Glossary of Massage Terminology

We’ve compiled this glossary of over 300 commonly used massage terms for massage therapy students and practitioners. This useful resource will help you build your massage vocabulary during school, and guide you as you prepare for the MBLEx exam. Understanding the most commonly used terms in massage and bodywork can also help with accurate clinical documentation and communication with other health and wellness professionals.

Massage Terminology A – F

Massage TermDefinition
AbdomenThe abdomen is the region of the body inferior to the ribcage and superior to the pelvis. Abdominal cavity refers to the space that lies within these borders. It contains many of the body’s organs including the kidneys, liver, pancreas, stomach and intestines.
Abdominal massageAbdominal massage, also called visceral massage or visceral manipulation, is massage therapy of the abdominal region. It commonly uses Swedish massage techniques, but may also include myofascial release, trigger point therapy, or other massage techniques. Indications for abdominal massage include constipation, stress, back pain, muscle spasms, and adhesions.
AbductionThis directional term means movement of a limb or other body part away from the midline of the body. In the hands and feet, abduction refers to the movement of the phalanges away from the midline of the hand or foot. The opposite motion is adduction.
ABMPABMP stands for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, which is a national membership association in the US that provides massage liability insurance, continuing education courses, and other benefits for members.
Accessory musclesMuscles that provide assistance to the primary muscles for a movement or action. Accessory muscles of breathing include the scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, trapezius, pectoralis major, and other muscles. These muscles assist the primary breathing muscles (diaphragm and intercostals).
AccommodationThe act or state of adaptation or adjustment. Often referring to adjustments in the lens of the eye to change the focal length and permit image focusing on the retina. The term accommodation is also a property of nerves in which it adjusts to a slowly increasing stimulus strength.
Achilles tendonAlso called the calcaneal tendon, this band of connective tissue connects the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) of the posterior lower leg to the calcaneus bone (heel bone) of the foot. The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon of the body, and averages about 6 inches in length.
Acromioclavicular (AC) jointThe acromioclavicular (AC) joint is formed by the articulation between the two bones of the pectoral girdle: the scapula and the clavicle. The AC joint is a synovial joint and has a flat or slightly curved surface which makes it a plane or gliding multiaxial joint. There are several ligaments around the joint to create joint stability.
AcromionThe acromion, or acromion process, is the bony process of the scapula that projects anterolaterally from the spine of the scapula. The acromion articulates with the clavicle to form the AC joint. The acromion process also serves as a visible and palpable bony landmark for massage assessment.
ActinThin protein microfilaments in muscle tissue that organize into bundles and function alongside myosin to create muscle contraction.
Action PotentialA rapid and brief change in the electrical potential (difference in charge between the inside and outside of the cell) at the membrane of a neuron or muscle cell.
Active Assisted MovementAn exercise or movement in which assistance is provided by an outside force, either manual or mechanical, when the client’s muscle strength at the joint(s) is not sufficient to complete the motion.
Active Assisted StretchingA therapeutic technique and form of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) in which the target muscle is actively lengthened by contraction of the antagonist muscles. This activates reciprocal inhibition which facilitates relaxation and lengthening of the target muscle. The therapist provides additional force at the end of the client’s range of motion (ROM) to assist in increasing ROM.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)A stretching technique used to lengthen muscle and fascia tissues and increase flexibility. This bodywork technique applies a series of 8 to 10 repeated stretches to a muscle, holding each repetition for 2 seconds.
Active Release Technique (ART)A therapeutic technique that was designed to restore normal soft tissue mobility by breaking down adhesions and restrictions that can cause pain and dysfunctional movement patterns. ART is performed by the therapist applying manual pressure to the area being treated as the adjacent joints are moved actively or passively.
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)A healthcare term that is commonly used in rehabilitative therapies (e.g. physical and occupational therapy), and refers to people’s daily self-care activities. ADLs include: bathing, dressing, toileting, feeding, personal hygiene, and functional mobility (e.g. transfers, bed mobility).
AcupressureAn alternative or complementary medicine technique based on meridian theory, in which physical pressure is applied to acupuncture points in order to clear the energy pathways and restore normal flow of chi (life energy). Pressure may be applied manually with the fingers, hand or elbow, or by using other devices. Massage therapists familiar with acupressure and meridian theory may include some acupressure work in other types of massage.
AcupunctureA form of alternative medicine and a component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in which fine needles are inserted into the body at specific points of the body with the intent of restoring the normal flow of chi (life energy) throughout the body. The needles may be left in briefly, or stimulated manually or by using a small electric current.
AcuteA stage of an injury or illness in which the signs and symptoms are severe. The acute stage is often short in duration, and typically refers to the initial stage of an injury. Acute pain is pain that is experienced during the acute stage.
AdductionMovement of a body part toward the midline. For the limbs, this means moving towards the midline of the body. For the digits of the hands and feet, adduction means movement towards the midline of the hand or foot. The opposite motion is abduction.
AdhesionThe act or state of sticking together. An adhesion in the body is the condition in which tissues that are normally separate grow together or adhere through cross-linking of connective tissue. This can occur as a result of surgery, during the wound healing process or as part of a pathological process. Adhesions may be painful and can restrict the normal movement or function of the tissues and organs involved. Adhesions may occur in muscle tissue, tendons, ligaments, membranes, or other structures. Massage therapy may assist with breaking up adhesions to restore normal soft tissue mobility.
Afferent nervesSensory nerve fibers that transmit nerve impulses and information from sensory organs of the body to the central nervous system.
AgonistThe primary muscle that causes a particular movement. The agonist muscle is also called the prime mover. The agonist is opposed by one or more antagonist muscle(s). The opposing forces between the agonist and antagonist permit joint motion in both directions. These opposing forces also help to stabilize a joint and control motion at the joint. Agonist also refers to a drug that combines with a cell receptor to produce a physiological reaction.
Alexander Technique (AT)A type of bodywork that focuses on teaching the client how to improve their posture and movement. The goal of the Alexander Technique is to relieve pain and tension in the body, as well as improve ease of movement, balance and coordination. It is a form of neuromuscular re-education that attempts to help the client (student) unlearn bad posture and movement habits.
AllergenA substance that is capable of inducing an allergic reaction or specific hypersensitivity. An allergen is a type of antigen that produces a strong immune response because the immune system perceives the allergen to be a threat to the body. Common allergens include nuts, pollen, pet dander, shellfish, poison ivy, latex, and penicillin. Massage therapists must be aware of any client allergies that could be triggered by products used during the massage.
Allergic reactionA hypersensitive reaction, or exaggerated immune response to a particular allergen. An allergic reaction occurs is when the immune system overreacts to what is normally a harmless substance. This can range from a mild reaction to a severe and life-threatening reaction.
AMTAAmerican Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is the largest nonprofit, professional association for massage therapists, massage students and massage schools.
AnalgesicsA drug or other agent that relieves pain and is referred to as a painkiller. Analgesics may be administered intravenously, orally, or topically. Examples of analgesics include NSAIDs, acetaminophen, opioid drugs such as morphine and codeine, alcohol, and cannabis.
Anatomic PositionAlso called standard anatomical position, it is the specific body orientation used to provide a reference when describing a location on the body or direction of movement. Anatomical position consists of a person standing upright, facing forward with the legs parallel to one another, and arms hanging at either side with the hands open and palms facing forward.
AnatomyThe broad science that studies the structure of organisms. Human anatomy studies the form and structures of the human body. There are many other specialties within the study of anatomy which explore specific aspects of anatomy, including: clinical anatomy, functional anatomy, developmental anatomy, gross anatomy, radiologic anatomy, and comparative anatomy. Anatomy and physiology is one of the content areas of the MBLEx exam.
Angular movementMovement that creates a change in the angle between the long axis of the moving bone and a reference line in the fixed bone. This swinging motion revolves around an axis, or pivot point. For example, flexion of the elbow decreases the angle between the forearm and the humerus as it pivots at the elbow joint. Extension of the elbow increases the angle between the forearm and the humerus.
Anma (Japanese Massage)Anma is the traditional Japanese word for massage. It is derived from Chinese style of massage therapy (Amma) and includes finger pressure, stroking, stretching, and percussive techniques. The Amma practitioner uses their hands, forearms, elbows, knees and feet on acupressure points to stimulate flow of energy through the meridians of the body. Amma uses no oil and is done through clothing.
AntagonistThe antagonist muscle is one that opposes the action of another muscle (the agonist).
AnteriorIn human anatomy, anterior refers to the front side of the body. Opposite side of the body (the back side) is called the posterior.
Appendicular skeletonOne of the two main divisions of the skeleton (the other is the axial skeleton), that forms the upper and lower extremities. There are 126 bones in the appendicular skeleton which includes all the bones of the arms, legs, hands, feet, shoulder girdle, and pelvis.
Applied Kinesiology (AK)A form of muscle strength testing, and a method of diagnosis and treatment that was developed by a chiropractor in 1964. Applied kinesiology is based on the belief that muscles are linked to specific organs and glands, and that weakness of specific muscles can indicate dysfunction in the body such as nerve damage, chemical imbalance or impaired blood supply.
