What is Orthopedic Massage?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Orthopedic massage is a type of massage therapy which is focused on treating painful conditions which affect the soft tissues of the body. The massage therapist may integrate a range of techniques to treat these conditions, ideally adapting his or her style for each client, as every person's body is slightly different. This type of massage may be recommended by a physician who wants a patient to pursue multiple treatment modalities, and people can also see an orthopedic massage therapist independently.

Only highly trained professionals should perform orthopedic massages.
Only highly trained professionals should perform orthopedic massages.

A therapist who performs orthopedic massage focuses on problems with the client's musculoskeletal system. He or she may release tight muscles, help to stretch shortened muscles and tendons, and decompress joints. The goal is to normalize the soft tissues of the body, both to treat specific conditions and to keep clients generally healthy and fit. Because this type of massage is designed to treat medical conditions, it requires extensive training, as an unskilled therapist could harm a client by accident.

An orthopedic massage may help relieve tight muscles.
An orthopedic massage may help relieve tight muscles.

The first step in an orthopedic massage session is assessment, in which the therapist will talk to the client about the problem and examine the area of interest. If the massage therapist partners with a physician, he or she will also look over notes from the physician. Then, the therapist establishes a treatment plan which considers the physiological effects of various massage techniques. This style of massage is very flexible, since it integrates a wide range of bodywork styles with the end goal of improving the client's condition.

Finally, the therapist works with the client on the table. By using various soft tissue manipulation techniques, the massage therapist can alleviate an assortment of painful conditions caused by soft tissue strain. Depending on the client's issue, the massage therapist may recommend multiple sessions to treat the problem, to ensure that it is eliminated and to build up strength and resistance in the affected area so that the condition does not recur.

Because many serious medical conditions can present with things like painful muscles and tendons, an orthopedic massage therapist needs extensive training to learn to differentiate between orthopedic problems like a strained shoulder and medical problems like strokes and heart attacks which can spark muscle pain at their onset. Some conditions can also be exacerbated by massage therapy; some experts argue that some cancers, for example, can be encouraged to spread with massage, or a therapist could unwittingly cause lymphedema in a patient with improperly applied massage techniques. If you are considering orthopedic massage, you may want to talk to a doctor first to make sure that it is the best treatment for you.

Orthopedic massages are most common on the back, neck and shoulders although they can be used on any soft tissue.
Orthopedic massages are most common on the back, neck and shoulders although they can be used on any soft tissue.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Can this kind of message help a herniated disc? I'm a 70 year old female.


Finding a massage therapist from a certified massage therapy institute is important when it comes to orthopedic massage since it can have such dramatic effects on the body.

When in doubt, ask to see certification. Your body and health is not work risking with a cut-rate massage.


Orthopedic massage can be really good for older people too.

Since it's not as harsh as deep tissue massage, and can help with a lot of different kinds of injuries or aches, it can do older people a world of good, increasing their mobility and range of motion, stimulating blood flow, and even helping the body to heal itself by causing an increase in new tissue cells.

Of course, since elderly people are often more fragile, it is important for the massage therapist to modify the massage to suit the client, and to be able to avoid accidentally injuring the client, or exacerbating an underlying injury.


Many sports massage therapists are trained to do some form of orthopedic massage as well.

Because athletes put so much wear and tear on their bodies, they are also more prone to injury.

An orthopedic massage therapist can encourage an injury to heal, or even improve an athletes mobility if it has been impaired by soreness or injury.

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