Choosing the right type of massage can be a bit daunting if you are new to massage therapy. Imagine going to a massage clinic and choosing from a long list of services from their menu. If you don’t know how each type of massage works, then you are bound to pay for something that might not really suit you.
Before we look into the different types of massages, let’s go over some information about massage therapy.
What is massage therapy?
According to the Northwestern Health Sciences University, massage therapy is the “manipulation of soft body tissues, such as the muscle, connective tissue, tendons, and ligaments, to enhance a person’s health and well-being.”
People undergo massage therapy for different reasons. A certain part of the body will be targeted depending on the purpose of the massage. According to NHSU, the reason most people get massages is to “reduce stress and anxiety, relax muscles, rehabilitate injuries, reduce pain, and promote overall health and wellness.”
According to Medicine.net, massage therapy is usually considered as part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), although it does have some “conventional uses”.
Massages have been performed in different cultures around the world. A lot of these massages have been adapted by massage therapists in the United States. Each type of massage serves different purposes.
If you are planning to get a massage soon but are not sure what type best suits you, our list of massage types and their benefits might help you choose the right one.
1. Deep-Tissue Massage
Unlike any other massage, the deep-tissue massage is the most physically demanding, both for the massage therapist and the client or patient. The reason for this is that the intensity of the pressure is much greater compared to other massages. Sometimes, undergoing a deep-tissue massage can even become uncomfortable or painful.
Since the target of the deep-tissue massage is to activate the deep muscles, instead of using gentle strokes via the fingers, a massage therapist may use their palm or even their elbow to achieve its goal of maximum muscle activation.
The purpose of deep-tissue massage is not just relaxation, like most types of massages. It aims more to improve the function of the muscles through time. The deep-tissue massage is a very popular massage therapy for athletes since its focus is the internal muscle layers and can be applied in the treatment of sports-related injuries. Deep-tissue massage is also a popular cure for chronic pain since it improves muscle functions. It is also known to help with stress relief, the lowering of heart rate and blood pressure, and increasing mobility within your muscles.
2. Swedish Massage
Swedish massage is the most popular type of massage here in the US. It is sometimes called “classic massage” since it is the foundation of other types of massages such as sports massage and deep-tissue massage. Unlike Asian massages which are based on meridians or zen lines, Swedish massage applies the concepts of anatomy and physiology.
If you are a new to massages, getting a Swedish massage is highly recommended because of its relaxing attributes.
According to WebMD, a Swedish massage involves “soft, long, kneading strokes, as well as light, rhythmic, tapping strokes, on topmost layers of muscles.” The massage usually involves “movement of the joints”. Since this type of massage relieves muscle tension, it is very popular for relaxation and regaining energy.
“Swedish massage is designed specifically to enhance circulation and blood flow to the large muscle groups.” According to resources in a Livestrong.com article.
The article further mentioned that aside from improved circulation and blood flow, a Swedish massage also plays a big role in easing carpal tunnel syndrome, reduction in knee arthritis, boosting the immune system function, lowering blood pressure, reducing headaches, and reducing the symptoms of the musculoskeletal disorder, fibromyalgia.
3. Trigger Point Therapy
According to TripSavvy.com, trigger points are “painful spots in the muscle tissue that radiate pain to other areas.” So suppose you have a trigger point located in your head, this will redirect the pain to the other parts of your body such as your back or neck. When you have a trigger point, this usually means that you are experiencing a certain kind of physiological dysfunction. It may be poor posture, acute trauma, mechanical stress, or mechanical imbalance.
Trigger point therapy, or myofascial trigger point therapy, is a method that was specifically designed to locate the source of the pain, which is the trigger point. Once this is located, pressure will then be applied to reduce or eventually stop the pain. In trigger point therapy, the pressure should only be moderate since too much pressure will only tense up the muscle and won’t be able to help alleviate the pain.