Aquatic MassageA gentle form of massage and bodywork that is provided in a warm pool, heated to body temperature (around 98 deg F). Aquatic massage uses the warmth and buoyancy of the water to help relax the body and mind. The therapist may incorporate various techniques including assisted stretching, myofascial release, soft tissue mobilization, pressure point work, and breathwork. Floatation aids such as a pool noodle may be used to support the body. There are different versions of aquatic therapy such as Watsu, hydromassage, hydrotherapy, Jahara Technique, and others.
Area of CautionAreas of caution are areas of the body where delicate structures are located and are vulnerable to injury from massage or bodywork technique. Also called massage endangerment sites or endangerment zones. Examples include the axillary region (armpit), popliteal space behind the knee, and the anterior cervical region.
AromatherapyA form of alternative medicine or complementary therapy that uses aromatic materials to create a therapeutic effect. Aromatherapy most commonly uses essential oils derived from plant extracts. These aromas may be delivered through inhalation or through topical application as in aromatherapy massage. Essential oils used in aromatherapy massage are combined with a carrier oil before use.
ArteryVessels that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart and to the tissues of the body. The exception to this is the pulmonary artery that carries deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs. Arteries have thicker walls than veins because the pressure in arteries is higher. Small arteries that lead to the capillaries are called arterioles. Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure in the arteries (not the veins).
ArticulationArticulation is another name for a joint, which is a junction or union of two or more bones.
Asian Bodywork TherapySystem of therapeutic bodywork techniques intended to restore and balance the flow of energy throughout the body. These treatment techniques have their origin in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or other Asian systems. Examples of Asian bodywork therapy include acupressure, Tui Na, Jin Shin Do, Medical Qigong, and Shiatsu.
AssessmentA client assessment is an evaluation or examination that is conducted in order to better understand the client’s current condition. A client assessment provides the therapist with information needed to develop an appropriate treatment plan. The massage assessment typically includes a review of the client’s health history and intake documentation, client interview, visual assessment and palpation assessment. It may also include special tests, gait assessment or range of motion (ROM) assessment. Knowledge of massage client assessment is included on the MBLEx massage licensing exam.
Assisted stretchingAssisted stretching, also called partner stretching, is a therapeutic modality where one person helps another person stretch, with the goal of increasing flexibility and range of motion (ROM). This form of bodywork may also improve posture, reduce stress, and relieve pain caused by neuromusculoskeletal dysfunction.
AtrophyThe progressive shrinking or degeneration of muscle or nervous tissue. Muscle atrophy is also called muscle wasting. There are two main types of muscle atrophy, disuse atrophy caused by lack of physical exercise, and neurogenic atrophy caused by damage to the nerves that innervate the muscle.
Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)Division of the nervous system that controls the organs (e.g. heart, stomach, kidneys), glands (e.g. adrenal glands, sweat glands), smooth muscle and involuntary body functions. The autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Axial skeletonOne of the two main divisions of the skeleton (the other is the appendicular skeleton), that forms the central structure of the body. There are 80 bones in the axial skeleton which includes the ribs, sternum, all vertebrae of the spine, and the bones of the skull (facial and cranium).
AyurvedaAyurveda is a traditional healing modality that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. This ancient healing science is based on the philosophy that good health requires balance between the body, mind and spirit. In the US, Ayurveda is considered an alternative or complementary health approach. Ayurveda often includes massage, herbs, aromatherapy, specialized diets, yoga in treatment plans.
BeatingBeating, pounding and pummeling are percussive techniques (tapotement) used in massage therapy. This technique involves a series of brisk striking motions of light to heavy pressure, and is applied with a loose fist. Beating is used to stimulate the muscles in order to increase circulation to the area, temperature and tissue elasticity.
Benefits and Effects of MassageThese are the changes in the body that are the result of the application of massage or bodywork techniques. Benefits are positive and desirable effects, and may include increased relaxation, reduced pain, improved flexibility and mobility, and many others depending on the techniques used. There are different categories of effects including: physiological effects, psychological effects, mechanical (indirect) effects, and reflexive (indirect) effects.
Best PracticeProfessional procedures and standards that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective. For example, it is best practice to conduct a client assessment for each new client. And it is best practice to complete documentation of a massage treatment immediately after the session ends, rather than waiting until the end of the day.
BilateralRelating to, involving or affecting both sides of the body.
Biomechanical DysfunctionAn imbalance of the musculoskeletal system that results in faulty or abnormal movement patterns.
BiomechanicsThe term biomechanics refers to the study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms. It is the science of mechanics of the movement of living organisms, including how the muscles, bones, tendons, joints and ligaments work together to produce movement. It is a division of the larger field of kinesiology.
Body cavityA space within the body that is separated by membranes and occupied by fluid, tissues or organs. The two largest body cavities are the dorsal and ventral cavities which are subdivided into smaller cavities including the cranial cavity, spinal cavity, pelvic cavity, thoracic cavity, and abdominal cavity.
BodyworkA generic term that refers to the holistic approach to improving health and wellbeing. Bodywork typically involves a combination of therapeutic modalities and techniques such as manual therapies (e.g. massage), movement therapies, exercise training, and energetic therapies.
BoundaryThe massage term boundary refers to a barrier or limit between the therapist and client in a therapeutic relationship. Boundaries help to delineate the roles for the therapist and client. They also help to reinforce behaviors that are appropriate and acceptible. There are different types of boundaries including physical boundries (e.g. sheet, clothing, distance), and non-physical boundaries (e.g. time, emotional). A boundary crossing or boundary violation occurs when the client or therapist does not stay within the established limits of the therapeutic relationship.
BrachialRegion of the arm, between the shoulder and the elbow. Massage vocabulary terms related to brachial that therapists should be familiar with include: brachial plexus, brachial artery, brachialis (muscle), biceps brachii (muscle), and brachial pulse.
BreathworkA general term to describe various breathing practices that involve conscious control of breathing. Breathwork is a component of many complementary and alternative medicine practices including yoga, meditation, Lamaze, and types of bodywork. Breathing influences a person’s physical, mental and emotional state.
CarpalsThe short bones of the wrist. The carpal bones articulate with the distal end of the radius of the forearm, and the proximal ends of the metacarpals of the hand. The carpal bones are: scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, pisiform, trapezium, trapezoid, capitate and hamate.
Carrier OilOil that is used to suspend, dilute and “carry” one or more essential oils to be used for aromatherapy massage. There are many types of carrier oils available such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, olive oil, argan oil, safflower oil, rosehip oil, grapeseed oil, and others. A carrier oil is selected based on properties including: odor, absorption, glide, viscosity, and skin type.
CenteredThe massage term centered refers to the physical, mental and emotional state of being focused, well-balanced, calm and confident. A similar concept as mindfulness and being present or grounded.
Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF)The clear and colorless fluid, derived from blood plasma, that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The function of cerebrospinal fluid is to cushion and protect the brain, provide buoyancy to the brain, provide nourishment, and remove metabolic waste products. CSF is produced by the choroid plexus deep inside the brain.
CervicalAn anatomical term that means ‘pertaining to the neck or cervix of any organ or structure of the body’. The cervical region is the neck area, which includes the cervical spine, cervical discs, cervical nerves and cervical ribs. Cervical can also refer to a narrow or neck-like passage in the body. Other body parts that have a cervical area include some bones (e.g. neck of femur, anatomical neck of the humerus) and the uterus.
Chair MassageMassage therapy that is provided with the client sitting in a specifically-designed chair that fully supports the client’s head and neck, arms and legs so that the client can relax in a seated position. Chair massage is typically provided with the client fully clothed, and without the use of oil or lotion. In some cases however, lotion or oil may be used on exposed areas such as the posterior neck and/or arms and hands. Chair massage is most often used to provide onsite massage at a workplace as part of a corporate massage program, or other event in the community. It is especially useful as a marketing and promotional tool to build a clientele for a massage practice. Chair massage may also be offered at a massage office as an alternative position for clients who are unable to lie comfortably on a massage table.
ChakraA chakra is an energy center of the body according to the traditions of Ayurveda and Hinduism. Chakras store the energy (prana) of thoughts, feelings, experiences, actions and memories. The word chakra in Sanskrit translates to “wheel” or “disc”, and refers to the wheels of energy throughout the body. There are seven main chakras in the body: crown chakra, third eye chakra, throat chakra, heart chakra, solar plexus chakra, sacral chakra, root chakra.
ChannelsChannels, also called meridians, are pathways through which energy flows through the body, according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory. This energy is called Chi or Qi, and is the life force. There are 12 primary paired channels, six yang and six yin.
Chief Complaint (CC)A concise statement that describes the client’s or patient’s primary problem, symptoms, onset, progression and other factors related to the reason that the client is seeking treatment. The chief complaint is usually stated in the client’s words and is documented in the Subjective section of a SOAP note.
ChronicA condition or disease that has persisted for a long time. Chronic conditions may show little change, or may progress very slowly over a long period of time.
CirculationMovement of a fluid, gas or other substance through a course that leads back to the same point. For example, blood circulates through the chambers of the heart, through the blood vessels to the cells of the body and back to the heart in systemic circulation. Other examples of circulation in the body include pulmonary circulation, lymphatic circulation, and the circulation of bile salts (enterohepatic circulation).
