Abbreviations and acronyms are commonly used in all fields within the healthcare industry including massage therapy. Individual professions such as massage therapists, nurses, physicians, dentists and physical therapists tend to have their own set of abbreviations that they use most often. There are other abbreviations such as DOB, Dx, Hx, and SOAP that are consistently used across all health and wellness professions. It can be confusing, especially for new therapists, to remember the correct way to abbreviate commonly used terms when documenting or when reading another practitioner’s notes.
What are abbreviations? Abbreviations are a shortened form of commonly used words, terms or phrases. Abbreviations have been used in the medical field ever since the first medical texts, prescriptions and notes were written. This form of shorthand speeds up the written communication process, and may also involve the use of symbols.
This post was created as a guide to abbreviations for massage therapists. In this reference article, you’ll find a list of 200 of the most common abbreviations that massage therapists encounter in the course of performing their job, and may use when charting their client treatments.
Why use abbreviations when charting?
Most healthcare providers including massage therapists use abbreviations when charting their treatment notes. There are three main reasons why massage therapists and other healthcare providers use abbreviations:
- To save time. Documentation can be a time-consuming task for massage therapists, and abbreviating terms can save time. Of the three reasons, this is the probably the most common.
- To save space. Using abbreviations when charting can also save space on your massage forms. Limited space is less of an issue when electronic documentation systems are used.
- To avoid spelling. Many massage terms that therapists need to document are long and can be difficult to spell, especially anatomy terms. For example, instead of writing sternocleidomastoid, acromioclavicular, or interphalangeal, the therapist may choose to write SCM, AC or IP. These abbreviations can also make your charting more concise and less awkward.
What’s the difference between an abbreviation and an acronym?
An abbreviation, as defined above, is a shortened or contracted word or phrase. Acronyms are a specific type of abbreviation. An acronym is formed by using the first letter of each word in a multi-word term to create a new and pronounceable term. Examples of acronyms include ROM (range of motion), SITS muscles of the shoulder (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis), SOAP note (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan), SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound), and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
An initialism is a specific type of acronym. It is formed the same way by using the first letters of each word, but the newly formed term is not pronounced as a word. Instead, the letters are just read out. Examples of initialisms related to massage include AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association), FSMTB (Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards), FAQ (frequently asked questions), and NCBTMB (National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork). Some terms such as MBLEx (Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam) could be considered an acronym or initialism.
Another special type of abbreviation is a mnemonic, which is used as a memorization technique. These are often used by students studying anatomy and physiology, and are not intended to be used in clinical documentation.
Uses of Abbreviations in Massage Documentation
There are several uses for abbreviations in massage documentation:
- Treatment techniques. Massage therapists may use abbreviations to quickly document the treatment techniques that they use during a client session. Examples of abbreviations for massage modalities and techniques include MFR (myofascial release), TPT (trigger point therapy), FBM (full body massage), MET (muscle energy technique), CST (craniosacral therapy), and DTM (deep tissue massage).
- General abbreviations. These include standard abbreviations used across most healthcare settings, or even in other industries. Some of these include: R (right), Min (minimum), Max (maximum), > (greater than), (+) (positive), and MVA (motor vehicle accident).
- Medical abbreviations. This type of abbreviation is used throughout most medical offices. These include abbreviations for diagnoses, vital signs, tests, conditions, injuries, common pathologies, procedures and medications. As with all types of abbreviations, it is important to use only standard abbreviations that cannot be misinterpreted. Examples of standardized abbreviations are BP (blood pressure), HTN (hypertension), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), LBP (low back pain), DVT (deep vein thrombosis), OA (osteoarthritis), and NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug).
- Anatomy abbreviations. Anatomy terms can be quite long, so abbreviating them can save time and space when charting. These may include directions of movement, relative position or region of the body. Examples of anatomical abbreviations include: C-spine (cervical spine), ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine), DF (dorsiflexion), RUQ (right upper quadrant), LS (lumbosacral), Dist. (distal), BLE (bilateral lower extremities), and PF (plantarflexion).
- Abbreviations for muscles. Many of the muscle groups, individual muscles, and other soft tissue structures that massage therapists treat during a client session can be abbreviated too. For example: abs (abdominal muscles), glutes (gluteal muscles), traps (trapezius muscles), hams (hamstring muscle group), and lats (latissimus dorsi muscle).
- Professional titles. Massage therapists may use abbreviations for the titles, licensure or certifications of healthcare professionals that they communicate with. Therapists may encounter these abbreviated titles in referrals from various physicians, or in client intake documentation. Examples of these include: LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist), DO (Doctor of Osteopathy), MD (Doctor of Medicine), DC (Doctor of Chiropractic), PT (Physical Therapist), and NP (Naturopathic Physician).
Problems with Abbreviations
There are a few pitfalls to watch out for when using abbreviations and acronyms in your documentation. The main potential problem is that abbreviations can be misinterpreted. One term can have multiple ways that it can be abbreviated. Another problem is that one abbreviation could stand for multiple things. Here are a few examples:
- MR can stand for mitral regurgitation or mental retardation.
- MS can mean multiple sclerosis or morphine sulfate (common hospital error).
