Types of Massage Therapy
There are many types of massage therapy. They are as varied as the cultures where they originated. From Swedish Massage to “Ice” Therapy Massage, to being literally walked on, the goal with each type of massage therapy is improvement in your health.
Here, on this page, I am listing just a few of the better known massage techniques, with a short definition and description of how each one is performed.
Acupressure Massage is a traditional Chinese healing technique, thousands of years old. This technique is derived from acupuncture, and uses pressure, with the hand, fingers, elbow, or other devices, on acupuncture points rather than using the traditional needles, to stimulate the body’s natural self-curative abilities. You can experience tremendous relief and relaxation with this method.
When acupressure points are pressed, they release muscular tension and help blood circulation and the body’s energy life force to aid healing. When Acupressure Massage is combined with gentle energy massage, such as Esalen Massage, the results are enhanced.
Acu-Yoga is a blend of two holistic methods of natural healing: acupressure and yoga. Yoga relaxes muscular tension through breathing and gently stretching the muscles. The specific poses, stimulate acupressure points, opening energy centers and relaxing problem areas. This form of active-movement massage helps to balance the energy of the body, improve muscle tone, increase blood flow, and stimulate healing.
Maya Abdominal Massage is a noninvasive, deep massage technique. The goal of abdominal massage is to help re-align internal abdominal organs into their proper position for proper balanced functioning. This type of massage is highly effective for chronic congestion of the digestive and eliminative system, and a great way to detox yourself.
Amma or “Anma”, is a form of traditional Japanese massage. This form of energy balancing massage is based on the principles of Chinese medicine and is more than five thousand years old. Amma massage techniques involve a combination of pressing, stroking, stretching, and percussion manipulations. The therapy is carried out using thumbs, fingers, arms, elbows, knees, and feet applied to acupressure points along the body’s fourteen major meridians, or energy pathways.
Amma encompasses smooth, fluid like motions for the duration of the massage, placing great importance on a constant smooth, almost liquid flow of energy both by the massage therapist, and the client. Shiatsu is based on some of the techniques from amma therapy. Generally, there are no oils used, and the work can be done while the client is clothed. Amma massage can be done with the client either sitting or lying, however, a lying position is optimum for developing a stronger energy flow.
Aromatherapy uses particular essential oils as a healing and relaxing technique. Aromatherapy dates back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Italy.
When used in a massage environment, the massage area is filled with a scent to help relax the client, uplift the spirits, or invigorate the energy centers. Each essential oil has its own qualities, and is fairly predictable as to the expected results. It is important to be sure that each client is comfortable with the use of aromatherapy, and equally important not to overdo the amount of oil used.
Ayurveda is a natural five thousand year-old health care system originating in India that incorporates a combination of massage, yoga, meditation, herbal remedies and diet. Ayurvedic massage is usually performed by one or two therapists using a heated blend of herbal oils based on the ayurvedic system of whole body healing.
The key feature which differentiates Ayurvedic Massage from other types of massage, is the tailoring of the massage oils to the individual’s make-up. The Ayurvedic Masseur determines the category and sub-category based on one’s physique, ailments and diet and then designs custom Ayurvedic Massage oils.
Balinese massage techniques are gentle and designed to make the patient feel relaxed and calm during the massage, and for several hours at the end. The massage may include skin folding, kneading, stroking, pressure, as well as Balinese hot stones. The massage therapist applies aromatherapy oil throughout the body work to enhance the effects of the overall massage experience. A c lient’s blood, oxygen and energy flow increases as a result of the treatment. Side note: The more I write about massage, the more I realize that I need to get one!
Barefoot Deep Tissue Massage Therapy
Barefoot deep tissue, also known as barefoot compressive deep tissue massage therapy, or barefoot sports massage, is a blend of Eastern barefoot techniques, such as barefoot Shiatsu massage, coupled with a Western manual massage, encompassing deep tissue, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, transverse friction, compression, tension, stretching, as well as parasympathetic response.
This method is generally used on clothed clients, using no oil. Some Olympic athletes use this massage technique to experience deeper release of large muscle groups.