As mentioned above, the main purpose of a trigger point therapy massage is to alleviate the source of the pain. As a bonus, it will allow the muscles to soften, lengthen, and become stronger. Regularly undergoing trigger point therapy is very beneficial. Aside from helping you manage your pain, it will also help you in reducing stress brought about by chronic injuries. It will also help you avoid having to undergo surgery due to chronic pain.
4. Shiatsu Massage/Shiatsu Therapy
Shiatsu massage or shiatsu therapy is a combination of Japanese and Chinese traditions. It was birthed out of an ancient Japanese massage called anma and a Chinese form of therapy called acupuncture.
According to ShiatsuSociety.org, shiatsu is a “physical therapy that supports and strengthens the body’s natural ability to heal and balance itself.” It not only works on the physical body but also benefits the person on a psychological, emotional, and spiritual level.
Shiatsu literally means “finger pressure”, which is partly a description of the massage. However, the main instrument for this kind of massage therapy is actually the sense of touch. According to the Centerpoint Massage & Shiatsu Therapy School & Clinic, shiatsu therapy uses “pressure with thumbs, hands, elbows, knees or feet is applied to pressure points on the body.” It also focuses on “rotating and stretching limbs, joints, and pressure points, or meridians.”
Shiatsu massage or shiatsu therapy has a lot of benefits. For one, it can treat a whole list of ailments such as poor posture, joint problems, headaches, arthritis, sprains, arthritis, sciatica, acute chronic neck and back pain, stress, sleep issues or insomnia, bronchitis and other respiratory problems, blood pressure irregularities, and digestive disorders. Aside from these, it can also help in the restoration of the body’s energy and improve the body’s blood circulation.
5. Sports Massage
According to SportsTherapyUK.com, sports massage is a type of massage which involves “the manipulation of soft tissue to benefit a person engaged in a regular physical activity.” Soft tissue includes the skin, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and fascia.
Sports massage was developed for athletes. The massage technique that a massage therapist will perform usually depends on the choice of the athlete. Usually, they focus on areas of the body that are stressed and overused due to too much physical exercise.
The main goal of a sports massage is to help correct problems and imbalances in the soft tissues. These are usually caused by incessantly undergoing vigorous physical activity.
This type of massage is very important for an athlete. According to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, sports massage “is designed to prepare the athlete for their best performance, reduce fatigue, and relieve muscle swelling and tension.” SportsTherapyUK.com further states that receiving a sports massage before and after exercising “may enhance performance, aid recovery and prevent injury.” Sports massage also helps with stress and pain reduction.
6. Chair Massage
Chair massage is perhaps one of the shortest massages there is. According to TripSavvy.com, it typically takes 10 to 15 minutes to perform a chair massage. This is why chair massage is also very popular in high-stress areas such as airports, trade shows, and even work areas.
Unlike other types of massages, a chair massage doesn’t require the client to lie down on a massage table. As its name implies, a chair massage requires the client to be seated in a uniquely designed chair to receive a massage.
Another difference between a chair massage compared to other types of massages is that it doesn’t usually require massage oil. In fact, this type of massage can be done with your clothes on.
A chair massage is designed for busy people, which is why it is usually very short. It only focuses on your back, shoulders, neck, and arms and doesn’t require you to lie down. However, even if this type of massage is relatively shorter than the others, it still carries with it a lot of health benefits.
A 2011 study, cited in Livestrong.com, found that receiving chair massages twice a week can decrease musculoskeletal aches and pains and can increase the range of motion in just a month. Another study conducted in 2012 found that it can also reduce stress. Aside from these, a regular chair massage can also lower anxiety, boost the immune system, increase blood circulation, lower blood pressure, reduce headaches, and improve sleep quality.
7. Thai Massage
Thai massage, like Shiatsu massage, is a combination of different therapies and healing principles from different countries – Indian Ayurvedic principles, acupressure, and assisted yoga postures. Although it has only been offered recently in most moderns spas in the United States, Thai massage, which is usually called “nuat phaen thai” in Thailand, is actually a very ancient healing system. It is said that this type of massage was first developed by the Buddha’s physician named Shivago Komarpaj about 2,500 years ago.
