The Importance of Assessment in Massage Therapy

Wednesday, July 29, 2020 12:27:00 AM

Every massage therapy treatment should include an assessment. This allows a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) to get a better idea of your condition, your goals and your concerns. The assessment allows an RMT to design a treatment plan that will work best for you. By being able to tailor their treatment to your individual situation, your RMT will be able to ensure you have the best possible outcomes from massage therapy.

The Importance of Communicating

At the beginning of your massage therapy appointment, your RMT will ask you questions about your main areas of concern. They will likely ask where you’re feeling pain, if it radiates anywhere else, when it started, how long it’s lasted and its severity. They will also ask you to describe the quality of your pain, e.g. burning, achy, throbbing, pinching, sharp, etc. They’ll ask if you’ve experienced any other treatment and what, if anything, has made your pain better or worse.

These sorts of questions help the RMT form a clinical impression of your condition. This gives them a better idea of what type of treatment might work for you, and helps you work together with your RMT to set goals for your treatment. This isn’t solely a one way questioning. This also involves giving you the opportunity to share what you’re hoping to achieve from massage therapy treatments and ask any questions you may have to better understand your RMT’s proposed treatment plan.

RMTs take the time to ask questions about the state of your pain and give you the opportunity to share your goals for massage therapy treatment to make sure they can give you the best possible treatment to help you achieve your goals.


In addition to what you’re sharing about your pain or your condition, your RMT will also use what they observe to inform their assessment. They may ask you to walk around to observe your gait (the way you walk), or ask you to perform certain movements to see if they can replicate the pain you’re describing.

They may also test your range of motion (how well your joints can move). The RMT may assist your joint through the range of motion or ask you to move your joint in a certain way, asking about how the motion makes you feel. You will be asked to stop the movement when you feel discomfort and explain what you’re feeling and where the discomfort is located.

The RMT may also perform several special orthopedic tests that will help them assess whether you have a specific acute injury. Although this sort of test isn’t necessarily beneficial for chronic conditions or for all potential injuries, it is an important part of a massage therapist’s assessment toolbox.

The RMT will repeat some of these tests after the treatment, to determine whether there has been any improvement or change. The RMT may modify future treatments based on what the effect of the treatment has been.

Making a Plan

In addition to letting you know what areas they will be treating on the day of your appointment, your RMT will develop a plan of what future treatments they might recommend to help you to achieve your goals.

The treatment plan is patient-centred and based on the best available evidence. This evidence comes both from what has worked in the past in the massage therapist’s experience, and what the research says about the most appropriate treatments for various conditions. The RMT will discuss their treatment plan with you, including how frequently they recommend you come for treatment, how many treatments they recommend, the results they expect you might see at the end of the treatment plan, and referrals to other health professionals if they believe that that would benefit your condition.

This treatment plan is not set in stone, and you are not required to necessarily accept all of it. If there is a recommendation within the massage therapist’s treatment plan you are not comfortable with, you can request clarification or modification. The plan may also change in the course of the RMT providing treatment. Based on what they are feeling as they massage you, or what they can observe through palpation, the RMT might suggest a new treatment approach. If there are parts of the treatment you find too physically painful or impossible to tolerate, the RMT will also use this feedback to alter their approach.

Getting to the Treatment

Many people seeking massage therapy treatment want to get to the hands on component as quickly as possible. That is, of course, an important part of the treatment. However, as this article illustrated, the conversation with the RMT and their observations are also very important in ensuring positive treatment outcomes.

An RMT recommending remedial exercises is also an important part of many massage therapy treatments. It is not only hands-on time on the table that helps you achieve the outcomes you want. Regular physical activity has been shown to help people with both chronic and acute pain decrease their pain and improve their quality of life.

By taking an active role in your own treatment and completing the exercises your RMT has recommended, you will feel empowered which can also lead to improved outcomes. You can take an active role in your own health care, not only to treat your current concern, but to prevent future pain going forward.

With a thorough assessment before beginning any treatment not only do you get some relief from the issue that brought you to massage therapy in the first place, you are also more likely to achieve lasting results whether that’s decreased pain, increased range of motion or improved quality of life.

Being Informed

The assessment helps you better understand your massage therapy treatment, and it also helps your RMT to better understand what type of treatment would be most effective for you.

Assessment is not only about whether the RMT has the clinical impression that you have a particular type of orthopedic injury. However, people with injuries do not experience pain the same way or even necessarily experience pain at all, and people who experience pain don’t necessarily have a specific injury. Assessment helps your RMT better understand the quality of your pain and the impact it has on your life so that they can give you the best possible treatment.


Ambrose, K. R., & Golightly, Y. M. (2015). Physical exercise as non-pharmacological treatment of chronic pain: Why and when. Best practice & research. Clinical rheumatology, 29(1), 120–130.

Cobianchi, S., Arbat-Plana, A., Lopez-Alvarez, V. M., & Navarro, X. (2017). Neuroprotective Effects of Exercise Treatments After Injury: The Dual Role of Neurotrophic Factors. Current neuropharmacology, 15(4), 495–518.

de Campos TF, Maher CG, Fuller JT, Steffens D, Attwell S, Hancock MJ. Prevention strategies to reduce future impact of low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 9]. Br J Sports Med. 2020;bjsports-2019-101436.

Kennedy AB, Cambron JA, Sharpe PA, Travillian RS, Saunders RP. Process for massage therapy practice and essential assessment. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2016;20(3):484-496.

Polaski, A. M., Phelps, A. L., Kostek, M. C., Szucs, K. A., & Kolber, B. J. (2019). Exercise-induced hypoalgesia: A meta-analysis of exercise dosing for the treatment of chronic pain. PloS one, 14(1), e0210418.


Tags: assessment, massage therapy, treatment