This type of massage therapy uses the heel, arch and/or the whole surface of the foot. This allows for greater compression and movement of the larger muscles that is difficult to attain through other types of manipulation. It is ideal for muscles such as the thigh, or upper trapezius (muscle) compressions.
Be sure the massage therapist you are going to is well trained in this form of massage therapy, and has the proper equipment to insure controlled weight and pressure on your back.
Bowen Massage Therapy
The Bowen Massage technique involves a rolling movement over fascia, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. It does not generally involve deep or prolonged contact with muscle tissues as in most other types of massage, but it helps to relieve muscle tensions and strains and to restore normal lymphatic flow.
Breema body work is performed on the floor with the client fully clothed. The technique involves rhythmical and gentle leans and stretches.
Champissage is a massage form focusing on the head, neck, face, shoulders and upper arms with the purpose of balancing the energy chakras.
This massage technique uses of a specially designed massage chair to work on a client in most settings where a massage table would be impracticable. This massage technique dates back thousands of years to ancient Japan. Modern massage chairs are quite a bit more comfortable than the wooden stools used at that time!
Bodywork using a massage chair involves several different techniques, and can include: Shiatsu; Amma; Swedish, as well as energy balancing and reflexology.
You have probably seen this type of massage work at a public mall, farmer’s market or other area. It is a great pick-me-up to get relieve muscle soreness, and revitalize the energy centers in the body. The next time you see someone doing chair massage in the mall, or wherever, stop and try it for 15 or 30 minutes. It will make your day a little less stressful!
Deep Tissue Massage Therapy
Deep Tissue Massage Therapy is designed to relieve severe tension in the muscle and the connective tissue or fascia. This type of massage focuses on the muscles located below the surface of the top muscles. Deep Tissue Massage is often recommended for individuals who experience consistent pain, are involved in heavy physical activity, such as athletes, and patients who have sustained physical injury. Types of deep tissue work vary greatly.
The term “deep tissue” is often misused to identify a massage that is performed with sustained deep pressure. Deep tissue work is a separate category of massage therapy, used to treat particular muscular-skeletal disorders and complaints, and employing a dedicated set of techniques and strokes to achieve relief. It should not be confused with “deep pressure” massage, which is one that is performed with sustained strong, occasionally intense pressure throughout an entire full-body session, and not to address a specific complaint.
Deep Tissue Massage is applied to both the superficial and deep layers of muscles, fascia and other body structures. The sessions are often quite intense as a result of the deliberate, focused work, and some soreness is to be expected depending on the scope of the work. Note: deep tissue work done by someone who is inexperienced can result in injury, or localized muscle and nerve trauma, defeating the purpose of the massage.
An experienced practitioner who employs deep tissue body work will not generally use the technique for the whole body in one session, but will focus on particular problem areas, and incorporate different, more gentle massage techniques on the remainder of the body.
Dry-Water Massage Bed
Most people have never heard of this type of massage. In this technique, jets of water, directed at the muscles perform the massage rather than manual manipulation. There are two general kinds of this massage technique, one is wet, where the individual is actually in contact with the stream of water, and one is dry, where there is a protective barrier, and the client lies on a foam pad, is covered by a plastic sheet, and then sprayed by jets of warm water. You may have experienced a mild form of this therapy if you have an adjustable showerhead at home, and direct the forceful stream of hot water to a sore muscle.
This massage technique works with gentle rocking of the body, passive joint exercises and deep structural work on the muscles and joints, together with a balancing of the energy of the body. Developed in the 1960s at The Esalen Institute in California, this approach blends traditional Swedish massage with sensory awareness practice and slow, flowing t'ai chi. The practitioner works with the receiver, rather than on the client. Today the Esalen massage signature flow is punctuated with deep tissue detail, joint mobilizing, stretches, and energy work. Tension melts away and yields to a state of harmony.
This is an interesting, basically unknown technique. Hilot Bodywork is a traditional healing technique from the Philippines that includes massage as a part of the therapy. The massage work relaxes the muscles, and the Hilot work includes joint manipulations to help relax both the stressed muscles and the body as a whole.
