What is Therapeutic Massage Therapy?


Therapeutic Massage Therapy is defined as the mobilisation of soft tissue (such as muscle, fascia and body fluids) to restore normal systemic and biomechanical/functional use. It can be used to assist in the treatment of most musculo-skeletal and associated problems, and regular Therapeutic Massage Therapy results in improved circulatory, lymphatic and neurological functioning.

Therapeutic Massage can be stimulating or soothing depending on the technique, depth and speed. Carried out by a Registered Therapist, Therapeutic Massage Therapy is both safe and effective and helps to create balance and harmony from within.

Today, given the high levels of stress under which many people live, Therapeutic Massage Therapy is not only a highly beneficial therapy, but also one of the healthiest options to improving one’s quality of life.

Finally recognised as a profession

In 1989 the Massage Therapy Association of South Africa (MTA) – formerly known as the Holistic Massage Practitioners Association – was founded to work towards the professional recognition of Therapeutic Massage Therapy in South Africa.

From 1995 to 2001 members of this Association negotiated with the Chiropractors, Homeopaths and Allied Health Services Professions Interim Council for the registration of Therapeutic Massage Therapy as a statutory recognised profession. This recognition was achieved on the 12 February 2001 when Therapeutic Massage Therapy, along with eight other health professions, was officially recognised as a statutory registered profession.

The Allied Health Professions Act No. 63 of 1982 was duly amended to include the newly registered professions. The passing of this Act on 12 February 2001 has had, and will continue to have a profound effect on the profession for years to come.

Benefits of Therapeutic Massage Therapy

The benefits of Therapeutic Massage Therapy are profound and are becoming even more attractive as the world around us becomes more stressed, aggressive and anxiety ridden. Many companies in South Africa are beginning to adopt Therapeutic Massage Therapy in their own organisations and are actively encouraging their employees to have ongoing treatments.

Therapeutic Massage Therapy could be a relevant choice of health care in the following areas:

- Health maintenance and/or health promotion: Promotes general tissue health and encourages lifestyle and general health awareness

- Stress management: Helps relieve associated muscular tension and encourages general relaxation

- Post-operative care:  Helps reduce recovery period and speeds up elimination of anaesthetic, as well as reducing pain and stiffness associated with bed-rest

- Emotional and/or psychological disorders: Releases endorphins that help to uplift and reduce depression

- Terminal illness: Helps reduce pain and discomfort associated with long term bed-rest as well as providing support and reducing the effects of emotional stress for the patient as well as the family

- Chronic pain: Helps break the “pain spasm” cycle whilst reducing associated muscle tightness

- Care of the disabled: Provides emotional support as well as assisting in the maintenance of general tissue health

- Pre and/or post-event sports’ participation: Improves performance and recovery and reduces the likelihood of serious injury

Types of Therapeutic Massage Therapy

Read any newspaper, health magazine or journal and you will see Therapeutic Massage Therapy described in many different ways. For example, Relaxation Massage, Rehabilitation Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Anti-Stress Massage, Sports Massage; the list is almost endless. All of these “types” of massage fall under the one umbrella heading of Therapeutic Massage Therapy.

Choosing a Therapeutic Massage Therapist

It is vitally important that the Therapeutic Massage Therapist that you choose to consult is registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa. This will ensure that they are properly trained and qualified to carry out a therapeutic treatment.

Study of Therapeutic Massage Therapy

The study of Therapeutic Massage Therapy isn’t a simple one-week course. As a registered profession, education and training is monitored by the AHPCSA, the Dept of Education and the Dept of Health and requires two years of intensive studying. Subjects studied include Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Pathophysiology, Listening Skills and the practical application of correct massage techniques amongst others.


Although little formal research has been conducted into the multitude of benefits of Therapeutic Massage Therapy in South Africa, it has been well researched in other parts of the world, including the United States of America. In 1991 the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami moved Therapeutic Massage Therapy into the mainstream by conducting a number of qualitative studies on the beneficial effects of Therapeutic Massage Therapy.

Some research has found the following:

- In the April 2001 issue of “The Journal of Internal Medicine”, massage was found to provide long-lasting relief from chronic low back pain. These findings were further supported by an article by Hernandez-Reif, Krasnegor and Theakson in the International Journal of Neuroscience, 106, 131-145.

- Recent research has shown that massage can help relieve chronic pain

- It has found to benefit children who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder as the study showed that after a month of weekly massage they were less hyperactive in class

Treatment procedure

For those who have not yet enjoyed the benefits of a Therapeutic Massage; this is what usually happens in a therapeutic massage session:

The treatment is done in the privacy of a therapist’s rooms. The initial and confidential consultation with the patient lasts about 2 hours. The first half hour is used to take a detailed medical history and to determine whether therapeutic massage is indicated for the patient. The patient/therapist relationship remains confidential and the therapist explains his or her code of ethics and scope of practice. The patient is also asked to sign an indemnity form for both the patient and therapist’s protection.

After that, the patient undresses in the privacy of the treatment room or bathroom and then lies down on the massage table. Towels are provided with which to cover one. Every care is taken to protect the dignity of the patient and at no time should one feel ‘invaded.’ High quality natural oils are used and the work is rhythmical, gentle yet firm - the idea is not to cause pain that would nullify the benefits of the massage. The therapist works methodically over the entire body, ensure at all times that the patient is comfortable.

After the treatment the patient is encouraged to drink plenty of water since there is a detoxifying effect from a therapeutic massage session. It always takes more than one session to see real improvements in specific areas of the body, however even one therapeutic massage can start to have a profound effect on the patient’s physical and mental well-being.


Therapeutic Massage Therapy encompasses the philosophy that the body knows how to heal itself and touch is the messenger that sends the signal to the body to do what its own wisdom tells it. If it is practiced in a professional environment and applied correctly, it is one of the most powerful methods of treating and preventing pain as well as helping one to achieve a total state of well-being in a non-invasive, safe and healing way.

For further information or for the name of a therapeutic massage therapist near you, visit the website of the Massage Therapy Association of South Africa (MTA) or phone 076 549 7753.

Image : Massage photo from Shutterstock 


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