13 Different Types of Massage

A young woman enjoying a spa massage.

There are many massage techniques, each distinguished by the parts of the body they focus on and the techniques they use. Some are meant to relieve tension and promote relaxation while others are more therapeutic and aim to promote healing or prevent injury. Here are 13 different massage techniques, including what they entail and how they are best used.


1. Swedish Massage

A woman enjoying a traditional Swedish massage therapy.

Swedish massage is the most common and best-known type of massage. This technique is gentle, relaxing, and covers the whole body. When getting a Swedish massage, you remove your clothes and lay down on a table, covered with a sheet.

The massage therapist moves the sheet as needed to uncover the area of your body that they are focusing on. Swedish massage is good for working through muscle knots but is also extremely calming and relaxing.

Swedish massage uses a variety of techniques. Effleurage strokes are the most soothing and involve putting steady pressure from the shoulders to the mid-back. It is commonly used to evaluate tension points. Petrissage strokes are kneading movements used to pull the muscles apart from the bones and are good for increasing circulation and releasing tension.

Tapotement strokes are used at the end of the session. These rhythmic movements delivered to the wrists stimulate the nerves and muscles and improve circulation. Vibrational strokes can be used to release tension or strain by promoting blood flow and improving oxygenation.

Each session lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. This is a good option for people who are new to massage, sensitive to touch, or who have a lot of tension. Perfecting Swedish massage takes a lot of time, so it’s a good idea to find an experienced massage therapist to get the most out of the experience.

2. Sports Massage

An athlete getting a sports massage on his knees.

Sports massage is a massage technique that is not only effective at relieving pain from repetitive use injuries but can also help prevent them from occurring when done before an athletic performance. When used for this purpose, the massage should be completed within four hours of the event. Sports massage can also relieve muscle tension and anxiety and increase flexibility, which can contribute to improved athletic performance.

The massage therapist may focus on the whole body or only the part that is injured or needs the most attention. Sports massage may involve deep pressure or softer, soothing strokes, whichever benefits you most. It primarily focuses on deep muscles and connective tissue and may incorporate some stretching to work the muscles and tissues in the affected areas. The actual techniques used are similar to those of a Swedish massage, but a sports massage typically focuses only on one area of the body and, depending on the severity of the injury, may be done in conjunction with physical therapy. These sessions last for between 60 and 90 minutes.

A sports massage can be done while naked or clothed, depending on where the area of focus is. Thin, loose clothes may also be worn in most cases.

3. Shiatsu Massage

A woman enjoying a Shiatsu massage.

This Japanese style of massage is ideal for relaxing and relieving tension, stress, and pain. It is also believed to promote emotional and physical calm. Shiatsu is a full body massage, but the massage therapist may focus on specific areas of your body that carry a lot of tension.

During a Shiatsu massage, the therapist uses the fingers, palms, and thumbs to apply direct pressure to various parts of the body, often using a pulsing or rhythmic pressure.

Some Shiatsu practitioners believe it can correct certain health conditions and imbalances and restore proper energy flow to the body, which sets it apart from other massage techniques. Sessions usually last about 60 or 90 minutes and you can remain fully clothed, which makes it a little more comfortable for those who have never had a massage before.

4. Aromatherapy Massage

Back view of a person getting aromatherapy.

An aromatherapy massage isn’t its own technique so much as a modification of other massage techniques, like Swedish, deep tissue, or prenatal massage. The addition of essential oils has a mental and emotional effect, combining a relaxing massage with the benefits of aromatherapy.

The massage therapist usually decides what essential oil to use during your session, but most are open to suggestions if you have a strong preference. Essential oils are diluted with a carrier oil before they are administered to the skin to prevent any irritation.

During this massage, you must remove your clothes because the essential oils can stain. Sometimes, these massages cover the whole body, but they can also focus only on the back, shoulders, and head so you get the greatest benefit from inhaling the essential oils. Each session lasts about 60 to 90 minutes.

This type of massage relieves tension, stress, and anxiety and can boost your mood, but you should avoid them if you are sensitive to essential oils to avoid having a reaction. Signs of an essential oil allergy include hives, itchiness, swelling, or rash. The essential oils that are commonly used include cedarwood, geranium, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, and tea tree.

5. Hot Stone Massage

Hot stones placed in position on a person's back.

A hot stone massage is similar to Swedish massage. It uses the same kneading, long strokes, vibration, and circular motions, only it incorporates heated stones in addition to or instead of the massage therapist’s hands. A hot stone massage is best for people with tension or mild muscle pain or for anyone who just wants to relax. It may also relieve pain from autoimmune conditions like fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis.

During a hot stone massage, the therapist uses gentle pressure and places heated stones on different parts of the body, including the spine, stomach, chest, palms, face, and feet. Just as with a Swedish massage, you will remove your clothes and lie on a massage table, covered in a sheet.

Hot stone massages usually last around 90 minutes. In addition to being effective at relieving pain and stress, they can help improve circulation. This type of massage is extremely relaxing and can relieve more muscle tension than a Swedish massage, thanks to the heat. It’s usually more expensive than a Swedish massage, but in some cases, it’s worth the investment because it delivers better results.

6. Trigger Point Massage

A woman getting a trigger points massage.

Trigger point massages focus on specific areas of tightness in the muscles, usually in the neck, shoulders, and back. A trigger point massage uses gentle, broad, flowing strokes to encourage general relaxation combined with stronger, deep pressure to loosen and release muscle tightness. The massage covers your entire body with the therapist focusing on specific areas when necessary. You can usually wear loose clothing for this type of massage, and a session lasts between 60 and 90 minutes.

