So, Isn't All Bodywork The Same?

By Nora Lawson
Published on Apr 15th, 2012

This is a question that all massage therapists and bodyworkers around the world have heard at one time or another in their career. It is a question that we will chuckle over when having a drink with fellow body aritsans. The answer to us is obvious. “No”. And yes we do understand it is not obvious to people learning about massage/bodywork for the first time. This article is intended to assist with you the reader with a better understanding of the difference.

Bodywork is the all encompassing term for assisting the body to relax. Massage therapy is just one style of bodywork. There are hundreds of modalities with different names, protocols, and claims to fame. Each is technically bodywork. When looking up the definition of bodywork this is what appears:


  1. automotive auto body: the outer frame of a car or other motor vehicle
  2. automotive repair of motor vehicle body: the work of repairing the outer frame of a car or other motor vehicle health
  3. massage or physical manipulation of body: physical manipulation of the human body, including all types of massage, to improve general health or posture, or to treat injuries

Taken from Bing Dictionary

Many bodywork styles will, like definition 1 and 2, work only on the outer frame of the human body. This will give relief from pain for a short while and a sense of relaxation but if the inner workings the “engine”, if you will, is not tuned then the relief is short lived.

These modalities treat the body symptomatically. Like auto bodywork they look at “fixing” a specific section then move on to the next section. Liken it to tapping out a dent in the front fender then moving on to rubbing out the keying of the side door and finally putting more air in the left rear tire. The car looks great/the body feels great for a short while but how does it run?

The thing is our bodies are not made up of separate parts. Each organ, bone, muscle, ligament, tendon, is dependent on the surrounding organs, bone, muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, blood, and cells. They need each other and respond to each other. Altogether, this is the frame and engine of our bodies. Many bodywork modalities only act on the outer edges of this, the outer frame of our body.

These modalites give relief for a short period of time while the bodywork is being performed but within a few hours the relaxation has dissipated and sometimes the pain comes back. The modalities that seem to work only on the outer frame in my experience are massage therapy, deep tissue, raindrop, sports massage, hot stones.

There are other modalities that are uncomfortable to experience such as are rolfing, trigger point therapy, some reflexology, shiatsu, and deep tissue. These modalities work deeper than Swedish massage but again they manipulate in a specific way according to what the symptom is showing on the outer frame of the body. That front fender will be without the dent but the car is shuddering while it happens.

These are all well accepted styles of bodywork. They are respected by modern medicine and definitely help to improve ‘general health and posture’. However, there are other modalities that facilitate the body, frame and engine (to keep the metaphor), working as a whole by communicating and healing itself.

Some of these modalities are very gentle such as cranio-sacral, reiki, and polarity. These are sometimes called ‘energy’ bodywork styles. Many people swear by these styles while others “don’t feel a thing’. These styles are tuning the engine of our body but it doesn’t always feel as if it reached the car door or the flat tire during the session, so people can be disappointed.

Finally, there there are the modalities that facilitate using a variety of methods as needed. One of these is othro-bionomy. This method facilitates communication between the nervous system and the rest of the body. Bodyworkers trained in this type of modalities listen to the body on the table. Like a good mechanic and auto body shop combined, they understand that the dent in the front fender was caused by the low tire in the rear, which was compensating for there being too much weight in the trunk on that side. They then assist the body to actively communicate and move as needed working with the ‘whole car’ to change the allotment of weight to take off the pressure from the tire which helps tap out the dent from the inside out. This style of bodywork has longer effects of relaxation and painrelief because the body on the table is involved in the process of healing. Sometimes the body will continue to adjust for a few days after a session. This style sends the person home fully detailed and tuned-up.

As you have read, there are quite a few styles of bodywork. Like cars needing a special autobody shop for their design, each modality works for somebody. Many people swear by massage therapy, others would only have a trigger point therapist work on them, while others would drive 100 miles for cranio-sacral. There are so many styles because each person is unique and has different needs. If you try one and it doesn’t fit then try another, because there is a modality that will work for you.

Filed under Reviews

Author Bio :: Nora Lawson

Nora Lawson studied massage therapy at the New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts and received her degree in Elementary Education at Salisbury State University.  She is currently teaching 3rd grade and working part-time at a nearby spa.

Other Articles by Nora Lawson

Are you a martial artist and have advice or experiences you want to share? If so, contact our editorial team about becoming an author. Be part of our community, contribute an article.