• MAR 22, 2011
  • WRITTEN BY: Evie Stacey

Massage therapy is one of the most ancient forms of treatment we know of. It has existed for over four thousand years, and was relied upon by the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Greeks. Today, it’s used to promote both physical and mental well-being in a variety of ways.

There are many different types of massage therapy, ranging from gentle and relaxing to firm and strong. Here’s a breakdown of the six most common types of massage therapy you’ll find available.

Swedish Massage

Developed in the 1700’s, Swedish massage manipulates surface muscles against the grain of deeper muscles, always in the direction of blood flow to the heart. It is one of the most common types of massage therapy available, and includes many familiar techniques, such as long, slow strokes with thumbs and palms, kneading and friction, and brisk tapping. Swedish massage is believed to dissipate lactic acid in the muscles, promote healthy blood flow, and reduce stress. The feeling of a Swedish massage can be quite firm, but it is generally not as firm as deep tissue massage. You may experience some soreness during the treatment, but it is usually replaced by a feeling of relaxation afterward.

Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu is the Japanese equivalent of Chinese acupuncture. Practitioners apply pressure to specific points in the body believed to promote the unrestricted flow of energy. During a Shiatsu massage, the therapist will first apply light pressure to various points on your body to determine where your flow of energy may be restricted. The pressure may be light or quite deep, depending on what your body needs. Those who experience Shiatsu massage describe the sensations as ranging from light tickling to intense pressure. Shiatsu massage often involves deep breathing, facilitated stretching and joint rotation to promote flexibility and relaxation.

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy is the ancient tradition of using essential plant oils to promote various healthful effects in the body. Practitioners believe that the scents of these oils stimulate your organ systems. Different scents are believed to have different effects, including promoting a feeling of peace and calm, lowering blood pressure, stimulating the nerves, increasing energy, and promoting general health and well-being. Aromatherapy massage includes essential oils. The therapist usually mixes several scents together, depending on what you need. Fragrances made from chemicals should not be used, as they don’t have the health benefits of natural oils. Scented candles are a nice touch, but if your massage therapist simply lights a candle and gives you a massage, it’s not aromatherapy.

Sports Massage

Sports massage is specifically designed for athletes, but any active person can benefit from it. Traditionally, sports massage is applied before, during and after an athletic event. The purpose is to lessen fatigue, redistribute lactic acid in the muscles to reduce soreness, increase flexibility, and lower the chances of injury. Sports massage practitioners sometimes combine a variety of techniques, usually a mix of Swedish and Shiatsu massage. The strokes are generally quicker than with Swedish massage. Like Shiatsu, sports massage often focuses on facilitated stretching and joint rotation to promote flexibility and loosen tight tendons.


This type of massage is based on the belief that nerve stimulation on certain areas of the body benefits other areas. During a reflexology massage, the nerves on the feet, hands, and ears are stimulated to promote the health of specific organ systems or the general well-being of the body. While reflexology is sometimes used in hospitals and doctors’ offices, it is not used by itself as a cure for any maladies. Many practitioners believe that the flow of energy throughout the body can be “unblocked” by manipulating certain nerve areas, while others believe that certain regions of the body correspond to others and can be manipulated to influence health in other areas. A reflexology massage usually starts with medium thumb pressure at the feet. Some practitioners focus solely on this area, while others will also include hands and ears. You should feel relaxed during and after a session, with minimal soreness.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage targets deeper layers of muscle, and it’s designed to alleviate chronic tension and deep adhesions. Adhesions are bands of stiff tissue within muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and they can cause recurring pain and limited movement. Practitioners of this type of massage use deep, targeted pressure against the grain of the muscle. The pressure is deep and slow, and does not distribute across the skin. Because it does take some force to break up adhesions within the body, you may experience some pain and discomfort during a deep tissue massage. It’s important to tell your therapist if the pain you experience is beyond your comfort level. Massage therapy can benefit your body in a variety of ways. Practitioners believe it reduces stress, increases energy, promotes physical health, and can even target specific areas of the body. We’ve been using it to improve our health for over four thousand years-so it must be doing something right.


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