Massage – you either swear by it, or you haven’t tried it yet.
Whether you’re looking for an hour of relaxation or healing for physical maladies or stress, massage is an incredible, natural system of healing that targets not on your muscles but your whole body.
Finding the right massage therapy and therapist can be life-changing, but you can’t go in blind. Understanding the differences between the therapies and when to use them is the key to making the most of your time on the table.
We’ve put together a complete guide to the different types of massage therapy, so you can find a treatment that relaxes and heals.
The Most Beneficial Types of Massage Therapy
When most of us think of massage, we’re drawn immediately to the idea of the Swedish massage – a relaxing form of therapy that has many benefits but isn’t always the right choice for your goals.
But massage is both art and science, and there are many different types to choose from. More importantly, each type of massage has different effects and benefits, so it’s important to choose a therapy that best works for you.
Let’s break down the most beneficial types of massage therapy:
- Deep tissue massage
- Foot reflexology
- Swedish massage
- Thai massage
Deep tissue massage is the most intense form of Western massage. While other massage therapies serve dual roles in healing and relaxing, deep muscle massages often instill dread in clients, even when the therapy itself is necessary.
A deep tissue massage isn’t a rubdown. Instead, the therapist uses their hands, arms, and elbows to dive deep into your muscles and target the adhesions (or muscle knots) that lie deep within your muscle tissue. If you have muscle knots, you may have tried other types of massage therapy and found some relief or relaxation only to feel those knots a few hours after getting off the table.
Because deep tissue therapy uses deliberate movements at the grain of the muscle, it’s able to force the muscles to not only release the knots but to move back into place.
Some of the benefits of deep tissue therapy include:
- Better posture
- Improved mobility
- Dissipating muscle knots
- Relief from repetitive stress injuries
- Treating symptoms of osteoarthritis
- Preventing stress headaches
Not everyone needs deep tissue therapy, but if you’re currently taking anti-inflammatory or pain medication to target muscle pain, you may find that deep tissue therapy works as well if not better than prescription interventions.
Love a good foot rub? You might enjoy reflexology.
Foot reflexology is a foot rub with a purpose. The techniques used help you relax, but they also target “reflex” areas on your feet.
Why your feet? Because there are almost 15,000 nerves spread across this small area of your body and they are connected to almost every other area of your body through energy lines or meridians. Massage therapists can then target everything from a small part of your brain to your thyroid to your bladder or kidney just by applying pressure to different parts of your feet.
You can see the connections between your feet and the rest of your body with a foot reflexology and acupressure chart.
For example, your right toes allow the therapist to target your head, and your brain and the center of your big toes reach your pituitary gland. However, your feet aren’t mirror images of each other. While both reach the head and the brain, your right foot targets your ascending colon, appendix and gallbladder, and your left foot reaches your descending colon, and spleen.
One of the biggest benefits of foot reflexology is that unlike other types of massage therapy, which mandate an extra pair of hands or elbows, it’s easy to learn and perform reflexology at home. While having a masseuse rub your feet is always nice, you can turn reflexology into a bedtime routine to promote overall health and wellness and help you drift off to a relaxing sleep in no time.
Foot reflexology can:
- Improve your sleep
- Create relaxation
- Relieve pain
- Increase immunity
- Stimulate circulation
- Improve organ function
- Reduce blood pressure
Don’t forget about one of the most important benefits – the improvements made to your overall wellbeing provided by engaging in self-care.
Shiatsu is a Japanese style of massage that leaves behind the long strokes found in Western massages and instead involves the application of localized pressure on the body.
Pressure is applied using rhythm, and each pressure point is pressed for two to eight seconds. The masseuse may choose to use their fingers or thumbs or even apply their hands and elbows when the body seems to require it.
Because there are no long strokes involved, there’s no need to remove clothing or apply massage oil. Shiatsu therapists also leave behind Western massage tables and instead perform the therapy on the floor or a table only a few inches off the ground.
Working close to the floor is said to ground the patient and thus either reduce their stress or protect their health from the side effects and symptoms of stress.
Swedish massage is a therapeutic massage therapy based on European ideas of physiology by tackling specific problem areas to provide relief. It differs from shiatsu and other types of Asian massage because it concerned more with the physical body than with adjusting your energy or aura for pain relief.
These massages are used to create full-body relaxation and are often included as a complementary therapy during recovery. The techniques used during this massage are almost synonymous with massage therapy itself because they include long smooth strokes in combination with kneading and other movements.
The five essential strokes used in Swedish massage include:
Effleurage: long strokes across large muscles
Friction: small circular movements or wringing of the muscles
Petrissage: kneading movements and a combination of rolling and lifting
Vibration: shaking and rocking
Tapotement: percussion or tapping on the muscle with fingers or the whole hand
Some of the benefits of Swedish massage therapy include:
- Stress management
- Increase blood flow to the skin
- Pain relief
- Better sleep
Even if you’re already cool as a cucumber, treating yourself to a nice experience can be a benefit all on its own.
Thai massage is another form of Asian massage that differs from almost any type of therapy on this list.
While other massages involve lying passively on a table, Thai massage requires almost as much involvement from you as it does from a masseuse. The technique is a blend of pressing massage, passive stretching, and assisted yoga that takes place on the floor.
The goal of Thai massage is to align your energies and your body by moving along your body’s energy lines to improve your physical flexibility and reduce your stress. The masseuse also targets areas of muscular tension during each stretch to release each muscle.
Some of the benefits of Thai massage include:
- Reduction in muscle spasms
- Improved joint mobility
- Increase circulation
- Treat sciatica
- Balance and increase your energy
Even if you don’t suffer from chronic pain or an energy imbalance, you’ll get an incredible stretch that would be difficult to accomplish on your own.
We began this list with one of the most intrusive massage therapies available – deep tissue massage – but we’re ending it with one of the least intrusive – reiki.
Reiki is a type of complementary therapy that is similar to other massage therapies in that it relies on touch, but like other Asian massages, it focuses primarily on your energies for healing rather than your muscles.
Reiki practitioners base their work on the idea that everyone has an aura (or energy field) that surrounds our body. Different events in our lives impact our aura and may cause it to become unbalanced, which then creates some discomfort in our physical body.
The purpose of a Reiki treatment is to re-establish the balance of energy around our body and thus bring on a renewed sense of relaxation and well-being.
Reiki doesn’t involve any stroking or pressure. Instead, practitioners are trained to channel the energy that makes up the aura -universal life energy – and re-align it. There’s no need to connect to skin because Reiki passes through not only clothing but tougher materials like braces, bandages, and casts.
What Massage Works Best for You?
Massage therapy is like any other complementary treatment – it’s effects and benefits are as unique as your body. Choosing the right therapy is important because each therapy targets different problems and pain points.
Whatever therapy you choose, make the most of your session by communicating with your massage therapist. Let them know where your problem areas are so they can find and focus on them – they may even find additional trigger points on their own. Don’t forget to tell them to increase or decrease the pressure when required because only you know how a technique feels on your body.
Have you tried any of these massage therapy techniques? What’s your go-to treatment? Share your stories in the comments below.