Hilot therapy encompasses a larger variety of healing techniques than traditional massage, and goes beyond just the relaxation of stressed muscles. This technique can be very effective for resetting sprained or extremely stressed joints, and is even used to aid child birth.
Lomi Lomi Massage
Lomi Lomi is the traditional massage of Hawaii. It is kind of a “custom” form of massage, as it varies by island and by family. The name lomilomi is also used to describe massage in other island cultures. Since the techniques vary extensively, I am not going to go into detail about them, except to say that the main attributes are deep pressure and stroking. Picture that on a beach, in the shade of a portable shelter, at around 80 degrees, and the sound of the surf in the background!
Since there are so many benefits of massage, such as total relaxation, many people prefer to have a therapist come to them to perform the massage treatment as opposed to visiting the therapist’s office. The pluses of this type of treatment are:
• Allowing the client to remain in their own environment, where they are the most comfortable and relaxed;
• Avoiding the stresses of travel after the session;
• Total relaxation immediately following the body work.
Note: If you know that you don’t have to drive anywhere after your massage, your benefit level increases substantially.
Massage Therapists can bring a massage table with them on which they will do the body work, or, a client’s bed or floor can sometimes work as well. Another note: How great would that be to get this intense, relaxing body work done on you in your own place, even in your own bed, and just drift off…..and wake up a new you!
Mobile massage therapists are very popular in big cities around the world, where life can be a lot more hectic than other environments, and travel to and from a massage session can be stressful.
Myofascial Release Massage Therapy
Myofascial Release Massage Therapy is a manual massage technique for stretching the fascia and releasing bonds between fascia and muscles, with the goal of eliminating pain, increasing range of motion and equalization of the bodily system. Myofascial release can involve applying compression or tension in various directions, or by skin rolling. Note: this type of therapy/massage can really help to “unstick” muscles, and increase the normal flow of energy, blood and oxygen in the body.
Myomassology Therapy Massage
Myomassology is an integration of massage methods including basic Swedish Massage, Aromatherapy, Shiatsu, Energy Balancing, and Craniosacral therapy, along with other methods in conjunction with instruction in nutrition, meditation and yoga.
Postural Integration is a process-oriented bodywork combining deep tissue massage with breathwork, body movement and deep awareness as well as emotional expression.
Reflexology is based on acupressure points in the hands, feet and ears that relate to every organ, gland, and system of the body.
Based on an ancient Chinese therapy, reflexology massage uses manipulation of specific areas in the foot, hands, and ears. This type of bodywork uses varying levels of pressure to these points to help stimulate body organs, open up energy flows and relieve areas that may be blocked. Reflexology works with the body’s natural energy system to stimulate the immune system and initiate self-healing. Reflexology also helps to reduce pain, increase relaxation, reduce stress, and stimulate circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids.
Shiatsu is a Japanese type of massage therapy that uses pressure applied with the thumbs, fingers and palms. This pressure is applied to the same “meridians” as acupressure and incorporates stretching. It also includes techniques such as rolling, brushing, vibrating, grasping, and in one particular technique, pressure is applied with the feet on the persons back, legs and feet.
A stone massage uses cold or heated stones to apply pressure and heat to the body. Stones coated in oil can also be used by the therapist delivering various massaging strokes. The hot stones used are commonly river stones which, over time, have become extremely polished and smooth. In some lines of thinking, this smoothing of the stones by the natural forces of nature, increases the energy contained within the stone, and thus increases the healing potential when used in massage. As the stones are placed along the clients back, especially along acupressure meridians, they help to retain heat which then deeply penetrates into the muscles, releasing tension.
Some therapists will use a “body rock”, which is a smooth “tool” either carved out of stone, or found in a particular auspicious place. This stone is used to amplify the therapist’s strength and focus pressure on certain areas of the body. It can be used directly on the skin with the addition of a lubricant such as massage oil, or on top of the client’s clothing.
Structural Integration Therapy
Structural Integration’s aim is to unwind the “strain patterns” residing in your body’s myofascial system, restoring it to its natural balance, and ease. This is accomplished by deep, slow, fascial and myofascial movement, coupled with movement re-education. Some examples of the different types of Structural Integration are: Kinesis Myofascial Integration and Rolfing.
