There are many types of massage therapy, from Swedish and deep tissue to shiatsu. Whether you’d like to branch out a bit or have a health condition or injury, choosing a style of massage can be confusing if you’re not quite sure what it involves. Here is a list of the most popular types of massage (including some that may be new to you).
Swedish Massage Therapy
Swedish massage is the standard type of massage offered in most clinics, gyms, spas, and wellness centers. Using lotion or oil, massage therapists typically begin with broad general strokes and then transition to specific strokes to address problem areas.
- Effleurage (long smooth strokes)
- Petrissage (kneading, rolling, and lifting)2
- Friction (wringing or small circular movements)
- Tapotement (percussion)
- Vibration (rocking and shaking movements)
Swedish massage provides full-body muscle relaxation, and it can be especially helpful if you’re recovering from an injury.
An aromatherapy massage is a Swedish massage with scented plant oils (known as essential oils) added to the massage oil. Extracted from flowers and other plant parts, essential oils offer a pleasing scent and are believed to have healing properties. Lavender for instance, has been found to promote relaxation.3 Although different essential oils may be selected to address specific needs, the therapist typically uses pre-blended oils to relax, energize, or uplift.
Before receiving an aromatherapy massage, make sure you’re not allergic to any of the plants used in the oils, since they may cause a skin reaction.
Hot Stone Massage
As the name implies, a hot stone massage uses heated stones. The massage therapist places warm, smooth stones on specific points on the body and also holds the stones while giving the massage. The stones are usually basalt (a volcanic rock that retains heat well).
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage is a focused, therapeutic massage that targets muscle knots (also known as “adhesions”) and specific problem areas in the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. Using deliberate, slow strokes or friction across the grain of the muscle, the therapist can address chronic tight or painful muscles, repetitive strain, postural problems, or injuries.
While it’s true that the pressure of deep tissue is generally more intense than that of a Swedish massage, it shouldn’t have to be painful to be effective. If you’re experiencing pain, let your massage therapist know right away.
This type of massage is particularly beneficial for people with chronic pain or lingering injuries that cause limited mobility. It’s effective in treating repetitive stress injuries such as tennis elbow or carpal tunnel syndrome.
A form of Japanese bodywork, shiatsu massage involves localized pressure using the therapist’s fingers (or sometimes hands and elbows), applied in a rhythmic sequence along the body. Each point is held for about two to eight seconds.
With roots in traditional Chinese medicine, the goal of shiatsu is to stimulate acupressure points on the body to improve the flow of energy and help regain balance.
Since no oil or lotion is used, you wear loose clothing. Shiatsu is normally done on a mat on the floor or on a low massage table and is often used to reduce stress and protect against stress-related health issues. Some research has shown that shiatsu may be effective for treating pain, nausea and insomnia.
A unique blend of assisted yoga, passive stretching, and pressing massage movements, Thai massage is more energizing than other forms of massage. It’s a little bit like yoga without doing the work, as the therapist moves and stretches you in a sequence of postures, usually on a mat on the floor.
Like shiatsu, Thai massage aligns the energies of the body.8 The massage therapist uses rhythmic compression along the body’s energy lines to reduce stress and improve flexibility and range of motion. It is done fully clothed.
This type of massage can improve range of motion and back pain, and has been shown to be useful in reducing anxiety.