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  • Writer's pictureAlexa Marie, LMT

Spa Massage vs. Medical Massage

What is the difference between getting a spa massage and getting a medical massage, and which one is best for me?

When choosing the right type of massage for you and your needs, you should first understand the intention behind the different types. As well as the type of training that is required for the therapist to practice each type of massage. This will contribute to the outcome a client can expect to have when receiving the treatment.


The overall intention behind a spa massage is to focus on relaxation. Equal pressure gets applied throughout the body (likely based on your selection of service), with movement that has a flow and pattern that feels fluid and should include the whole body, from head to toe.

Many people’s entry into massage therapy is through a spa service. Perhaps someone bought you a gift card to a spa or franchised massage studio for your birthday or a holiday.

The vibe you can expect:

You enter the space and there are some soft sounds of trickling water and chimes, the smell of lavender pumping through the essential oil diffuser. A front desk worker guides you through a menu of services, Swedish, deep tissue, body wraps, relaxation, etc. You enter a dimly lit room with zen vibes and lay face down while a therapist enters the room and begins to massage your body with oil or lotion.

The intended outcome of a spa massage is an overall sense of well-being and relaxation. A time for clients to spend resting and feeling pampered, with hopes they can let go of minor stressors and tension.

For a therapist, a position as a spa massage therapist has a pretty low barrier to entry. Since there isn’t a high expectation for soft tissue problem solving, many new therapists start their careers there. Spas and chain massage studios often incentivize therapists with free education courses to subsidize lower wages. A drawback to the free courses is not being able to expand your massage knowledge and being forced to learn what is most profitable for the spa. These courses usually include more relaxation techniques or product use.


When it comes to medical massage, clients and therapists are looking to address specific areas of imbalance or injury prevention. There is typically a corrective expectation and or a desire to better understand the musculoskeletal condition. Medical massage is used to address chronic and acute pain, injuries that are compromising movement and performance, as well as injury prevention. Medical massage therapists often work side by side or within a network of physical therapists and doctors that also address postural imbalances, sports injuries, etc. It is common for medical massage therapists to have experience working with clients who have scoliosis, frozen shoulder, slipped discs, herniations, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel, sciatica, hyper-kyphosis/lordosis, tennis elbow, anxiety, insomnia, migraines, pre and post surges, and many more complex cases.

The vibe you can expect:

Medical massage settings come in many forms. They could be conducted in a doctor or physical therapist setting, a sports center space, or even a private office. Just because the job is serious doesn’t mean it has to be unrelaxing. You might not find the soft tranquil ambient sounds or the long list of menu items to choose from but you should expect to work on a massage table in a private and safe space to address your unique needs.

The intended results of working with a medical massage therapist should be to address, identify and help solve your musculoskeletal problems that are affecting your daily activities and physical well-being. A massage session with a medical massage therapist might not have the fluid movements of a spa therapist. There will be more emphasis on areas of the body in need of release. Many people describe sessions to be uncomfortable at times in a way that is still therapeutic. For both therapists and clients, the goal is to improve the range of motion in the body and reduce pain. The therapist is also looking to help clients maintain playability and balance while learning more about how their body functions and how to keep their body injury-free.

Medical massage therapists are typically seeking continuing education courses that expand their knowledge of anatomy and movement so that they can continue to help clients with new approaches to their injuries. Therapist training usually includes modalities like myofascial release, PNF stretching, neuromuscular, trigger point, lymph drainage, deep tissue, and more.


To answer this question, you must first ask yourself: “What are my needs?” Are you just looking for an easy-going relaxing time for general self-care purposes? Or are you suffering from an injury or imbalance and want to change your body so that you can increase your range of motion to where it once was? Neither spa nor medical massage is a magic cure but they are a great step in releasing tension and stress from the body.

If you’re looking for a private space with relaxing vibes, and a therapist who will address your musculoskeletal needs with medical massage, reach out to Alexa Marie, LMT. A trained medical massage therapist, licensed in both NY and NJ with a private practice in Hoboken, NJ.

The Crafted Hand

51 Newark st, Hoboken, NJ 07030

For more questions about bookings, email

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