Traditional Thai massage doesn’t use any oils or lotions and doesn’t require the removal of clothing during a massage session. It is also performed solo with just the massage therapist and the recipient. The practice is also different from other massages in that instead of the usual rubbing of muscles, the body is “compressed, pulled, stretched, and rocked. So if you are planning to have a Thai massage soon, expect some pulling of the fingers, toes, ears, cracking knuckles, your back being walked on, and having your body moved in different positions.
Since Thai massage is a combination of different healing and therapy techniques, it brings a lot of benefits to the recipient. The gentle pressure of acupressure will improve the energy lines and the yoga-like stretching offers a deeper level of relaxation to the body.
Other health benefits would include pain relief, stress reduction, enhanced mobility in the joints, improved blood circulation, and treatment of sciatica, headaches, and neck pain.
8. Prenatal Massage
Although prenatal massage is not required during pregnancy, it is still a good choice for women to help them deal with the changes in their body.
Prenatal massage, according to BabyCenter.com, is a type of massage that is similar to a regular massage, however, it is “customized to the needs of pregnant women and their changing bodies.” Massage therapists who are trained in prenatal massage will adjust their techniques according to the needs of each woman.
Getting a prenatal massage has several benefits. Prenatal massage helps in reducing stress and boosts overall wellness. Women experience a lot of discomfort during pregnancy and this type of massage is designed to give relief to these discomforts. Some of the ailments that can be treated with prenatal massage are stiff necks, backaches, leg cramps, headaches, and edema or swelling. It also helps lower prenatal depression and anxiety and can generally improve one’s mood. Prenatal massage also helps lower the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.
9. Couples Massage
Couples massage, or sometimes called duet or duo massage, is becoming a very popular service in day spas. This type of massage involves two people having a massage at the same time, with separate beds next to each, and two different massage therapists performing the massage. This type of massage is usually done with aromatherapy, candle lighting, and soothing music.
A couples massage is a wonderful way to bond and strengthen a relationship and bring more closeness. For romantic couples, this is a good opportunity to share a beautiful experience and have quality time together. This can also be a great bonding experience for parent and child, friends, and siblings.
Another benefit of having a couples massage is that it increases comfort. Some people are not comfortable taking a massage session alone. With a couples massage, they can be more relaxed since they are with someone they know.
10. Hot Stone Massage
Hot stone massage or stone therapy massage is a therapeutic practice which uses flat, heated stones that are either placed on specific points in the body, most commonly, along the back or spine. Sometimes, these hot stones are held by the massage therapist during the session to apply heat.
The most common type of stone used in a hot stone massage is the basalt river rock since it retains heat and is smoothened over time through the river’s current. During a hot stone massage session, the stones are typically heated between 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
The practice of using hot stones for therapy started centuries ago when Native Americans would warm stones which are then applied to the skin and used for healing muscle pain.
In modern times, the practice of hot stone therapy is attributed to Mary Nelson, an Arizona massage therapist who developed LaStone Therapy. This massage therapist combined this hot stone method with therapeutic massage which has so far been replicated by hundreds of massage clinics or spas all around the world.
Although hot stone therapy is originally used for healing muscle pain, with the integration of massage, it has produced more benefits. According to Healthline.com, hot stone massage can help relieve muscle tension and pain, reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, relieve symptoms of auto-immune diseases, decrease cancer symptoms, and boost immunity.
If you are planning to get scheduled for a massage therapy session, it would be good to review all of the health benefits of each type of massage so that you will be able to set the right expectations. A massage therapy session is a good alternative or complementary practice to help anyone to better deal with injuries, ailments, stress or anxiety. Several studies have been done proving the effectiveness of massages and the healing power of touch.