Types of Massage: What’s the Difference?!

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question markI recently came across an article on LifeHacker.com explaining some of the more popular forms of massage and who they are best suited for. The initial question driving the article (“What’s the difference between all these types of massages?”) is a common one, and one of the many reasons why I feel there is a great need for educating the public about massage and bodywork. Many people still have only a vague idea about what massage and bodywork includes. Some think it’s “just” a way to feel good and pamper yourself at the spa. Others think it’s all “woo-woo” energy work with auras and chakras. Well…it’s all of that plus so much more.

I must say that I get a little antsy when people start to categorize bodywork and say that one form is better than another for pain relief or relaxation. Inevitably there is going to be a great deal of overlap in technique and benefit from different kinds of massage and bodywork. Deep tissue massage focused on pain relief can certainly be relaxing and a classic Swedish massage can help relieve pain too. The boundaries of particular types of massage can easily become blurred and multiple types of massage may be employed during a single session.

With that little disclaimer in mind, if you do want to categorize bodywork, there are three main characteristics I would suggest looking at:

  1. OriginWhere does this particular form of bodywork originate from? Similar to language, art, music, food, and alcohol, many different cultures have their own form of bodywork that’s unique to a specific region. For instance, there’s Thai massage from Thailand (which is actually from India), shiatsu from Japan, Swedish massage from Europe, and Lomi Lomi massage from Hawaii.
  2. Location – In what environment is the bodywork performed? Massage is most commonly performed on a massage table in a private room. However, many forms of massage do not use tables and may be performed on the floor or in a massage chair.
  3. Technique – What techniques are unique to this form of bodywork? This is arguably the most important distinction when describing different types of massage. This gets at the real issues people want to know about: What is the therapist going to do? How is it going to feel?

I certainly don’t profess to be an expert in all forms of bodywork (or their history) but I do keep a growing list explaining different types of massage therapy. For those looking for a “quick and dirty” introduction to massage, check out these simplified descriptions (paraphrased from the LH article mentioned above).

Swedish Massage – “This is the most common type of massage therapy, and what many people are thinking about when they hear the word “massage” or try to give someone else or themselves a good massage. ”

Best For: An intro to massage, stress relief, relaxation, releasing cramped or tense muscles, couples massage

Hot Stone Massage – During hot stone massage, your body is not only weighted down with hot, smooth stones, but the masseuse also uses the stones to massage your body.

Best For: “Centering” yourself, releasing very tense muscles, relaxation

Chair Massage – Chair massages have you sitting face forward in a chair so the therapist can massage mostly your neck, shoulders, and back.

Best For: Quick massages when you’ve been walking all day, stress relief.

Deep Tissue Massage – Deep tissue massage applies deep pressure onto specific trouble points.

Best For: Treating stiff, painful trouble spots like the shoulder and neck.

Trigger Point Therapy – Deep tissue and trigger point massages are very similar. The difference is that deep tissue massage uses various traditional massage techniques to work the tissue, whereas trigger point massage is literally looking to manipulate or press on that one point that relieves tension in an entire area (perhaps not even nearby).

Best For: Chronic muscle pain and tension

Neuromuscular Therapy – Neuromuscular therapy is a subset of trigger point massage. A highly trained therapist applies pressure to the areas where you have muscle spasms

Best For: Treating injuries and issues like poor circulation or posture problems, lower back pain

Shiatsu – Shiatsu (literally, “finger pressure”) is an ancient technique from Japan. It combines gentle stretches with finger pressure to work on different pressure points.

Best For: Ailments such as headaches, back pain, and lack of energy

Thai Massage – Thai massage works your entire body. It’s one of the most invigorating types of massages, as the therapist rigorously manipulates your body, moving it into yoga-like stretches.

Best For: Improving energy, increased flexibility, overall health and well-being

Sports Massage – Sports massage is designed specifically for the very physically active (whether you’re a professional athlete or not). It combines Swedish, Shiatsu, and other techniques to concentrate on the areas that are related to your sport.

Best For: Athletes

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