, when applicable, regulatory bodies.

Somatic Dysfunction is the impaired or altered function of bodily structures (most often of the musculoskeletal system, nervous system, or lymphatic system)

Sports Massage – Sports massage is applied to athletes to help them train and perform free of pain and injuries. Massage therapists blend classic Swedish strokes with such methods as compression, pressure-point therapy, cross-fiber friction, joint mobilization, hydrotherapy and cryotherapy (ice massage) to meet the special needs of high-level performers and fitness enthusiasts.

Swedish Massage – Swedish massage is also known as the Western or classic style of massage. It is credited to the Swedish fencing master and gymnastics instructor, Per Henrik Ling. It is a scientific system of manipulations on the muscles and connective tissues of the body for the purpose of relaxation, rehabilitation or health maintenance. Swedish massage therapy is comprised of five basic strokes and their variations: effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement (or percussion) and vibration.

Temple Mandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD) is a disorder that is caused by faulty articulation of the temporomandibular joint and is characterized by facial pain, headache, ringing ears, dizziness, and stiffness of the neck. Also called myofacial pain-dysfunction syndrome.

Therapeutic Breast Massage: Manipulation of the non-muscular soft tissue structure of the breast up to and including the areola and nipple.

Therapeutic Touch – Therapeutic touch was developed by nurses Dolores Krieger and Dora Kunz in the early 1970s after studying the ancient practice of laying on of hands. It is based on the idea that human beings are energy in the form of a field. In health, the field flows freely, while it becomes out of balance when disease is present.

Thai Massage – Thai massage is an ancient bodywork system designed to unblock trapped energy and improve vitality by applying pressure along energy pathways called sens. These pathways carry vital life energy. Thai massage uses slow, often meditative, rhythmic pressing by fingers, thumbs, hands, forearms, elbows and feet (which are used extensively) and yogalike stretches coupled with gentle rocking motions.

Trager® – Milton Trager M.D. created Trager. It is also known as Tragerwork and Trager Psychophysical Integration. It operates on the principle that one learns to be lighter, easier and freer by experiencing light, easy and free sensations in the body. Practitioners introduce pleasurable sensory information to the soft tissues by steadily, gently and rhythmically rocking and stretching the body.

Transference – The displacement or transfer of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors originally related to a significant person, such as a parent, onto someone else, such as a massage therapist (or doctor, psychotherapist, teacher, spiritual advisor, etc.).

Trigger Point Massage – Trigger point massage utilizes ischemic compression of individual areas of hypersensitivity in muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia. These trigger points are defined by their referral of pain to distant locations in muscles, connective tissues and organs. Janet Travell, M.D., pioneered trigger point therapy in the United States.

Watsu® – Watsu, or water shiatsu, is a system that employs the stretches of Zen shiatsu in a pool of warm water. The pool provides a deeply relaxing environment where weight and pressures are removed from the body. The client is floated and rocked as the spine is gently pulled and stretched, following the precepts of Zen shiatsu. Harold Dull originated Watsu.