CircumductionThe movement of a limb such that the distal end moves in a circular or conical motion. Only ball and socket joints (the glenohumeral joint at the shoulder, and the acetabulofemoral joint of the hip) are capable of true circumduction. Condyloid joints and saddle joints can make a similar motion through combined and coordinated flexion, extension, abduction and adduction movements.
Client ComfortState in which the massage client is free from physical and mental stress. Massage therapists strive to improve massage client comfort by using strategies to enhance well-being and create positive simulations for the senses, primarily touch, smell, visual and auditory.
Clinical MassageClinical massage refers to the application of massage therapy with the intent of relieving a specific set of signs or symptoms. It is not a single style of massage, and it can include elements of massage modalities and techniques such as deep tissue massage, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, sports massage, assisted stretching or Swedish massage. The term clinical massage is often used interchangeably with medical massage, therapeutic massage or remedial massage. A clinical massage is more likely to focus the entire treatment session on the specific areas of the body that contribute to the client’s chief complaint, rather than being a full body massage.
CommunicationThe exchange of thoughts, ideas, messages, or other information through speech, writing or non-verbal methods. Effective communication skills are essential for all massage therapists.
CompressionThe act of squeezing together or exerting pressure. In massage therapy, compression is a manual therapy technique where pressure is applied to the soft tissues at a specific area of the body in order to create a desired physiologic response. Compression may involve sustained or intermittent pressure. And it may be applied broadly as with the palm, or focused by using the fingertips. Techniques such as acupressure, shiatsu and trigger point therapy use focused pressure for therapeutic effect. Ischemic compression is commonly used in trigger point therapy.
ConditionA person’s current overall state of health or wellbeing. The term condition may also refer to a specific pathology or disease that the client is experiencing.
ConfidentialityThe ethical principle and legal right that a medical professional will not disclose private information related to a patient unless the patient gives consent that permits disclosure. Service professionals such as physicians, massage therapists and attorneys are required to hold certain client information as confidential unless given permission to release the information, or required to do so under law.
Connective TissueConnective tissue is one of the four main types of tissue in the body, and is the most abundant tissue type. It performs various functions including providing support for structures, protection, separation of structures, and connection of tissues and organs. There are several types of connective tissue: cartilage, bone, adipose, blood, reticular, dense connective tissue (tendons and ligaments), and loose connective tissue.
Connective Tissue Massage (CTM)Connective tissue massage is a technique that aims to treat various body ailments related to connective tissue dysfunction. CTM may be used for pain relief, restricted range of motion, faster rehabilitation after surgery, athletic performance, and breaking up scars and adhesions. Connective tissue massage is also known as bindegewebsmassage.
ConsentPermission given by a client or patient, or their legal guardian, to proceed with a recommended treatment. There are several specific types of consent:
Informed consent is permission given by the client after receiving sufficient information to allow the client to make an informed decision. This information should include a description of services being offered, explanation of risks, expected benefits, and appropriate alternatives. It is best practice to receive informed written consent before providing massage therapy services to a client.
Verbal consent is verbal permission given by a client.
Written consent is written permission given by a client.
Implied consent is permission given based on the actions of a client. For example, a person who gets on your massage table or chair is giving their implied consent to receive massage.
Express consent is specific permission given either verbally or in writing.
Contract-RelaxContract-relax is a form of PNF stretching that utilizes reciprocal inhibition to facilitate a muscle stretch. For example, to facilitate stretching of the hamstring muscle group, the client would first perform an isometric contraction of the quadriceps for 10 seconds. This would then be followed by the hamstring stretch. Repeat the process as needed.
ContractureAn abnormal and often permanent shortening of soft tissues that results in loss of range of motion at one or more joints. A contracture can cause pain, decreased circulation, dysfunction of surrounding tissues, joint degeneration and impaired mobility. Soft tissues that are primarily affected include muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules.
Contraindications for MassageA pre-existing condition that may respond negatively to therapeutic massage techniques. A contraindication for massage may be due to an illness, contagious condition, inflammation, an acute condition, certain medications, or some other condition that presents a risk of injury from massage or bodywork. Contraindications are categorized as absolute, relative, systemic or local.
ContralateralSituated on, affecting, or relating to the opposite side of the body.
CrampA cramp, also called a muscle cramp, spasm, or charley horse, is a sudden, brief, involuntary muscle contraction of one or more muscles. Muscle cramps can be painful and are often associated with physical exertion (especially in hot weather), mineral depletion, dehydration, nerve irritation, or inadequate blood supply. Staying hydrated and stretching can help to prevent cramps.
CrepitusA grating, crackling, creaking or popping sound that occurs when moving a joint, expecially in joints where the articular cartilage has degenerated. Crepitus may also refer to a crackling sound from the lungs caused by respiratory illness.
Cross-Fiber FrictionA deep tissue massage technique in which the therapist applies friction to a muscle, tendon or ligament perpendicularly to the fiber direction of the tissue. Cross-fiber friction is also called transverse friction, and is commonly used for injury rehabilitation to reduce adhesions and scar formation, and promote tissue strength and healing.
CryokineticsA rehabilitation technique that uses cryotherapy (e.g. cold pack, ice massage, ice pack) and is then followed by progressive active exercises.
CryotherapyCryotherapy , also called cold therapy, is the therapeutic external application of cold. Common types of cryotherapy used in massage and rehabilitation include cold pack, ice bag, ice massage, cold compress and cold immersion. The primary benefits of cryotherapy are reducing pain and inflammation. Other forms of cryotherapy such as cryosurgery and cryolipolysis are used in conventional medicine to remove abnormal skin tissue.
CuppingCupping is a type of tapotement that uses the entire hands to apply a rhythmic percussion. It is similar to slapping however the hands form a slight cup shape, which result in sending the vibrations deeper into the body. Cupping combined with postural drainage techniques are commonly used as a method for clearing the lungs.
Cupping (vacuum)Vacuum cupping is a therapeutic technique in which inverted cups are placed onto the skin in a way that creates a vacuum. Cups may be made out of different materials such as glass, plastic, bamboo or silicone. The negative pressure inside the cup can be created through several ways such as quickly heating the inside of the cup (fire cupping), squeezing the cup before applying (silicone cups), or using a vacuum pump.
DeepA directional term that means ‘away from the surface of the body’. Deep is the opposite of superficial.
Deep Tissue Massage (DTM)A therapeutic massage approach that generally targets deeper tissues, uses more pressure, and has the intent of targeting more specific structures than a typical relaxation massage. DTM is usually done with little or no lubrication, and the techniques are applied more slowly to reduce client discomfort. Massage and bodywork techniques that could be considered deep tissue massage include myofascial release, trigger point therapy, and cross-fiber friction. There are different interpretations of the term ‘deep tissue massage’. Some clients and therapists consider a general relaxation massage with more pressure to be a deep tissue massage.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)Muscle pain that begins 12-24 hours after an activity, and tends to peak about 1-3 days after the activity. A strenuous workout or a deep tissue massage that a body is not accustomed to is likely to experience DOMS.
DepressionDepression as a kinesiology and massage term is the downward movement of a structure such as the shoulder, scapula, clavicle, and mandible. Depression is the opposite of elevation.
As s psychological condition, depresion is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness and loss of interest in normal activities. There are many potential signs and symptoms of depression including sleep disturbances, fatigue, irritability, physical aches and pains, and reduced appetite. Massage therapy is often indicated to relieve physical symptoms and to promote relaxation and mood elevation.
DeviationThe motion or result of moving to the side. Side-to-side wrist movement is called ulnar deviation and radial deviation. The term ‘ulnar deviation’ or ‘ulnar drift’ refers to fingers that deviate toward the ulnar side at the MCP joints. This is common in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
DiagnoseThe act or process of identifying and labeling the nature and cause of a condition, disease, or injury through physical examination, review of patient history, current signs and symptoms, and review of laboratory test results.
DietThe usual amount and type of food and drink consumed by a person on a regular basis.
Directional TermsTerms that describe the position of structures or areas of the body relative to other structures or locations of the body. In many cases, directional terms are paired. Examples of directional terms include: anterior, posterior, superficial, deep, medial, lateral, internal, external, superior, inferior, proximal and distal.
Directions of MovementDirectional terms of movement are used to describe the specific motions available at joints of the body. Most of these anatomy terms of motion are paired in order to name the motion in both directions. Directions of movement include: flexion and extension, abduction and adduction, pronation and supination, medial (internal) and lateral (external) rotation, elevation and depression, plantarflexion and dorsiflexion, inversion and eversion, opposition and reposition, protraction and retraction, protrusion and retrusion, deviation and opposition.
DisclosureThe act or process of revealing something that was previously unknown.
DiseaseAn illness or abnormal condition of a body part, organ or system of the body. Disease can result from various causes such as genetic defect, infection, inflammation, or environmental factors. A disease is usually identified by its signs and symptoms.
DisorderA condition or ailment that affects the function of the body or mind.
