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The physical therapy brand is something I care about – quite a lot, actually.  As a physical therapist, business owner, and self-professed brand nerd, I believe that preserving the integrity of the physical therapy brand while advancing our position in the consumer marketplace is critical to the future of our profession.

So, when I read the March 19th headline in The Marquette Tribune, “Physical therapy students to host annual Massage-A-Thon,” I pumped my brakes…hard.

What?  Physical therapy massage-a-thon?  OMG.  (Yeah, I said that.)

If there’s one thing we don’t need in the physical therapy profession, it’s confusion.  And as much as I applaud the ambition of the Marquette College of Health Sciences for raising money and reaching into the community with their physical therapy students, I fear the consequences of the language used to guide and promote such an activity.  Namely, the word massage.

Physical therapists are NOT massage therapists, and while I would expect that the Marquette College of Health Sciences is fully aware of this, I believe the use of the phrase, “Massage-A-Thon,” to describe and promote their fundraiser is indicative of an oversight not uncommon in the world today – that language matters.

In a healthcare market rife with competition from providers who go to all lengths to position themselves as THE choice for care, the mincing of words in such a careless manner can have specific and detrimental consequences to a consumer market that doesn’t fully understand what physical therapists do in the first place.

We don’t want consumers entering our physical therapy practices asking for massages any more than we want consumers soliciting physical therapy from chiropractors or physicians.  We shouldn’t have physical therapy students hosting massage-a-thons, nor should we have massage therapy students holding physical therapy seminars.  All are wrong.

Physical therapists help persons reduce pain and improve function through specific, goal-driven interventions, exercise, and education.  Please, let’s keep this at the forefront of our brand promise, and avoid the promotion of ourselves through anything that veers from this course.  Massage therapists provide a valuable service within the healthcare market, but physical therapists and massage therapists are distinctly different from one another.

It is in our obligation and interest that we must keep the consumer aware of such differences.


I will be speaking more about the physical therapy brand at the California Physical Therapy Association on September 20, 2013.  Click here to learn more.