Glossary of Basic Massage and Bodywork Terms


Active joint movements are movements in which the client actively participates by contracting the muscles involved in the movement.

Acute refers to a condition with a sudden onset and relatively short duration, within 6 months.

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition of joints.

Atrophy is the result of muscle disuse and a condition in which the muscle wastes away.


Body mechanics is the observation and body posture in relation to safe and efficient movement in daily living activities.

Bursae are fibrous sacks lined with synovial membrane and lubricated with synovial fluid, functioning as a cushion in areas of pressure.


Carpal tunnel syndrome is a compression of the median nerve as it passes through the wrist that causes pain and weakness in the fingers.

Centering is based on the concept that you have a geographical center in your body about 2 inches below the navel.

Chronic refers to a lingering or ongoing condition, longer than 6 months.

Connective tissue binds structures together, provides support and protection, and serves as a framework.

Contraindication any physical, mental, or emotional condition a client may have that may cause a particular intervention or treatment to be unsafe.

Contusion, or bruise, is a common type of hematoma that is generally not too serious.


Deep fascia refers to fibrous tissue sheaths that penetrate deep into the body, separating major muscle groups, and anchoring them to the bones.

Disease is an abnormal and unhealthy state of all or part of the body wherin it is not capable of carrying on its normal function.


Effleurage is a succession of strokes applied by gliding the hand over an extended portion of the body.

End feel is the change in the quality of the movement as the end of a joint movement is achieved.

Energetic manipulation makes use of techniques that detect imbalances in the flow of force in the body and bring it back into balance.


Fascia is the fibrous connective tissue between muscle bundles or between muscle fibers that supports nerve and blood vessels.

Fever is an elevated body temperature.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by pain, fatigue, and stiffness in the connective tissue of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Flexibility refers to the ability of a joint to move freely and painlessly through its range of motion.

Fracture is a break or rupture in a bone.

Friction refers to a number of massage strokes designed to manipulate soft tissue so that one layer is moved over or against another.

Fulling is a kneading technique in which the tissue is grasped, gently lifted, and spread out.


Gait assessment is observing the manner in which a person walks to determine constrictions or related conditions.

Golgi tendon organs (GTO’s) are multibranched sensory nerve endings located in tendons.

Grounding is based on the concept that excess effort and tension are released from the body through contact with the Earth.


Herniated Disc is a weakening of the intervertebral disc resulting in a protrusion into the vertebral canal, potentially compressing the spinal cord

Holistic means to look at the whole picture.

Homeostasis is the internal balance of the body.

Hydrotherapy  is the application of water in any of its three forms to the body for therapeutic purposes.

Hyperemia is an increased amount of blood in the muscle.

Hypertrophy is increased muscle bulk resulting from an increase in myofibril thickness in the muscle fiber and increased density of the muscle capillary bed.


Immersion bath  involves submersion of a body part in water.

Immunity refers to all the physiological mechanisms used by the body as protection against foreign invaders and diseases.

Impetigo is a highly infectious bacterial skin infection common in children.

Inert tissue are the tissue that are not contractile such as bone, ligament, nerves.

Inflammation is a protective tissue response characterized by swelling, redness, heat, and pain.

Insertion of a muscle is the more mobile attachment of a muscle to bone.

Integrative medicine combines complimentary and alternative medicine with allopathic medicine.

Irritability, or excitability, is the capacity of muscles to receive and react to stimuli.

Ischemia is localized tissue anemia due to obstruction of the inflow of blood.

Ischemic compression involves digital pressure directly into a trigger point.

Isometric contraction occurs when a muscle contracts and the ends of the muscle do not move.

Isotonic contraction occurs when a muscle contracts and the distance between the ends of the muscle changes.


Joint movements are the passive or active movement of the joints or the articulation of the client.

Joints connect the bones of the skeleton.

Jostling involves grasping the entire muscle, lifting it slightly away from its position, and shaking it quickly across its axis.


Kinesiology is the scientific study of muscular activity and the anatomy, physiology, and mechanics of body movement.

Kneading lifts, squeezes, and presses the tissues.

Kyphosis is an abnormally exaggerated convex curve of the spine.


Lesion is a structural change in the tissue caused by injury of disease.

Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to bones.

Lordosis is an abnormally exaggerated concave curve of the spine.

Lymph nodes contain a large concentration of lymphocytes and serve to filter and neutralize bacteria and toxins collected in the lymph.


Massage is the systematic manual or mechanical manipulations of the soft tissues of the body for therapeutic purposes.

Mesoderm is the middle layer of cells of the skin.