DistalA directional term that means ‘further away from the origin or point of reference’. For example, the wrist is distal to the elbow. The opposite of distal is proximal. These two directional terms, distal and proximal, are only used to describe relative locations in the extremities. For the head and trunk, the terms superior and inferior are used instead.
DocumentationIn a healthcare setting, documentation refers to the creation of a formal record of pertinent information in a client’s clinical record. Massage documentation may include a client’s intake paperwork such as their medical history and consent form, client assessment documentation and session notes.
DorsalAnatomical term that means ‘directed toward or situated on the back surface of the body, or a specific body part’. Dorsal is the opposite of ventral. The dorsum of the hand is the back of the hand (opposite of the palm). The dorsum of the foot is the top of the foot (opposite of the sole).
DorsiflexionThe anatomical term of motion that describes the upper part of the foot moving closer to the shin, as when you try to walk on your heels only. Dorsiflexion occurs at the talocrural joint which is formed between the distal tibia-fibula and the talus. The opposite motion is plantarflexion.
DrapingDraping in massage therapy is the cloth covering, usually a sheet, blanket or towel, that covers the client’s body. The drape is then pulled back and secured when needed to expose only the area of the body to be treated by the therapist. Draping provides a physical boundary to protect the client’s modesty, and it provides warmth and security for the client.
EcchymosisA flat, blue or purple area of discoloration of the skin caused by ruptured blood vessels in subcutaneous tissues. Also called a bruise. Ecchymosis is a local contraindication for massage.
EdemaAn excessive accumulation of serous (watery) fluid in tissue spaces or in a body cavity. Edema can effect any area of the body but is most common and most easily noticed in the arms, hands, legs, ankles and feet.
EffectThe result that is brought about by a cause. The effects of massage, bodywork and other therapeutic modalities are divided into physiological effects and reflexive effects.
Efferent nervesMotor nerve fibers that transmit nerve impulses and information from the central nervous system to the muscles, tissues and organs of the body.
EffleurageEffleurage is a long, gliding stroke that follows the contours of the body with a consistent pressure. It is used in many styles of bodywork including Swedish massage. Effleurage is typically applied using the entire palmar surface of one hand, two hands, or the forearms. Pressure may be light, medium or deep. This technique is often used when applying oil or lotion, to warm up an area, or when transitioning to begin working on an adjacent area of the body. Effleurage can be applied in any direction, however in the upper or lower extremities, the direction of movement should be distal to proximal.
ElevationAn anatomical direction of movement term that means moving in a superior, or upward, direction. The opposite movement is depression. Elevation and depression most commonly describe motions of the scapula, clavicle and mandible.
EndomysiumConnective tissue layer that surrounds individual muscle fibers
Energy HealingA branch of alternative medicine that attempts to improve health by rebalancing the body’s energy field.
EpimysiumConnective tissue layer surrounding an entire muscle (the prefix epi- means outside, and mysium means muscle)
Essential OilConcentrated compounds extracted from aromatic plants. Essential oils are obtained through distillation or mechanical methods. They may be applied topically, through inhalation, or combined with a carrier oil for aromatherapy massage.
EthicsThe branch of philosophy that deals with what is right and wrong human conduct. The discipline of ethics studies moral principles.
EtiologyThe study of causes or origins of disease.
EversionA term for anatomical movement in which the bottom (sole) of the foot turns outward, away from the midline of the body. The opposite motion is inversion. These two motions occur at the subtalar joint formed between the talus and calcaneus.
ExtensionAn anatomical term of motion that describes a movement that increases the angle of a joint. For example, extension of the knee increases the angle between the tibia and the femur as it pivots at the knee joint. Excessive extension is called hyperextension. Flexion of the knee decreases the angle between the tibia and the femur. Flexion and extension are a type of angular movement.
ExternalRelating to, existing on, or connected with the outside or exterior.
ExtrinsicOriginating from the outside. For example, extrinsic muscles of the hand originate outside the hand at the forearm. In contrast, intrinsic muscles of the hand are located entirely in the hand.
FasciaA sheet or band of fibrous connective tissue that envelops, separates, or binds together muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, organs, blood and lymphatic vessels, and other structures of the body. Fascia is composed primarily of collagen and functions to provide support and protection to body structures. Superficial fascia is a thin layer of loose, fatty tissue that lies deep to the dermis of the skin. Deep fascia surrounds deeper structures of the body such as veins, arteries and nerves. Visceral fascia surrounds and protects your organs.
FasciculationA spontneous, involuntary muscle contraction that causes twitching of fascicles (bundle of muscle fibers), but no movement at the surrounding joints.
Five ElementsThe Five Elements is a comprehensive framework or blueprint that organizes all natural phenomenon into 5 master groups or patterns. The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water. This is a foundational theory in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
FlexionAn anatomical term of motion that describes a movement that decreases the angle of a joint. For example, flexion of the knee decreases the angle between the tibia and the femur as it pivots at the knee joint. Excessive flexion of a joint is called hyperflexion. Extension of the knee increases the angle between the tibia and the femur.
FomentationA topical application of a moist cloth or blanket material that is heated and used as a hot compress or a hot pack for therapeutic purposes. It may also be soaked in an herbal infusion. Fomentations are most commonly used to relieve pain such as arthritis pain and muscle pain. They can be considered a form of hydrotherapy or a form of thermotherapy.
ForceForce is the capacity to change the state of rest or motion of a particular body. Mechanical force is where there is direct contact between two objects where one of the objects changes the state of rest or motion of the other object. There are several types of mechanical force including: compression, torsion, shearing, bending and tensile force. Massage therapists use mechanical forces to affect the soft tissues and produce therapeutic change.
FrequencyThe number of times something occurs within a specific interval of time. The frequency in a massage treatment plan refers to how often the client is to have an appointment (e.g. 1 x per week, 1 x per month, etc.). Frequency can also refer to the rate of a manual therapy technique such as percussion frequency or the frequency of other types of strokes.
FrictionThe rubbing of one object against the surface of another. Friction is a technique used in massage therapy to warm superficial tissues and make them more pliable. Specific types of friction such as cross-fiber friction or transverse friction, and circular friction target deeper tissues and are useful techniques to loosen adhesions.
Frontal planeAn anatomical plane that runs vertically and at a right angle to the sagittal plane. The frontal plane, also called the coronal plane, divides the body into anterior and posterior sections. Jumping jacks exercise is an example of movement in the frontal plane.
FSMTBThe Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) is an organization comprised of state regulatory boards and agencies that regulate the massage profession in the US. The FSMTB is the organization that created and administers the MBLEx.
Functional AnatomyThe study of anatomy as it relates to function.
MBLEx Prep Course massage exam

Need to Pass the MBLEx?
Check out our complete MBLEx Prep Course

MBLExGuide’s complete MBLEx Course provides you with an organized, convenient and comprehensive review of all content areas covered on the FSMTB massage licensing exam. This course, along with our practice tests and quizzes, has helped thousands of massage students pass the MBLEx the first time!

Massage Terminology G – L

Massage TermDefinition
GaitThe particular manner of moving on foot (locomotion) when walking or running. Also called gait mechanics.
Gate TheoryA theory which states that non-noxious (not painful) stimuli can reduce the ability of noxious (painful) stimuli to reach your brain. This diminishes the brain’s ability to perceive pain. The non-noxious stimulus can be from various forms such as touch, pressure, vibration, heat, cold, vibration, or electrical stimulation. An everyday example is when you hit your elbow on something and then instinctively rub it to make it feel better. This is one of the mechanisms through which massage therapy can relieve pain.
HackingHacking is a form of tapotement (percussion) in which the hands remain open and relaxed, and the fingers are extended. This is typically performed as a rapid 2-handed technique, alternating left and right hands. It is the ulnar edge of the hands and fingers that contact the client. Hacking is an invigorating or energizing technique.
Healing TouchHealing Touch is an energy therapy in which the practitioner uses touch with the intent of clearing, energizing and balancing the magnetic field around the body. The goal of healing touch is to improve physical, mental and emotional health.
HealthThe overall physical, mental and emotional condition of an organism at a given time. Health is the state of optimal well-being, and free from disease.
Health History FormClinical intake form used to document a client’s current and past health information. In massage therapy, a health history form is a useful tool to identify possible contributing factors to the client’s current signs and symptoms, as well as potential contraindications for massage.
Home Exercise Program (HEP)Self-care program that a massage therapist or other clinician may choose to create and give to a client. A home exercise program (HEP) for a massage client may include things like stretches, strengthening exercises, posture exercises, relaxation activities, and pain relieving instructions such as how to use cold or heat at home. A HEP should be custom created for individual clients rather than giving every client the same HEP. Massage therapists should never recommend things that are outside of their scope of practice, such as recommending medications or a specific diet.
HomeopathyA system for treating disease based on the belief that administering minute doses of a drug that in massive amounts produces similar symptoms as those of the disease itself.
HomeostasisThe state of equilibrium, balance or stability within a system, such as within a cell or an entire oranism. Natural fluctuations remain within narrow limits. Examples of homeostasis within the human body are core temperature, blood pH, blood glucose level, fluid and mineral levels.
Horizontal PlaneAnatomical plane that divides the body into superior and inferior sections. Also called transverse plane.