I think that Swedish Massage is the most widely known form of massage therapy. This type of massage uses five styles of long, flowing strokes to massage. The five strokes are:
• Effleurage, which is sliding or gliding;
• Petrissage, Kneading;
• Tapotement, rhythmic tapping;
• Friction, working across the muscle fiber;
• And, Vibration and shaking.
Swedish Massage has consistently been shown to be helpful in:
• Reducing pain;
• Helping joint stiffness;
• Increasing flexibility and joint function;
• Improving circulation.
An interesting side note: The term “Swedish Massage” is not the name used for massage in Sweden, there, it is called instead, “classic massage.”
Thai Massage is around 2500 years old, and originated in India. It is based on ayurvedic healing massage and Yoga. This technique combines massage with yoga-like positions during the course of the massage. The northern style of Thai Massage emphasizes stretching while the southern style focuses more on acupressure.
Traditional Chinese Massage
The two most widely known forms of Traditional Chinese Massage are:
• Tui na, which focuses on pushing, stretching and kneading the muscle, and;
• Zhi Ya, which focuses on pinching and pressing at acupressure points.
Both techniques are based on principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Though in the Western countries Tui Na is viewed as massage, it is not. Tui Na, is Chinese Medicine’s Physio-Therapy, and is utilized for medical purposes rather than relaxation. Tui Na works to correct the patient’s problems, from musculoskeletal conditions, to diseases, cancers, and most types of headaches.
Within the foundation of Tui Na, Traditional Chinese Medicine principles are followed, from meridian applications to herbal formulations, and diet. Qigong Therapy and heated herbal application called Moxa, are also used. The principles of Zhi Ya, such as friction and vibration are used as well. The overall result is an addressing of whole body wellness, which is what you really want.
Trager massage therapy combines movement, massage and education.
Trigger Point Therapy
Sometimes confused with pressure point massage, Trigger Point Therapy focuses on deactivating trigger points that may be causing local pain, or referred pain and other sensations, such as headaches, in other parts of the body. Manual pressure, vibration, injection, or other techniques are applied to these points to relieve myofascial pain.
Trigger points have been “photomicrographed” and also measured electrically. In 2007, a paper was presented showing images of Trigger Points using a MRI. These points relate to a dysfunction n the myoneural junction, also called neuromuscular junction (NMJ), in muscle, and therefore this method of massage is different from reflexology, acupressure and pressure point massage.
One form of Visceral Manipulation is Mayan Abdominal Massage which is practiced in many Latin American countries. This type of massage dates back to the days of the Spanish conquest. Some benefits of abdominal work are:
• Releasing the energy and emotions locked up in the abdominal area;
• Improved elimination of toxins.
As a side note: Any type of deep abdominal work can be very intense emotionally as release of pent up feelings, frustrations and anger comes to the surface. It is a very cleansing type of massage.
Watsu is the combination of hydrotherapy and Shiastsu Massage. The work is done in skin temperature water with both the client and therapist in the water, usually a pool which is 3 to 4 feet deep. There is much movement involved with this therapy, and common sense dictates that the client will be more relaxed due to the warm temperature as well as the cushioning support of the water.
It is felt that this type of body work helps to activate the energy lines derived from the Shiatsu work.
Actions You Can Take
• Find one or two massage techniques you would like to try;
• Read about the massage therapists, and pick one you think you may like;
• Set an appointment;
• Relax, before you go, or as your appointment gets closer. These are professional health care people, you are in good hands!
• Set another appointment for a different type of massage therapy, so you have a basis of comparison;
• Decide which one you feel is the most effective for you. If you have to, try yet another technique—that’s completely ok, you are shopping for your “massage comfort level”;
• When you find the one you really like, and the person you want to work on you, set up a series of weekly appointments for at least a month;
• Write down how you feel after each session, don’t rely on your memory, write it down;
• At the end of the month, see what has changed for you;
• Either continue with your sessions, or try another type for another month.