Moist heat packs are chemical gel packs that are heated in a water bath, wrapped in a terry cover, and placed on the body.

Morphology is the structure of an organism or body.

Muscle energy technique (MET), or PNF stretching, uses neurophysiological muscle reflexes to improve functional mobility of the joints.

Muscle fatigue is a condition in which the muscle ceases to respond due to oxygen debt from rapid or prolonged muscle contractions.

Muscle fiber is the functional contractile unit of a muscle.

Muscle spasm is a sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle.

Muscle strain is an injury that damages the internal structure of the muscle.

Myofibrosis is the process where muscle tissue is replaced by fibrous connective tissue.


Neat refers to the application of an essential oil at its full, undiluted strength.

Nerves are bundles of signal-carrying fibers held together by connective tissue that originate in the brain and spinal cord and distribute branches all over the body.

Neuritis is an inflammation of a nerve.

Neuromuscular therapy is a system of soft tissue assessment and manipulation, often utilizing gentle movement for treatment of muscular dysfunction.

Neuromuscular facilitation therapy utilizes a series of gentle movements to change the perception of the CNS which results in increased movement and an absence of pain.


Origin of a muscle is the point where the end of a muscle is anchored to an immovable section of the skeleton.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that affects joints worn down by trauma or age.


Pain is the result of stimulation of specialized nerve ends in the body. [Eastern definition: Pain is the result of stagnant chi.]

Palpation is a skill and an art developed by the therapist that is a primary assessment tool allowing the therapist to listen to the clients body through the therapist’s hands.

Passive positioning involves the gentle, passive movement of a joint into position of maximum comfort, holding it, and slowly returning it to its normal position.

Passive stretching moves body segments beyond their free range of motion while the muscles remain as relaxed as possible.

Periosteum is a fibrous membrane that functions to protect the bone and serves as an attachment of tendons and ligaments.

Petrissage lifts, squeezes, and presses the tissues.

Positional release is a method of passively moving the body or body part toward the body’s preference and away from pain, seeking the tissues preferred position.

Proprioception is a system of sensory and motor nerve activity that provides information on the position and rate of movement of body parts to the central nervous system.


Range of motion is the movement of a joint from one extreme of the articulation to the other

Reflexology stimulates particular points on the surface of the body, which in turn affects other areas or organs of the body.

Rolfing aligns the major body segments through manipulation of the fascia or the connective tissue.


Scar tissue is dense, fibrous connective tissue that forms over a healed wound or cut.

Sciatica is neuralgia caused by injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve, which is the largest and longest nerve in the body.

Scoliosis is lateral curvature of the spine.

Shiatsu is a massage technique from Japan in which points of stimulation are pressed to effect the circulation of fluids and ki (life force energy).

Skeletal muscles are attached to bone by tendons and are responsible for moving the limbs, facial expression, speaking, and other voluntary movements.

Skeletal system is the bony framework of the body, composed of bones, cartilage, and ligaments.

Skin rolling is a variation of kneading in which only the skin and subcutaneous tissue is picked up between the thumbs and fingers and rolled.

Spindle cells located in the belly of muscle, alert the central nervous system as to the length and stretch and speed of the muscle contraction.

Sports massage is a method of massage designed to prepare an athlete for an upcoming event.

Sprain is an injury to a joint resulting in stretching or tearing of the ligaments.

Strain usually involves the tearing of muscle tissue or tendons; also can refer to having put a demand on a muscle greater than it can safely respond to.

Stress is any psychological or physical situation or condition that causes tension or strain.

Stretching is passive and active stretching of muscle and connective tissue to achieve normal resting length.

Structural integration attempts to bring the physical structure of the body into alignment around a central axis.

Swedish massage employs traditional manipulations of effleurage, petrissage, vibration, friction, and tapotement.

Synovial joints have a joint cavity surrounded by an articular capsule, movement is lubricated by synovial fluid.


Tapotement movements include rhythmic tapping, slapping, hacking, and cupping for therapeutic purposes.

Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon.

Tendons are bands of connective tissue that attach muscle to bone.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is pain, numbness, or weakness in the shoulder, neck, and arm caused by compression or entrapment of the brachial plexus nerves.

Trager method uses movement exercises along with massage-like, gentle shaking of different parts of the body to eliminate tension.

Trigger point is a localized tender or painful area of the body, usually in soft tissue, that when stimulated gives rise to pain elsewhere in the body.


Varicose veins are protruding, bulbous, distended superficial veins, particularly in the lower legs.


Wellness describes behaviors and habits that have a positive influence on health.


Yoga is a form of exercise that combines mental concentration, muscular control, breathing, and relaxation.