Trigger point massages are great for people who suffer from chronic pain or have a condition or injury that affects a specific part of their body. Because the therapist focuses on specific pressure points, it relieves pain right where you need it most.

7. Thai Massage

A woman enjoying a Thai massage.

Thai massage works the whole body and is best for those looking for an active massage to relieve and reduce pain and stress. Your massage therapist uses their fingers and palms to firmly apply pressure and stretches and twists your body into various positions, similar to yogic stretching.

This technique can help improve energy levels, circulation, and flexibility and each session lasts for about 60 to 90 minutes, though in-depth sessions can last as long as two hours. During Thai massage, you remain clothed. There is constant contact between you and the massage therapist, and they may use their arms, knees, and feet to perform the yoga-like stretches.

The practice of Thai Yoga Massage is believed to be thousands of years old and is believed to have been developed by a physician to the Buddha and was practiced by monks as a part of traditional Thai medicine. Today. Some still believe it to have healing properties on both the physical and emotional levels. This invigorating massage can be dangerous for pregnant women and should be avoided.

8. Deep Tissue Massage

A woman enjoying a deep tissue massage.

As the name suggests, this type of massage uses a lot more pressure than the lighter massage techniques, like a Swedish massage. It’s a good option for people with tight muscles, chronic muscle pain, or muscle injury, and can also be used to relieve anxiety.

During a deep muscle massage session, the massage therapist uses firm pressure and slow strokes to get to the deepest layers of your muscles and connective tissues. This is a great technique for treating musculoskeletal issues, including sprains and injuries. The deep strokes help break up scar tissue and reduce tension.

Most of the time, you are naked for a deep tissue massage, but in some cases, you can leave on your underwear. Sessions last between 60 and 90 minutes. People who are overly sensitive to pressure should avoid this type of massage as it may make them uncomfortable.

9. Reflexology

A masseuse giving a reflexology.

If you are uncomfortable being undressed for a massage or don’t want to be touched all over your body, reflexology is a great way to relax without having any unnecessary anxiety about the massage itself.

This technique focuses on applying varying amounts of pressure to identified zones on the feet, hands, and ears. Each session lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. Practitioners believe that different points on the hands, ears, and feet are connected to certain body systems through a series of nerves. Reflexology is based on the idea that applying pressure to these points elicits a response in the associated body system. It was introduced in the U.S. in the early 1900s. Detailed body charts that map out zones on the hands and feet are used to determine where to apply pressure to elicit an effect on different areas of the body.

You can wear loose, comfortable clothing as the parts of the body the massage therapist will be working on are generally easy to access. If you don’t like people touching your feet, this is probably not a good massage technique for you.

10. Couple’s Massage

A couple getting a massage together.

A couple’s massage isn’t exactly a technique, but it is a popular type of massage that allows you to share the experience with a friend, family member, or partner. Couple’s massages are often offered as part of spa or getaway packages. You can usually choose what type of massage you like, and your partner lies on a table next to you with their own therapist so that you can experience the massage at the same time. You can each choose the same massage or something different, and you can talk to each other during the session if you wish. Swedish massages and hot stone massages are popular choices for couple’s massages.

11. Chair Massage

A man getting a chair massage.

Unlike other massage techniques, a chair massage does not use a table and you can remain completely clothed. This is a quick massage that lasts between 10 and 30 minutes. It uses light to medium pressure, focusing on the neck, shoulders, and back. If you don’t have a lot of time or if you have never gotten a massage before and want to try something simple, a chair massage is a way to go.

During this massage, you sit in a specially designed chair, leaning forward against a support so the therapist has free access to your neck, shoulders, and back. This is a great way to relieve stress and promote relaxation, especially if you carry tension in your neck.

12. Prenatal Massage

A woman getting a prenatal massage.

This specialized massage is a safe way for pregnant women to get a massage that focuses on reducing the aches and pains associated with pregnancy and lowering stress. Prenatal massages are generally safe but check with a physician before scheduling one. Many facilities do not offer prenatal massage until the second trimester when the chance of miscarriage decreases. You should also see a doctor if you have any pain in your calves before getting a massage as this can be a sign of a blood clot and massaging the legs is contraindicated.

Prenatal massage is similar to Swedish massage, only the massage therapist focuses on the lower back, legs, and hips. During the massage, you can undress completely or partially, and you lay on your side of a special table with a cutout to accommodate your growing belly. This massage lasts for between 45 and 60 minutes.

If you are pregnant and considering an aromatherapy prenatal massage, there are some essential oils you should avoid, including basil, parsley, pennyroyal, wintergreen, sage, and tarragon.

13. Lymphatic Drainage Massage

A woman getting a lymphatic drainage massage.

Lymphatic massage is a specialized technique for treating lymphedema, a condition that can occur after lymph nodes are removed during surgery. The lymphatic system relies on smooth muscle movement to transport fluid throughout the vessels. When something happens to disrupt this, lymph fluid cannot circulate as normal, and fluid accumulates in the limb nearest to the removed lymph node. This is called lymphedema and is most common after surgeries for treating cancers, including breast cancer, melanoma, or colon cancer, though it can also occur as a result of radiation treatment, infection, and cancer itself if it blocks lymph vessels.

In lymphatic massage, the therapist rubs, tabs, and pushes the skin in the direction of the lymphatic channels so that the accumulated fluid can drain. Each session takes about 45 to 60 minutes and it is done once a day, four or five times a week for anywhere from two to four weeks.

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