HydrotherapyThe therapeutic application of water in any of its forms (water, ice, steam). Some modalities of hydrotherapy are also called aquatic therapy or just water therapy. Examples of hydrotherapy include whirlpool, steam room, hot or cold compress, ice massage, and contrast bath.
HyperemiaAn increase in the amount of blood in the vessels of a body area. Signs and symptoms include redness and warmth. Active hyperemia occurs when there is an increased blood supply to an organ or tissues. This is usually caused by a greater demand for blood. This may be caused by heat, exercise, inflammation, digestion, menopause, or other causes. Passive hyperemia occurs when blood cannot properly drain from an area. Causes of passive hyperemia include heart failure and deep vein thrombosis (DVT). “-emia” is a suffix that means blood.
HyperesthesiaAn abnormal increase in sensitivity to sensory stimuli such as touching the skin, sounds, light or smells. Hyperesthesia can affect just one of the senses or all of them. Hyperalgesia is a specific type of hyperesthesia that means an increased sensitivity to pain. Allodynia is a condition in which a stimulus that is not usually painful suddenly triggers pain.
HypertonicityA state of abnormal increase in muscle tone (hypertonic). May result in pain, impaired mobility, or restricted circulation at affected areas.
HypertrophyThe enlargement of a body part caused by enlargement of its cells. Hypertrophy may be abnormal (pathologic) as in hypertrophy of the prostate or walls of the heart. Muscle hypertrophy is an enlargement of muscle cells and tissues, and is one of the primary goals of strength training exercise (bodybuilding).
HypotonicityHypotonicity, or hypotonia, is a state of abnormal decrease in muscle tone (hypotonic). Typically results in muscle weakness, paresis or even paralysis at affected areas. May be caused by genetic factors, infection (e.g. Guillain-Barré Syndrome, meningitis), neurological disorders or autoimmune disorders.
HypoxiaA condition in which tissues of the body (especially the brain) are deprived of sufficient amounts of oxygen. May be the result of altitude sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, very low blood pressure, allergic reaction, hyperventilation, or other medical condition.
Ice MassageThe application of ice for a therapeutic effect. The desired effect is most often pain relief. Ice is commonly prepred by freezing water in a paper cup, then using this ice block to massage the area of the body to be treated. A deep pressure or circular friction movement is used. *It is important to keep the ice moving. This is done for 3-5 minutes, or until the area is numb.
Indications for MassageA reason to provide massage. If massage is indicated, then it is not just considered safe to proceed, but there is a reasonable expectation that massage will benefit this client and improve their current condition.
InferiorThe body’s natural response to an injury or infection. Inflammation occurs when the immune system is activated (inflammatory response) to contain the infection and start healing injured tissues. Signs and symptoms of inflammation include pain, heat, swelling, bruising and redness. Inflammation may be either acute or chronic.
Intake FormA form that is completed by the client before their first session at a massage practice.The intake form generally includes contact information, questions about reasons for seeking massage therapy, and health and medical history questions. Intake forms vary from practice to practice and may be accompanied by a separate medical history form and consent form.
IntentionIn massage therapy, intention refers to the therapist’s or client’s underlying goal(s) for the session. For example, a massage therapist’s intention may be to remain present and focused on addressing the reason that brought the client in today.
InternalWithin the body. Opposite of external.
IntrinsicOriginating from the inside. For example, intrinsic muscles of the hand are located entirely within the hand. In contrast, extrensic muscles of the hand originate outside the hand, at the forearm.
InversionA term for anatomical motion in which the bottom (sole) of the foot turns inward, towards the midline of the body. The opposite motion is eversion. Inversion and eversion occur at the subtalar joint formed between the talus and calcaneus. The subtalar joint is part of the ankle complex.
IpsilateralSituated on, affecting, or relating to the same side of the body.
IschemiaA decrease in blood supply to an organ, tissues or body part that is caused by constriction or obstruction of the bloow vessels. This starves the tissues and cells of oxygen and nutrients. And it can lead to the buildup of byproducts of metabolism. May lead to tissue death.
IsometricIsometric literally means “same length”. An isometric muscle contraction is created by simultaneously contracting the agonist and antagonist, so that there is no movement at the adjacent joints and no change in muscle length (e.g. bodybuilder pose).
IsotonicIsotonic literally means “same tone”. Standard weight training such as lifting weights, squats, benchpress, and pullups are all forms of isotonic exercise.
JointThe area where two or more bones meet. Joints are classified by their structure or by their amount of movement. Structural classifications: fibrous, cartilaginous, and synovial. Movement classifications are: synarthrosis, amphiarthrosis, diarthosis. The synovial (diarthrosis) joints are freely moveable and are classified by their shape. Types or shapes of synovial joints are: hinge, saddle, ball and socket, condyloid, pivot and plane.
Joint CavitationThe “popping” sound that may occur during joint manipulation (Grade V joint mobilization). Cavitation may also occur spontaneously during normal movement or during other bodywork techniques.
Joint ManipulationPassive movement of a joint to create a therapeutic effect. Joint manipulations usually target synovial joints, and are most commonly performed by chiropractors, osteopathic physicians, and physical therapists. It is synonymous with a Grade V mobilization. Also called a high velocity low amplitude (HVLA) thrust.
Joint MobilizationA manual therapy technique often performed by physical therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors and some massage therapists. Joint mobilization involves creating an accessory movement at a joint (usually a synovial joint) to produce a therapeutic effect. The desired goal is typically to either increase range of motion or to decrease pain. There are five grades of joint mobilization, from Grade I (low amplitude, gentle) to Grade V (HVLA manipulation).
Joint PlaySmall accessory movement (roll, spin or glide ) at the joint surface that is not under voluntary control, but is needed for proper movement of the joint. Joints with excessive joint play have joint instability. Joint play techniques may be used to assess the movement and stabilty of a joint, or used as a therapeutic intervention.
KiThe Japanese word for vital life energy or life force, Ki circulates through our body and aids in the movement of blood and other substances, as well as supports energy production and awareness. Strong, balanced Ki supports health and vitality, while Ki imbalance or blockage eventually manifests as disease.
KinesiologyKinesiology is the study of human movement and the anatomy and physiology related to movement. The study of kinesiology includes the study of biomechanics, motor control and development, exercise physiology, and other scientific disciplines related to human movement.
KinesiotapingKinesiotaping is the application of kinesiology tape for therapeutic purposes. The potential benefits of kinesiotaping include relieving pain, facilitating lymphatic drainage, muscle re-education, supporting weak muscles or unstable joints, and enhancing athletic performance.
KneadingKneading is a massage therapy technique that uses both hands to create a rhythmic, alternating and intermittent compression, rolling and lifting of the skin and underlying soft tisses such as muscles, fascia and tendons. Kneading is also called petrissage and may be superficial or deep.
LateralAn anatomical directional term that means “toward the side”, and “away from the midline”.
LesionAny pathological or traumatic changes in a tissue or organ of the body. A lesion may be on the surface and visible, such as an abrasion, laceration, or eczema. Or a lesion may be internal and not easily detected, such as a peptic ulcer or cirrhosis of the liver. Examples of common skin lesions include skin tags, cherry angiomas, acne, cellulitis and blisters.
LicenseA massage license is a professional or occupational license to practice massage therapy. Massage licenses are issued at the state level, and are required by most states.
Liability insuranceLiability insurance is an insurance product that protects the “insured” from claims resulting from injuries or damage to other people or their property. Professional liability insurance (PLI), also called professional indemnity insurance, is a form of liability insurance that protects service professionals such as physicians and massage therapists from malpractice, negligence and other claims made by a client. General liability insurance (GLI), can protect a business owner from claims that your business caused bodily injury or property damage. Most massage insurance policies include professional and general liability coverage.
LigamentA sheet or band of fibrous connective tissue that connects bones together at a joint. Ligaments connect bone to bone. Ligaments also function to connect to and stabilize internal organs. There are over 900 ligaments in the body. A torn ligament is a sprain.
LinimentA medicated topical liquid, gel, spray, patch or paste that is rubbed into the skin to relieve pain (analgesic) or muscle stiffness. Examples of popular liniments used by massage therapists, physical therapists and other rehabilitation specialists include Biofreeze, Tiger Balm, White Flowers, Chinese Muscle Oil, and Arnica.
Local Twitch Response (LTR)A briefly visible or palpable muscle contraction that occurs in response to pressure from trigger point therapy techniques, or other techniques that manipulate the muscles and superficial tissues. The twitch is a weak muscle contraction that does not create movement at the adjacent joints. A muscle fasciculation is similar, however a fasciculation can occur spontaneously, without any apparent stimulus.
Lower ExtremityThe lower extremity, or lower limb, is the anatomical term that refers to the region from the hip and pelvic area to the toes. The lower limb includes the hip joint (acetabulofemoral joint), knee joint (tibiofemoral joint), ankle (talocrural joint), the subtalar joint, and all of the small joints of the foot. The femoral artery supplies the blood and nerves from the lumbosacral plexus innervate the lower extremity. There are over 40 muscles and 30 bones in each lower limb. Muscles of the lower limb include the quadricep group, hip adductors, hip extensors, hamstrings, ankle plantar flexors and dorsiflexors, inverters, everters, and useless of the foot.
LumbarThe lower back region of the body, between the thoracic and pelvic regions on the posterior side of the body. The lumbar region of the spine is composed of 5 vertebrae.
LymphThe fluid of the lymphatic system that helps remove waste and toxins from the body.
Lymph Drainage TherapyLymph drainage therapy (LDT), also known as manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) and lymphatic drainage massage, is a gentle form of massage therapy that is used to facilitate the movement of lymph in the body. This type of massage is useful in reducing swelling and lymphedema, and is an important component of decongestive lymphatic therapy. DLT is a more comprehensive treatment that also includes exercise, skin care, and fitting and application of compression garments.
MBLEx practice tests for the massage exam

MBLEx Practice Exams

Our MBLEx practice exams were designed to give you a thorough review of all content areas you can expect to see on the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam. These practice exams and quizzes will build your test-taking skills as well as show you what areas you need to focus on most. Save time and money by passing the MBLEx the first time.

Massage Terminology M – R

Massage TermDefinition
Manual therapyAny healing approach in which hands-on techniques are used to create a beneficial therapeutic effect. Many different types of clinicians use manual therapy including massage therapists and other bodyworkers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, osteopathic physicians, and athletic trainers.
Massage TherapyA manual therapy practice that focuses on the manipulation of soft tissues to create a therapeutic effect. The goal of massage therapy is to enhance the physical, mental and emotional health and wellness of the client.
MBLExThe Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) is the exam that massage license applicants are required to take in the US as part of the licensing process (in most states). The MBLEx exam is used to verify that applicant’s knowledge and competency related to the job tasks of a massage therapists. The massage exam covers seven content areas including:
1. Anatomy & Physiology (11%)
2. Kinesiology (12%)
3. Pathology, Contraindications, Areas of Caution, Special Populations (14%)
4. Benefits & Physiological Effects (15%)
5. Client Assessment, Reassessment, Treatment Planning (17%)
6. Ethics, Boundaries, Laws and Regulations (16%)
7. Guidelines fo Professional Practice (15%)
Mechanical EffectMechanical effects of massage are effects that are the direct result of the physical application of massage techniques. Examples of mechanical effects of massage include: breaking of adhesions with transverse friction techniques, relaxing and lengthening fascia with myofascial techniques, improving lymph circulation with lymphatic massage techniques, and improving range of motion using joint mobilization.
MedialAn anatomical directional term that means “toward the midline”.
Medical Massage TherapyThe term “medical massage” is defined in different ways, but basically it is massage therapy that is used with the intent to resolve certain conditions (diagnosed by a physician), or reduce signs and symptoms associated with the condition. It is an outcome based massage that is focused on getting certain results rather than just providing massage for a certain length of time to provide an enjoyable massage experience. The term “medical massage” is used interchangeably with clinical massage, remedial massage or rehabilitation massage. Medical massage is not a particular style of massage, but may include a variety of massage and bodywork techniques. Therapists who provide “medical massage” are more likely to bill a client’s insurance (if massage is covered). Some sources state that medical massage requires a physician prescription, however this is generally only needed if required in order to bill insurance. The term “medical massage” is also used as a marketing term.
Mixed NervesNerves that carry sensory (afferent) nerve fibers and motor (efferent) nerve fibers. Most of the large nerves of the peripheral nervous system are mixed nerves.
Mobile MassageMassage therapy that is provided in the client’s home or workplace. Mobile massage may also be called in-home massage, corporate massage or outcall massage.
ModalityA massage modality is a style or type of massage or bodywork treatment. “Modality” also refers to other therapeutic interventions. For example, ice massage, hot pack, reflexology, Swedish massage, vacuum cupping, joint mobilization, assisted stretching, sports massage, manual lymphatic drainage, and energy work are all therapeutic modalities that a massage and bodywork practitioner may use.
Muscle CompressionsA massage technique in which the therapist applies pressure on a muscle or group of muscles, as well as the surrounding soft tissues. Pressure is held briefly and then released. This may be repeated several times before moving to the next area. Muscle compression is used in several types of massage therapy. Ischemic compression is a specific type of muscle compression that is used in trigger point therapy.
Muscle Energy Techniques (MET)A manual therapy technique developed by an osteopathic physician that uses gentle isometric contractions to relax muscles through autogenic or reciprocal inhibition. Muscle energy technique is an active assisted form of stretching where the client participates and the therapist assists the client achieve a deeper stretch.
Muscle GuardingMuscles are held in a state of partial contraction in response to pain or injury. Muscle guarding is the body’s protective mechanism to “splint” an injured area and protect underlying tissues.
Muscle SpindleMuscle spindles are sensory receptors that are embedded in most skeletal muscles and inform the central nervous system (CNS) about changes in muscle length and the speed at which the muscle is being stretched. Muscle spindles function to cause the muscle to contract if it is stretched too far or too quickly, in order to protect the muscle (stretch reflex). Muscle spindles also play an important role in proprioception, motor control, posture and gait.
Muscle StrainA tear or overstretching injury of a muscle or tendon. A strain can be acute or chronic. The severity of a strain can range from a minor injury to a complete tear.
MyofascialPertaining to the fascia surrounding and separating muscle tissue.
Myofascial PainA chronic pain disorder which causes hypersensitivity to pressure at some areas of the body (trigger points). Symptoms of myofascial pain include pain that persists or worsens, deep aching muscle pain, and tender points in muscles.
Myofascial ReleaseA manual therapy technique that involves stretching the fascia to release tension and restrictions in the fascia, muscles and other soft tissues that cause pain or restrict motion.
NCBTMBThe National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB) is an independent, private, nonprofit organization whose goal is to establish and advance the professional standards in this industry. The NCBTMB offers an optional board certification exam that massage therapists and bodyworkers can choose to take. The NCBTMB also focuses on reviewing and approving continuing education courses.
Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT)Neuromuscular therapy (NMT) is also called neuromuscular massage or trigger point therapy. NMT is a form of manual therapy that uses digital pressure to release areas within the muscle and fascia that have become tight, hypersensitive and painful. These areas are called tender points (if they do not refer pain), or trigger points (if they do refer pain). The pressure is generally held for 10-30 seconds, and may be static or include a small friction-like motion. Therapists will typically use a finger, knuckle, elbow, or tool such as a T-bar to deliver the pressure.
NociceptorsSensory receptors that detect noxious (painful) stimuli. These receptors are an important component of the nervous system that warns the brain of the presense of potentially harmful stimuli. Nociceptors can detect mechanical forces (e.g. cut, intense pressure), chemical stimuli (e.g. strong acid or base), and thermal stimuli (e.g. heat or cold).
Non-Contractile TissuesTissues that do not have the ability to receive a stimulus and actively contract. Examples of non-contractile tissues include tendons, ligaments, bone, fascia, cartilage, bursae and joint capsules. Basically everything except muscle tissue.
OrgansA differentiated structure in the body that is composed of a collection of tissues, and performs a specific functions. There are approximately 78 organs in the human body. Examples of organs include: heart, lungs, pancreas, stomach, urinary bladder, gallbladder, large intestine, brain, eyes, spleen and liver.
OrthoticAn externally applied orthopedic device that is used to protect, restore or improve function. Orthotics may be over-the-counter or custom made. Examples of orthotics include: shoe insert to support or correct a foot deformity such as fallen arches; an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) to support the ankle and prevent foot drop; and a thoraco-lumbo-sacral orthotic (TLSO) to support the spine.
OrthopedicA branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, prevention or correction of injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system.
OsteopathyA branch of medicine that offers a more holistic view of health and wellness than conventional western medicine. Doctors of Osteopathy (DO), also called osteopaths or osteopathic physicians, are licensed to practice in all specialties of medicine, the same as Doctors of Medicine (MD), including primary care, pediatrics, emergency medicine and surgery. DOs get the same medical training as MDs plus additional training in the musculoskeletal system and osteopathic manipulation techniques. Medical care from an osteopath is more likely to include manual therapy treatments if indicated, rather than just prescribing drugs or recommending surgery.
PainA general term that describes an uncomfortable body sensation which can range from annoying to debilitating. Pain is often a symptom of a disease process or the result of an adverse stimulus such as a trauma. Pain may be sudden, temporary and localized, as in acute pain. Pain that persists for longer than expected based on the cause is called chronic pain.
PalmarPertaining to the palm of the hand.
PalpationPalpation is the act of feeling with the hand and using the sense of touch to gather tactile information. A massage therapist can use palpation assessment to determine the condition of the skin and underlying tissues. Palpation can help a therapist to determine the temperature, tone, texture of soft tissues.
ParalysisThe loss of function for part of the body. This may include the loss of movement and/or sensation. Paralysis is often the result of damage to the nervous system, either through trauma, infection or a degenerative process. Common causes of paralysis include stroke (CVA), spinal cord injury (SCI), multiple sclerosis (MS), and Bell’s palsy. Paralysis can affect voluntary movement if the nerve damage involves the nerves that innervate skeletal muscle. Paresis is slight or partial paralysis.
