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  • Writer's pictureMary Brooking

Assessment or diagnosis: what's the difference?

Precise and targeted clinical assessment is a vital skill for a massage therapist, but what does this mean? And how is it different to a diagnosis?

“ An assessment is an educated evaluation of a client's condition and physical basis for his/her symptoms in order to determine a course of treatment”

(Clinical Massage Therapy: Rattray and Ludwig)


Massage therapists use the word assessment when evaluating the nature of a condition. This is not a diagnosis, which is a term used by the medical profession. It is the difference between investigating the nature of a condition (assessment) and naming that a certain condition is present (diagnosis).


Doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths or chiropractors have a much wider scope of knowledge and tests and tools available to them to assess and then potentially diagnose potential sources of pain than massage therapists. Knowing when to refer to these other professionals or when a condition is best treated by massage is a key part of a massage therapist’s assessment. It is important for massage therapists to ensure that other possible causes of pain have been ruled out in order that their assessment can focus on how the condition is being caused by soft tissue issues, or other factors which massage can benefit.

Meet goals and measure progress

An assessment not only enables an effective treatment to be planned but helps measure progress towards the client’s goals so both therapist and client can assess if the treatment is working. It’s always important to understand why a client has come for a massage, what they are expecting from the treatment and gain a baseline for changes achieved.

What's part of an assessment?

An assessment as part of a sports massage or remedial therapy will include the following elements, and maybe others if relevant:

  • health and if relevant injury history questions, taking time to understand in detail the nature and origin of any pain being experienced.

  • observations for example of posture or swelling

  • palpation of soft tissues

  • range of motion testing of movements at joints

Information gathered from the various aspects of the assessment process are combined into an informed evaluation and a judgement as to the best treatment plan. Assessment will also be ongoing throughout the massage to understand the effectiveness of the techniques being used and this can mean the treatment plan is modified as the massage proceeds.

Thanks to Jing Advanced Massage Training ( for their excellent article on clinical assessment for massage therapists that informed this post.

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