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A massage can be a relaxing experience that helps relieve your muscle tension. Still, trying to choose the type of massage you want to get can be overwhelming, especially since most of us only get massages once in a while. It can be challenging to know what type of pressure is best for you or to know which type of massage will help you the most. This article explains 10 common types of massage and the health benefits of different massage types.
What is massage therapy?
Massage therapy is a type of treatment that uses rubbing and kneading areas of the body to release trigger points or stimulate blood flow. Typically, massage therapy is done using the hands, but sometimes tools are used (Informed Health, 2014).
A massage therapist is a trained, licensed professional.
There are many different types of massage available to choose from. Depending on the benefits you’re hoping for, some forms of massage may be a better fit for your concerns. For most types of massage, you’ll have the option of scheduling sessions between 30–90 minutes.
Types of massage
When you decide to book a massage, you’re likely to get a range of options to choose from, which might feel overwhelming. Here are the 10 most common types of massage you’re likely to encounter. Next time you book a massage, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect, so you know exactly what you’re looking for.
1. Deep tissue massage
A deep tissue massage uses more pressure than other types of massage. During a deep tissue massage, the massage therapist uses deep finger pressure to release muscle tension, knots, and trigger points.
The pressure focuses on reaching the deeper layers of muscles, fascia, and connective tissue. During the massage, the pressure could feel intense, but it shouldn’t be painful. Still, it might leave you feeling a little sore for a couple of days, similar to an intense workout.
This type of massage is a good option for people with chronic muscle pain, soreness, back pain, and imbalances.
2. Swedish massage
A Swedish massage is one of the most common forms of massage. The massage therapist will use soft, long strokes for kneading the muscle tissue. They may also use lighter, rhythmic, or tapping strokes. This type focuses on the top layers of muscles to help relieve muscle tension.
Massage techniques used in a Swedish massage include (Gholami-Motlagh, 2016):
- Effleurage—a smooth stroke focused on relaxing soft tissue
- Tapotement—a short, alternating tapping motion
- Friction—deep, circular motions causing layers of tissue to rub together, increasing blood flow and breaking down scar tissue
- Petrissage—a squeezing, lifting, or kneading motion
Swedish massages may be better for people who are new to massage or sensitive to touch since it uses lighter pressure. It’s a good option for people looking to release muscle tension and soreness (Informed Health, 2014).
3. Sports massage
A sports massage is a targeted type of massage focused on muscles used frequently in that sport. It may help to reduce sports injuries, increase flexibility, and improve soreness (Davis, 2020). This can be helpful since most sports require repeated movements and increase the risk for some injuries (like tennis elbow).
Sports massages can be focused on particular parts of the body, or you can ask the massage therapist to do a full body massage.
This type of massage is best for athletes or people who do repetitive movements.
4. Hot stone massage
A hot stone massage often includes the techniques used in a Swedish massage with the addition of warmed stones. The stones may be used as tools to complete the massage, or they may just be placed on pressure points to help relax muscles. The massage therapist usually uses their hands as well to massage muscles.
This form of massage is best for people looking for a relaxing experience and to ease muscle tension. Hot stone massages may help relieve more muscle tension because of the added warmth.
5. Trigger point
Trigger point massage combines aspects of acupressure used in acupuncture and deep tissue massage. Trigger point massages focus on specific pressure points in the body to help release muscles and blood flow through the body.
The massage therapist may focus more on problem areas or work throughout the whole body with this style. This type of massage works best for people with injuries, chronic pain, muscle conditions, or people with muscle tension.
6. Prenatal massage
Prenatal massages can help pregnant women with body aches, reduce stress levels, and ease muscle tension. Prenatal massages can be a safe way to alleviate body pain during pregnancy. This type of massage uses mild pressure to release tension, typically focusing on the lower back, hips, and legs.
Talk with your healthcare provider before getting a massage if you have any questions about safety, and look for a massage therapist specializing in prenatal massage.
Reflexology is a type of massage focused on the feet and sometimes hands. It’s based on the principles that areas of the feet connect to other parts of the body, organs, and systems. This type of massage is for people who would like to try relaxing and healing areas of their body.
8. Thai massage
Thai massage moves the body through sequences with the help of a therapist, similar to stretching in yoga poses. The massage therapist will also use their palm and fingers to apply pressure to muscles and body parts.
This type of massage is best for people who want a more active type of massage, reduced pain, and increased range of motion.
9. Shiatsu massage
Shiatsu massage is a Japanese form of massage that focuses on finger pressure. During a shiatsu massage, the massage therapist will use varied and rhythmic pressure at precise points of the body. Practitioners of Shiatsu massage believe stimulating the acupressure points helps the flow of your body’s energy and relieves blockages.
Shiatsu massage may help with pain, muscle soreness, and anxiety (Ardabili, 2015). This type of massage may be best for people who want to feel more relaxed, relieve stress, and reduce muscle tension.
10. Aromatherapy massage
An aromatherapy massage is best for people who want an added mental health boost to their massage. This form of massage uses essential oils along with Swedish massage techniques. Your therapist may have a specific type of oil they normally use, or you may be able to give a preference for the type of scent used.
A 2017 randomized control trial found people who received an aromatherapy massage using massage oil had greater improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms (Bahrami, 2017).
Cost of massage therapy
The cost of massage therapy depends on where you live, length of session, type of massage, and experience level of the therapist. Specialty types of massage therapy like hot stone and aromatherapy that require extra supplies may cost more.
Therapists specializing in certain areas, like prenatal massage, sports massage, or deep tissue massage, may cost more.
On average, an hour-long massage could cost between $60 and $150.
How to find a massage therapist
You may be able to get a recommendation for a therapist from a family or friend, or a healthcare provider may be able to refer you to a massage therapist. Your local chiropractic care office may have a massage therapist available. You can also view online directories to find a licensed massage therapist and to verify their credentials.
Different therapists may use different techniques, so you could book multiple massages over time to find the therapist who’s the right fit for you. If you aren’t sure what type of massage to try, consider asking a massage therapist what would be the best fit for you, or try multiple types to see what you like best.
- Ardabili, F. M., Purhajari, S., Najafi Ghzeljeh, T., & Haghani, H. (2015). The effect of shiatsu massage on underlying anxiety in burn patients. World Journal Of Plastic Surgery, 4(1), 36–39. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4298863/
- Bahrami, T., Rejeh, N., Heravi-Karimooi, M., Vaismoradi, M., Tadrisi, S. D., & Sieloff, C. (2017). Effect of aromatherapy massage on anxiety, depression, and physiologic parameters in older patients with the acute coronary syndrome: a randomized clinical trial. International Journal Of Nursing Practice, 23(6) doi: 10.1111/ijn.12601. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29071755/
- Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. (2020). Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 6(1), e000614. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000614. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7228568/
- Gholami-Motlagh, F., Jouzi, M., & Soleymani, B. (2016). Comparing the effects of two Swedish massage techniques on the vital signs and anxiety of healthy women. Iranian Journal Of Nursing And Midwifery Research, 21(4), 402–409. doi: 10.4103/1735-9066.185584. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4979265/
- InformedHealth.org. (2014). What kinds of massage are there? Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279473/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.