There are many types of massage therapy, from classics like Swedish and deep tissue to more exotic styles like 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
The standard type of massage offered in most clinics, gyms, spas, and wellness centers, Swedish massage is virtually synonymous with massage therapy. Swedish massage is based on the Western concepts of anatomy and physiology, compared to the energy-centric style more common in Asian forms of massage. Using lotion or oil, massage therapists typically begin with broad general strokes and then transition to specific strokes to address problem areas. There are five basic strokes in Swedish massage therapy: effleurage (long smooth strokes), petrissage (kneading, rolling, and lifting), friction (wringing or small circular movements), tapotement (percussion), and vibration (rocking and shaking movements).
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 and rose, for instance, are known to promote relaxation. Although oils may be selected to address specific needs, the therapist typically uses pre-blended oils to relax, energize, or uplift. The soothing effects of aromatherapy massage can benefit a variety of conditions, including headaches, insomnia, certain digestive disorders, back pain, and even premenstrual symptoms.
Hot Stone Massage
As the name implies, hot stone massage uses warm stones. The therapist places heated, smooth stones on specific points on the body and also holds the warm stones while giving the massage. The stones are usually basalt (a volcanic rock that retains heat well). The warmth of the stones can be relaxing and can loosen tight muscles so that the therapist can reach areas of muscle tension quickly. If you have certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or varicose veins, you should check with your health care provider if you plan on getting a hot stone massage. Likewise, if you take any blood-thinning medication, be sure to get a medical opinion first.
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 addresses 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 and can be helpful in reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis.