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  • Karen Stoner, LMT

Massage Tips and Trivia: Massage Therapists work on "clients", not "patients"

"In massage, the person being worked on is usually referred to as a 'client' rather than a 'patient' because a massage therapist can not make a diagnosis or provide a prescription."

Massage Therapists can do a lot of good to help people, but we can't do everything, so therefore there is a lot we can't do. Confused? I'll try to make it easier. We have strict guidelines about what we can do, say, and tell you about what we are doing. It is called Scope of Practice (SOP) and in many states, it means massage therapists can only do work that involves manipulating muscles and the surrounding tissue. That means we can not "crack your back" although if we are massaging and something pops, it is just a coincidence. So if you ask "Is my muscle/joint/arm/neck injured?" We can not legally tell you what it is. We can describe what we feel and what we find, but we can not definitively say "Your ___ has a _____" - that is a diagnosis, and in many states, only a doctor can give a diagnosis, and is outside of a Massage Therapist's SOP. Likewise, if someone asks for a prescription for PT or medication, we can not give that either, that is also reserved for doctors. We can make recommendations for additional care, stretches, or additional massage, however we can't order anything.

Now, if a Massage Therapist also has a Doctor's License, such as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, or Doctor of Chiropractic, that is different, and they may be able to diagnose and prescribe, but just a regular Massage Therapist - even with all licenses and certifications up to date, are still more limited than a doctor. This is why the terminology is different. Not anything major, just enough to thoroughly confuse my receptionist who can have someone come in to see me and they are a "client", then they walk to the door beside mine to see the Chiropractor and they are now a "patient".

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