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What is the difference between Integrative Bodywork and Therapeutic Massage?

Gladys Wong, CMT, MIM, Redwood City

Integrative Bodywork vs. Therapeutic Massage

What is the difference between Integrative Bodywork and Therapeutic Massage?
Source: ABMP

Most of the time “massage” just sounds like……well, a massage.   As in all professions there are different types or specialties under the umbrella of Massage.  For example, Pizza.  There are literally hundreds of “types” of pizza.  I personally like mushroom and basil.  So, for “massage” we are lucky to offer two distinctive types of work at Many Lives Chinese Medicine.  Integrative and Therapeutic massage.  How are they different?  They are different because the massage therapists are different in the way they work.

The big picture:   the word “massage” is terribly old and comes from the Portuguese “massa” dough, to “amassar” knead, to now French “masser”, knead, treat with massage to now the late 19th century “massage” and here we are!

The word and image is very broad and according the dictionary:

noun: massage

the rubbing and kneading of muscles and joints of the body with the hands, especially to relieve tension or pain.

Generally, all massage is the “kneading” or manipulation of muscle and connective tissue.  Various techniques are used to enhance function, increase circulation, promote relaxation and assist the healing process.  Massage leads to better health and a happier human.  Thus all massage is therapeutic in nature.

So what makes Integrative Bodywork different from Therapeutic Massage?

What is Therapeutic Massage?  What is Integrative Bodywork?

Therapeutic massage is a general term that describes any type of massage modality that helps relieve pain, reduce stress, and work on a specific problem. Commonly referred to as Deep Tissue Massage, it is often a strong massage, and the practitioner can work and any level; soft, medium or strong.

Integrative Bodywork is whole-person healing. Physical, Mental, Emotional and some could say, Spiritual.  Using various methods, with the focus on energetic balancing, the therapist stimulates the body’s innate desire to be balanced.

The Root


This massage is born from a Swedish style as the base and from there, the therapist combines other techniques, such as neuro-muscular therapy and connective tissue release to revive troubled areas of the body.  The root of the actual area is addressed to solve for a particular issue. Examples: Frozen shoulder, tight psoas, knees issues from running.


Essentially, deep root causes are addressed, the therapist releases muscle tension embedded in the muscles caused by historic and present emotional pain, stress and recovery from minor physical injuries and surgery, as well as psychic pain.



Performed as a full-body massage or the massage therapist may focus on the parts of the body that need the most attention. Deep pressure is alternated with soothing strokes and hot towels or some hot stones can be incorporated to further relax and sooth the muscle work.


The therapist will realign, stretch, massage, and/or apply gua sha (scraping method) to ease the tissues in distress.  You also might be asked to do some breath work to increase your oxygen intake and generate energy to create blood flow.  Creative visualization might be employed to relieve muscle tension.



Most people who receive therapeutic massage (or any massage) regularly report feeling general relief and a sense of peace and increased relaxation.  However, some people may also experience a sudden rush of powerful emotion while receiving any bodywork. It can present as grief, euphoria, anger, fear or sadness.  In the therapeutic arena, everyone has their own level of release.  The emotional side in this massage is a result of general bodywork, there are no real “techniques” here for cultivating the emotional process.


This massage takes a deeper look at the psychic/emotional injuries that can create trauma in the physical body. The memory remains in the muscles until removed. (muscle memory). The therapist can assist with eliminating negative feelings in the dis-eased muscles to help the body, mind and spirit resume full operation.



Spiritual awakening or feelings can indeed arise during this massage as a natural byproduct of receiving skilled touch. While all massage can have a spiritual component, cultivating or using targeted spiritual techniques is not an aim of the therapeutic massage.


Our bodies are composed of many layers of vibrating energy. The therapist looks at the “spirit” as one of the vibrating layers and works to integrate it with the other energy layers of our system.  When they work as a synchronized as a whole, a balanced physical, mental, and spiritual body emerges.  

Integrative Bodywork
Source: ABMP

The takeaway:

The act of getting onto a massage table and having a therapist work on your body is a massage.  The differences in the outcome can be found with the type of therapist you trust to work out your issues. Physical, mental emotional, both and spiritual.

The intention and techniques are what make a therapeutic massage different from an integrative massage.   Communication also differs in each type of massage. In an integrative massage, it is essential for the client to be an active participant and give the therapist feedback on pressure, sensation, and changes.  In therapeutic massage, while “check in” is encouraged, the client does not have to be as active a participant.

Some Benefits Of Massage

  • Enhances immunity by stimulating lymph flow
  • Assists with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays
  • Exercises and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles
  • Helps athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts
  • Increases joint flexibility
  • Reduces fatigue, depression and anxiety
  • Enhances sleep
  • Improves energy, concentration and circulation
  • Alleviates low-back pain and improves range of motion
  • Promotes tissue regeneration, reduces scar tissue and stretch marks
  • Pumps oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs which improves circulation
  • Relaxes and softens injured, tired, and overused muscles
  • Releases endorphins
  • Relieves migraine pain

At Many Lives Chinese Medicine we have always had different types of well vetted massage therapists to address particular concerns.  We are not a massage superstore/mill, where clients are run through every 50 minutes.

We are thoughtful about matching a particular therapist to the needs of our patients and clientele at large.

Currently Gladys Wong provides Integrative Body work (90 full minutes) and Heidi Smith provides therapeutic massage, (60/90 full minutes) both offer comprehensive relaxation.

We are eager to see you in the office for an Integrative or a Therapeutic massage!

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