Past Medical HistoryPast Medical History (PMH or PMHx) is the client’s or patient’s previous medical conditions, surgeries and treatments. A new massage client typically fills out a PMH form, or a PMH section on another client intake document, to indicate their previous or current health factors that may be relevant to their current chief complaint. This intake forms can also provide the massage therapist with information about any potential contraindications for massage or certain modalities.
PathologyThe scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development and consequences. Pathology examines the structural and functional changes associated with disease.
PercussionPercussion, also called tapotement, is a common technique used in massage therapy that involves a series of rapid drumming or striking motions over fleshy parts of the body. There are several types of percussion which vary based on way in which the therapist makes contact. Hacking, pounding (same as “beating” & “pummeling”), cupping, plucking, and tapping are all forms of percussion. These technques have an overall stimulating and invigorating effect.
PeripheralPeripheral is a directional term that means “related to, or located at the outer boundary or periphery; or away from the center of the body”. Examples relevant to anatomy and massage therapy include peripheral vascular disease, peripheral neuropathy, peripheral edema, peripheral nervous system, and peripheral vision.
PeristalsisThe wavelike muscular contractions of the digestive tract or other tubular structures that propels the contents through the tube.
Personal TrainerA fitness professional who specializes in helping people persue and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Personal trainers create custom fitness programs for their clients. These exercise programs usually include components such as cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, basic nutrition, injury prevention, and other aspects of fitness.
PetrissageA manual therapy technique that is commonly used by massage therapists and is one of the key types of strokes in a Swedish massage. Petrissage is typically a two-handed motion. It is a rhythmic and alternating squeezing, rolling, lifting and wringing of soft tissues.
Physical Therapy (PT)A medical profession that specializes in helping patients restore and maintain physical health and mobility. Physical therapists (PT) are usually called physiotherapists in countries outside the US.
Physiological Effects of MassageEffects of massage can be divided into two main categories: physiological effects and psychological effects. The physiological effects of massage are the effects that massage therapy has on the physical body. These effects can be further divided into mechanical effects and reflexive effects. A mechanical effect is a more localized and direct effect such as physically breaking up adhesions, relieving a trigger point, of facilitating lymphatic circulation. A reflexive effect is more systemic effect and results in bodily changes from stimulting the nervous system. Psychological effects of massage are those that alter the client’s state of mind (e.g. relieve mental stress).
PhysiologyThe scientific study of the functions of an organism and its parts.
Planes of the bodyAnatomical planes of the body are used as reference points to help describe the location and movement of body parts. The sagittal (lateral) plane is a vertical plane that divides the body into left and right sides. The midsagittal plane divides the body into equal left and right halves. The frontal (coronal) plane divides the body into anterior and posterior sections. The transverse (horizontal) plane divides the body into superior and inferior sections.
PlantarThe sole or bottom surface of the foot.
PlantarflexionPlantarflexion, or plantar flexion, is motion at the ankle joint that moves the sole of the foot downward, as if “pointing the foot”. This motion occurs at the talocrural joint which is a hinge joint formed between the distal tibia-fibula and the talus. The opposite motion is dorsiflexion.
Post-Isometric Relaxation (PIR)A stretching technique that uses the autogenic inhibition response from stimulating the Golgi tendon organs (GTO) of the nervous system to facilitate the lengtening of muscles and connective tissues. PIR begins with placing the muscle in a stretched position. The client then performs a gentle isometric contraction of this muscle against resistance for 7-10 seconds while remaining in the same position. Then the client relaxes that muscle and the muscle is stretched to the next resistance barrier. This process is repeated until the muscle can be comfortably stretched no further.
PosteriorIn human anatomy, posterior refers to the back side of the body. Opposite of the anterior side of the body. Also called dorsal.
PranaPrana is the Sanskrit word for cosmic energy. According to Hindu and Ayurveda theory, Prana is the essence or vitality within us.
Pregnancy MassagePregnancy massage is therapeutic massage during or after pregnancy. It is also called prenatal massage during pregnancy. Pregnancy massage addresses the needs of the pregnant client and may involve the use of alternative positioning, modified techniques or additional positioning aids. Massage therapists who practice pregnancy massage should get advanced training and be able to provide an appropriate health screening for pregnant clients due to the additional risks associated with pregnancy massage. Benefits of prenatal massage include reduced anxiety and symptoms of depression, relief of muscle aches, reduced joint pain and swelling, better sleep, improved outcome of labor, and improved newborn health.
Prime moverA muscle or muscle group that initiates active movement and does the majority of the work through the range of motion. A prime mover is an agonist muscle, and may be supported by synergist muscles. The prime mover is opposed by antagonist muscles.
PronationAn anatomical term of movement that occurs at the forearm. Pronation is a special type of rotation where the distal end of the forearm rotates such that the radius crosses over the ulna bone. For a person in standard anatomical position, this motion turns the palm rearward. If the elbow is flexed to 90 degrees, then pronation turns the palm downward. The opposite motion is supination.
ProneAn anatomical term that means lying face down on the stomach. Prone is the opposite of supine.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)PNF is a stretching technique that can restore and improve flexibility and range of motion. It is considered a form of facilitated or assisted stretching because it usually involves a therapist, trainer or other clinician who helps the client perform the techniques. PNF uses the body’s nervous system (Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles) to help the muscles relax and achieve a deeper stretch. There are a few different variations of PNF techniques including contract-relax (CR), muscle energy technique (MET), and post-isometric relaxation (PIR). Although there is no consensus on the timing or the exact / best way to perform PNF stretching, is generally involves an initial stretch, a brief and gentle muscle contraction, a rest period, and then repeat the process.
ProprioceptorsSensory end organs of afferent nerves which provide the central nervous system (CNS) with information about the movement and position of body parts. Examples of proprioceptors include muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs (GTO), and mechanoreceptors in the skin. Proprioceptors are located throughout the body, especially in the joint capsules, tendons and muscles. Structures in the inner ear including the semicircular canals and the labyrinth also provide the CNS with proprioception information.
ProstheticA prosthetic, or prosthesis, is an artificial device that serves as a subsitute or replacement for part of the body. Examples of prosthetics include a prosthetic knee or hip joint, tooth, eye, or limb. The presence of a prosthetic may determine which massage modalities can be done safely and which ones should be avoided. For example, joint mobilization techniques and certain ROM stretches should be avoided on clients who have a prosthetic hip. Another example is that heat should not be used over a metal implant such as a prosthetic knee because it absorbs heat faster than the surrounding tissues and could cause a burn.
ProtractionAn anatomical term of motion that describes movement of the scapulae (shoulder blades) in a forward and lateral, or anterolateral, direction. Protraction is the opposite movement of retraction.
ProximalA directional term that means ‘closer to the origin or point of reference’. For example, the elbow is proximal to the wrist, and the shoulder is proximal to the elbow and the wrist. The opposite of proximal is distal. These two directional terms, proximal and distal, are only used to describe relative locations in the upper and lower extremities. For the head and trunk, the terms superior and inferior are used instead.
Range of Motion (ROM)Range of motion, or ROM, is the total amount of motion that a joint is able to move through in a single plane and direction. For example, the humeroulnar joint (elbow) is a hinge joint that can perform flexion and extension. Normal flexion ROM for the elbow is 140 degrees (fully flexed), and extension is 0 degrees (fully extended). So the ROM for this joint is 0-140 degrees. Active range of motion (AROM) is the amount of motion that can be achieved with the muscles performing the motion, and no external assistance. Passive range of motion (PROM) is the amount of motion that can be achieved with assistance. PROM is typically greater than AROM if there is muscle weakness or joint resistance. Learn more about common massage abbreviations and acronyms in this article.
Reciprocal Inhibition (RI)The reflexive relaxation of the antagonist muscles of a contraction. Reciprocal inhibition is a characteristic of the nervous system that reduces the resistance to a movement by relaxing the muscles on the opposite side of a joint from the muscles that are contracting. For example, contraction of the biceps muscles triggers the triceps muscles to relax.
ReflexA reflex is an involuntary (automatic) action of the body in response to certain stimuli. The function of reflexes are to protect the body. An example is if you touch a hot stove and the withdrawal reflex kicks in to pull your hand back before your brain even perceives and interprets that the surface as hot. This reflex arc happens at the spinal cord level. Other examples of reflexes are stepping on something sharp, blinking when a bug flies toward your eye, and the deep tendon reflex (knee jerk reflex).
Reflexive Effects of MassageReflexive effects of massage therapy are caused by stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). These are indirect effects and tend to be systemic, as opposed to the localized and direct mechanical effects of massage. Reflexive effects include changes in the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. There are many reflexive effects of decreasing activity of the sympathetic NS and increasing PSNS activity such as decrease in heart rate, vasodilation, and increased GI tract motility.
ReflexologyA type of bodywork that involves stimulating specific pressure points on the feet, hands or ears that are thought to create effects at other areas of the body.
RehabilitationThe process of assessing the needs of a patient, creating a treatment plan, and providing therapeutic interventions to restore and maximize their health, function and mobility. There are many different types of rehabilitation including physical, psychological, speech, vocational, inpatient, and outpatient.
