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Getting A Handle on 10 Common Massage Types

by Randy Barrera
June 27, 2023
10 min read
Massage Therapist working on Shoulders
Massage Therapist working on Shoulders

Anyone who has received a massage will tell you that there are about as many types of massage as there are practitioners of them. In an industry and discipline that literally traces its roots back thousands of years to ancient cultures, today there are a wide range of massage types, from the classic forms to more exotic ones.

The type you choose really depends on your physical needs and preferences. Here are the more popular options and their primary benefits:

1. Swedish

Swedish massage is the best-known form of massage today, often offered in spas, clinics, gyms, and wellness centers. Using the technique of rubbing muscles with long, gliding strokes in the direction of the blood returning to the heart, it is typically accompanied with the application of lotions and oils. Its main benefits are increasing oxygen levels in the blood, decreasing muscle toxins and tension, and improving flexibility and circulation.

2. Neuromuscular Therapy

Neuromuscular therapy, or trigger point myotherapy, is one of the most effective remedies for lower back pain, according to the American Academy of Pain Management. It is also helpful with injuries and chronic pain. Applying this deep-tissue massage method involves using fingers, knuckles, and elbows to release tightness and knots, known as trigger points, in the muscles that cause muscular pain. Trigger point massage combines broad, flowing strokes with strong, deeper pressure, often including work on the entire body.

3. Deep Tissue

Deep tissue massage is used for sore shoulders, stiff necks, tight leg muscles, upper and lower backs, and chronic pain or lingering injuries that cause limited mobility. By using firm pressure and methodical strokes to reach deeper into muscle layers and connective tissue, this treatment may be more beneficial than prescription or OTC drugs, physical therapy, and chiropractic assistance. The pressure applied is generally more intense than that of a Swedish massage, but it shouldn't have to be painful to be effective.

4. Sports

Sports massage is designed for both professional to recreational athletes to help prevent injuries, increase flexibility, reduce fatigue, improve endurance, and prepare bodies and minds for maximum performance. This is beneficial to athletes of all skill levels and even for those who are not serious athletes. The purpose of a sport massage is to concentrate of the body's soft tissues and on those muscles that are specific to the individual sport. In a sports massage, the strokes tend to be a lot quicker than in a Swedish massage.

5. Chair

Chair massage is an easy way to help relieve stress and tension whether you are at work, traveling, or just need a quick relaxation treat. As its name suggests, it involves sitting in a specialized chair where a therapist works on your back, neck, and shoulders. Chair massage focuses on relieving stress and promoting relaxation using light to medium pressure.

6. Shiatsu

Shiatsu is a non-invasive massage form that helps reduce stress, anxiety, tension, and depression. With techniques that use assisted stretching and joint manipulation with fingers, thumbs, palms, and feet, shiatsu helps relax the body and increases blood flow, essential in relieving body pain. Drawing from the tradition of Chinese medicine, the purpose of shiatsu is to stimulate acupuncture points in the body to increase the body's energy flow and help maintain balance.

7. Thai

Thai massage uses energy fields within the body to strengthen weak muscles, improve joint mobility, and restore muscle tone. The therapist utilizes a series of yoga-like stretches, applying muscle energy techniques and applying deep muscle compression, acupressure, and joint mobilization to help relax and lengthen muscles. More energizing than other forms of massage, Thai massage can reduce muscle contractions, back pain, and migraines.

8. Hot Stone

Hot stone therapy uses smooth, flat, heated, basalt rocks placed at key points on the body to warm and relax the muscles, allowing the therapist to apply deeper pressure (typically Swedish massage techniques are used) to the affected areas without causing pain. The comfort and warmth of the stones are relaxing and can ease anxiety, depression, insomnia, and back pain. Because of the excessively increased heat, it is always wise to consult your physician before trying this massage form.

9. Reflexology

Reflexology involves the application of pressure to the feet, hands, and ears that correspond to organs and systems of the body, providing relaxation, alleviation of stress, and restoration of natural energy levels. Other benefits include reductions of headaches, improved nerve function, and increased circulation. Reflexology is a good option for those who aren't comfortable with being touched on their entire bodies.

10. Prenatal

Prenatal massage is an excellent complement to traditional prenatal care where positioning and pillows are used to decrease pressure, enhance support, and increase relaxation of body and mind. It can also help reduce swelling and insomnia, strengthen immune systems, and relieve stress and anxiety. Because swollen ankles and lower back pain are common issues during pregnancy, prenatal massage can be a safe, drug-free option for those looking to relieve pain and minimize stress.

As massage becomes more and more popular, people are expanding beyond the more traditional forms of massage and exploring other types that meet their personal preferences and physical and emotional needs. The more you know what's available, the better able you'll be to choose the right massage for you.

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