- DOA can mean Date of Admission or Dead on Arrival.
Fortunately for massage therapists, the consequences of misinterpreting an abbreviation are typically less severe than for other healthcare providers, such as for pharmacists or surgeons. It’s also important to be aware that different groups have different abbreviations. Fx may mean “friction” for a massage therapist, but Fx means “fracture” to most other healthcare providers.
It’s best to use standardized abbreviations and avoid making up your own abbreviations unless you are the only person who will be reading your massage documentation. Consistency is key. If you’re not sure what the abbreviation is, it’s best to go ahead and write it out. “When in doubt, spell it out.”
Massage therapists can also run into problems when using electronic documentation if their computer system does not have a definition for the abbreviation. Or if it assumes a different definition entirely. This could result in some auto-correct errors.
*Tip: Always assume that your clients do not know medical or massage abbreviations. So if you send your client home with some instructions such as some home exercises or how to perform a certain self-care modality, avoid using abbreviations or jargon that they may not understand.
Recommended Massage Abbreviations and Symbols
The following table presents a list of abbreviations that massage therapists commonly use in their documentation. The abbreviations below are fairly standard, but your massage office may have a specific list of abbreviations that they want all clinicians to use in order to be more consistent, especially if you work at a medical or rehab clinic. The important thing is to be clear and be consistent.
|Abbreviation or Symbol||Meaning|
|AAROM||Active-assisted range of motion|
|ACL||Anterior cruciate ligament|
|ADL||Activities of daily living|
|AIS||Active Isolated Stretching|
|AP||Anterior to posterior|
|AROM||Active range of motion|
|ASAP||As soon as possible|
|ASIS||Anterior superior iliac spine|
|BID||Two times per day|
|Bilat. or circled “B”||Bilateral|
|BLE||Bilateral lower extremities|
|BOS||Base of support|
|bpm||Beats per minute|
|BUE||Bilateral upper extremities|
|CMT||Certified Massage Therapist|
|COG||Center of gravity|
|CTS||Carpal tunnel syndrome|
|D/C||Discontinue or discharge|
|DC||Doctor of Chiropractic|
|DDD||Degenerative disc disease|
|DIP||Distal interphalangeal (joints)|
|DJD||Degenerative joint disease|
|DNT||Did not test|
|DO||Doctor of Osteopathy|
|DOB||Date of birth|
|DTM||Deep tissue massage|
|DVT||Deep vein thrombosis|
|ES||Erector spinae muscle group (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis)|
|Ext. or Ex||Extension|
|FBM||Full body massage|
|FNP||Family Nurse Practitioner|
|Freq.||Frequent or frequency|
|Fx||Friction or fracture|
|GP||General practitioner (doctor)|
|HNP||Herniated nucleus pulposus|
|IP||Inpatient or interphalangeal|
|LBP||Low back pain|
|LCL||Lateral collateral ligament|
|Lev scap||Levator scapula muscle|
|LLE||Left lower extremity|
|LLQ||Left lower quadrant (of the abdomen)|
|LMT||Licensed Massage Therapist|
|LOB||Loss of balance|
|LUE||Left upper extremity|
|LUQ||Left upper quadrant (of the abdomen)|
|MCL||Medial Collateral Ligament|
|MET||Muscle energy technique|
|MH||Moist heat (from hot pack or fomentation)|
|MLD||Manual lymphatic drainage|
|MMT||Manual muscle test|
|MVA||Motor vehicle accident|
|NSAID||Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug|
|NWB||Non weight bearing|
|OP||Outpatient or osteoporosis|
|OT||Occupational Therapist / Therapy|
|p (with line over it)||After|
|P or Pn||Pain|
|PA||Posterior to anterior, or Physician Assistant|
|PCL||Posterior cruciate ligament|
|PIP||Proximal interphalangeal (joints)|
|PMHx||Past medical history|
|PNF||Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation|
|Post||After or posterior|
|PROM||Passive range of motion|
|PSIS||Posterior superior iliac spine|
|PT||Physical Therapist / Therapy|
|PVD||Peripheral vascular disease|
|QL||Quadratus lumborum muscle|
|QOL||Quality of life|
|quads||Quadricep muscle group|
|R/O||Rule out (e.g. R/O contraindications for massage)|
|RICE||Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (first aid)|
|RLE||Right lower extremity|
|RLQ||Right lower quadrant (of abdomen)|
|RMT||Registered Massage Therapist, or Remedial Massage Therapist|
|ROM||Range of motion|
|Rot||Rotate or rotation|
|RROM||Resisted range of motion|
|RUE||Right upper extremity|
|RUQ||Right upper quadrant (of abdomen)|
|S/P||Status post (after a treatment or procedure)|
|SOAP||Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan (i.e. SOAP note)|
|SOB||Shortness of breath|
|TFL||Tensor fascia latae|
|THA||Total hip arthroplasty|
|TKA||Total knee arthroplasty|
|TOS||Thoracic outlet syndrome|
|TP or TrP||Trigger point|
|TPT||Trigger point therapy|
|WFL||Within functional limits|
|WNL||Within normal limits|
|x||times or repetitions|
|XFF||Cross fiber friction|