Remedial Massage TherapyA general term for therapeutic massage that focuses on correcting specific neuromusculoskeletal problems such as pain, muscle tightness or decreased flexibility. This is an outcome-based approach to massage therapy rather than an experience-approach like a general relaxation massage. The term “remedial massage” may be used interchangeably with clinical massage or medical massage.
ResearchA detailed study, analysis or exploration of a topic. The purpose of research is to understand a specific problem or issue better. Research involves using the scientific method which is a systematic series of organized steps that include observing the problem and coming up with a research question, formulating a hypothesis and testing it, analysing the results, and drawing a conclusion. There are different levels of evidence in research, some of which produce more reliable and credible results that can be applied with more accuracy and confidence. These range from Level 5 (low quality) which can simply be an expert opinion, to Level 1 (highest quality) which is typically a type of double-blind randomized controlled trial (RCT).
RetractionAn anatomy term of motion that describes movement of the scapulae (shoulder blades) in a posterior and medial, or posteromedial, direction. Retraction is the opposite movement of protraction.
RotationA term for movement of a body part around an axis. Rotation can occur at the sections of the spine as the vertebrae collectively rotate. This motion also occurs at ball-and-socket joints (shoulder and hip), and is described as medial (internal) rotation and lateral (external) rotation. The scapula is able to rotate upward and downward, which facilitates abduction of the arm to reach overhead. The knee joint is able to rotate when it is flexed and the collateral ligaments are slackened.

Massage Terminology S – Z

Massage TermDefinition
SacralRelating to the sacrum, which is the triangular bone composed of five fused vertebrae, and forms the posterior of the pelvis.
Sagittal PlaneAn anatomical plane that runs vertically and at a right angle to the frontal plane. The sagittal plane, also called the longitudinal plane, divides the body into left and right sections. The midsagittal plane divides the body into two equal halves (left and right). Bending down to touch your toes is an example of movement in the sagittal plane.
Scar TissueDense fibrous connective tissue that forms over a healed wound. The composition and appearance of scars varies depending on many factors such as the type of injury, size and direction of the wound, age of the person, nutritional status, skin type and location on the body. There are many different treatments that can reduce the appearance of scars and dysfunction that they may cause. Scar mobilization is a manual therapy treatment that massage therapists can use to help improve the quality and flexibility of a scar once the wound has healed.
Self CareSelf care is everything you do to take care of your own physical, mental, and emotional health. It is an important maintenance process that helps a person to not only remain in peak health, but to be able to perform their job better and be their best version of themself. Self care for massage therapists often includes such things as: staying hydrated, eating healthy, having a regular exercise routine, using strategies to avoid repetitive strain injuries, relieving stress, and using good body mechanics.
SignA sign is objective evidence of disease or dysfunction. Objective evidence is something that can be observed and measured. A sign that is frequently associated with a particular condition is considered to be an indicator of its presence. For example, inflammation, redness and warmth are common signs of injury and infection.
Skin RollingA manual therapy technique in which the therapist gently pinches the skin (not the underlying muscles), and proceeds to glide in one direction while the skin rolls through the fingertips. Skin rolling can be used as an assessment technique to identify areas of superficial adhesions. It is also used as a treatment technique to loosen and break up adhesions and improve skin mobility. Skin rolling is a form of myofascial release.
SOAP NoteA SOAP note is a template for documentation that is commonly used by healthcare providers, including physicians, nurses, physical therapists and massage therapists. The acronym SOAP stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan.
Soft TissueAll of the tissues of the body except bone.
SomaticRelating to or affecting the physical body.
SpasmA spasm, also called muscle spasm, is a sudden, involuntary and intense contraction of a muscle or group of muscles. May also be called a muscle cramp or charley horse.
SpasticityAbnormal and sustained muscle tone, often associated with damage to the brain and spinal cord, especially the upper motor neurons. Spasticity is common in people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury (SCI), and cerebral palsy (CP).
Special TestsSpecialized and specific procedures used by a therapist or clinician to rule-in or rule-our certain conditions, especially musculoskeletal (orthopedic) conditions. Special tests are often designed to stress a specific structure of the body, which provokes the client’s symptoms if that structure is involved. There are hundred’s of special tests. A few examples include Phalen’s test, Tinel sign, Patrick’s test, Apley’s test, and Thomas test.
Sports MassageSports massage is a type of massage therapy that focuses on addressing the needs of athletes. It is useful for all clients from elite athletes to weekend warriors and fitness enthusiasts. This form of bodywork often includes vigorous massage techniques as well as stretching and ROM techniques. It may also include modalities such as thermotherapy, cupping, and taping. The goals of sports massage are to help clients improve performance and recover faster during training, after events, and after injuries. Some sports massage therapists specialize in working with athletes of a specific sport such as tennis or football, and advanced training to become an expert in addressing the specific needs of this clientele.
SprainAn injury to a ligament that involves over-stretching or tearing.
StrokeIn massage therapy, a stroke is a manual therapy technique to apply force to the soft tissues of the client’s body. The different types of stroke vary depending on how the force is applied. This includes the duration, frequency, amount and direction of force. Different types of massage strokes produce different effects and target different depths and types of tissue. Examples of massage strokes include: effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, nerve strokes, skin rolling, and compression.
The term “stroke” also refers to a pathology in which the blood flow to part of the brain is blocked. This is also called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA).
SuperficialA directional term that means ‘close to the surface of the body’. Superficial is the opposite of deep.
SuperiorAn anatomical directional term that means ‘above, over or directed upward’. Superior is the opposite of inferior. These two terms are reserved for describing direction or relative location of structures on the trunk and head. For example, the thoracic region of the spine is superior to the lumbar region of the spine.
SupinationAn anatomical term of motion that occurs at the forearm. Supination is a special type of rotation where the distal end of the forearm rotates such that the radius and the ulna are parallel. The forearm is already supinated in a person standing in standard anatomical position with the palms facing forward. A hand holding a bowl of soup is in the supinated postion. The opposite motion is pronation.
SupineAn anatomical term that means lying face up, on the back. Supine is the opposite of prone.
Swedish MassageA traditional style of western massage therapy. Swedish massage is sometimes called classic massage. It is a gentle form of massage therapy that provides numerous physical health benefits. There are five basic strokes in a Swedish massage: effleurage, petrissage, tapotement (percussion), friction and vibration.
SymptomAn indication of injury or illness perceived by the patient. A symptom is subjective information that cannot be easily observed or measured. A symptom that is frequently associated with a particular condition is considered to be an indicator of its presence. Examples of symptoms include fatigue, nausea, pain, itching, and anxiety.
SystemA body system is one of the levels of organization in the body. It is also called an organ system, and consists of all of the organs that work together to perform a specific function. Examples include the digestive system, the muscular system, the nervous system, the skeletal system and the respiratory system.
TapotementTapotement, also called percussion, is a commonly used massage technique that involves a series of rapid drumming or striking motions over fleshy parts of the body. Different types of tapotement vary based on how the therapist makes contact. Hacking, pounding (“beating” & “pummeling”), cupping, plucking, and tapping are all forms of tapotement. These technques have an overall stimulating and invigorating effect.
TappingA type of tapotement or percussion in which the therapist uses their fingertips to create a light and gentle tapping on sensitive areas such as the face.
TendonA tendon is a strong and flexible cord of dense fibrous connective tissue that connects muscle to bone.
ThermotherapyThe therapeutic application of cold or heat to induce a therapeutic change.
ThoracicThe chest region of the body, between the cervical and lumbar regions. The thoracic spine is composed of 12 vertebra, and functions to protect the spinal cord and connect the poster ends of the ribs.
TissueA group of the same type of cells, along with an extracellular matrix, that come together to carry out a specific function. In humans, there are four basic types of tissues: connective tissue (which is the most abundant), muscle tissue, nervous tissue, and epithelial tissue. In the biological organizational level, tissues come between cells and organs.
ToneThe baseline or residual muscle tension when the muscle is resting. Tone is a continuous and partial contraction that occurs even when muscles are relaxed.
TorsoThe torso, or trunk, is the central part of the body to which the upper extremities, lower extremities, and neck and head attach. There are over 30 pairs of torso muscles, including the pectorals, abdominals, erector spinae muscle group, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, diaphragm and intercostals. The bones of the torso are part of the axial skeleton, and include the ribs, sternum, pelvis, and vertebrae of the spine (thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal).
UnilateralRelating to, involving or affecting only one side of the body (left or right)
Upper ExtremityThe upper extremity, or upper limb, is the anatomical term that refers to the bilateral regions of the body from the shoulder area to the fingers. The upper extremity contains smaller regions: shoulder girdle, arm, forearm, and hand. The bones of the upper extremity include the clavicle, scapula, humerus, radius, ulna, carpals, metacarpals and phalanges. Together, the bones of the upper and lower extremities make up the appendicular skeleton. There are many joints of the upper extremity, including the glenohumeral, humeroulnar, radioulnar and radiocarpal joints. There are over 40 muscles of the upper limb. Some of the muscles and muscle groups of the upper extremity include the deltoid, biceps brachii, triceps, rotator cuff muscles, forearm pronators and supinators, wrist flexors and extensors, and the intrinsic muscles of the hand.