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Have you ever perused a spa menu, only to become completely overwhelmed by the myriad massage treatment options available? It’s easy to be thrown off by different types of massage, especially when you’re not sure what each option is — or how it’s beneficial for your body.
While they may all sound relaxing and interchangeable, that’s not the case. Types of massage treatments vary based on different movement techniques, equipment, body location and pressure applied. Some massages are excellent for easing mental stress, others are good for healing after injuries, and some are geared toward releasing toxins from our bodies.
But there’s no need to get stressed out by choosing a massage type, if you follow these helpful tips for successfully navigating a massage menu.
8 Different Massage Types and Their Benefits
1. Swedish Massage
One of the most common and most requested types of massage treatments, Swedish massages are focused on creating a relaxing environment for the client by using various techniques that ultimately glide across the skin (with light kneading movements). A Swedish massage focuses on the top layer of the muscles and gets blood flow moving back to the heart.
According to Kiera Nagle, MA, LMT, director of massage programs at Pacific College of Health and Science, while a session with a Swedish massage aims to relax, other Swedish techniques like percussive tapping/hacking (known as tapotement) and vibration (shaking or oscillating) are involved in helping stimulate the muscle. She says that many clients come in requesting a Swedish massage because of its popularity. However, it may be more beneficial to talk to your therapist about options instead of simply choosing the most “trendy” treatment.
Who’s it for: A Swedish massage is for anyone looking to relax and improve overall circulation throughout the body.
2. Sports Massage
Sports massages often get misrepresented as a massage for injured athletes. While it’s true that those who have suffered from a sports-related injury would benefit from undergoing regular sports massages, these types of massage treatments are great preventive measures for athletes and individuals alike. “Sports massages can treat the muscle tension associated with repetitive movement and can reduce or prevent delayed onset muscle soreness often associated with rigorous physical activities,” says Nagle, explaining that sports massages can address the psychological stress associated with performance and competition.
Who it’s for: “A sports massage is best suited to meet the goals of clients who are active, but they don’t need to be professional athletes,” Nagle says.
3. Lymphatic Massage
Our lymphatic system is crucial in protecting our bodies from illness and disease. It’s the overarching caretaker of our immune system and is responsible for removing toxic waste from our bodies. It also manages our fluid levels, ensuring we’re always hydrated — even after an intense workout.
“[A lymphatic massage], also known as manual lymph drainage, or MLD, uses a very light touch on the superficial skin to promote circulation of the lymphatic fluid in the body,” Nagle says. “MLD incorporates circular strokes, scooping and pumping, working with an awareness of the directionality of the usual lymphatic flow through the body.”
Who it’s for: “Lymphatic massages are often used to reduce edema, or swelling, for various conditions, such as post-surgical lymphedema, diabetes, pregnancy and cancers,” Nagle explains. Those with ongoing fatigue, insomnia, digestive issues and depression also can benefit from lymphatic massages.
4. Deep Tissue Massage
The National Institutes of Health states that a deep tissue massage is “the understanding of the layers of the body and the ability to work with tissue in these layers to relax, lengthen and release holding patterns in the most effective and energy-efficient way possible within the client’s parameters of comfort.” Not designed for relaxation, this type of massage may not be the most comfortable — but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid it.
A deep tissue massage works by applying slow but firm pressure on the muscles and connective muscle fiber tissue (fascia) to help alleviate chronic pain caused by stress on the muscle or injury. Nagle describes the art of deep tissue massages as requiring a slower pace with less lubrication to create friction. The therapist will then apply friction to the muscle to break down any knots, scar tissue or adhesions. Areas where a deep tissue massage can help alleviate pain over time include the neck, upper or lower back, shoulders, legs and arms.
Who it’s for: A deep tissues massage is for those experiencing chronic pain from a past injury or have built up tension and stress in their neck and upper back. Nagle notes that not all clients need deep tissue massages, so consult your therapist during the intake session.
5. Trigger Point Massage
In trigger point therapy, or a trigger point massage, a therapist will work on and around the location(s) of the body’s trigger points (which include spasms or knots) with varying amounts of pressure. “This massage technique uses direct static pressure at the site of a localized area of tension defined as a myofascial trigger point,” Nagle says. Trigger points can correlate to a radiating pain pattern in the client’s body. The goal is to soften any tightness within the body to alleviate knots or cricks holding the tension.
Who it’s for: “Trigger point therapy can be used as a stand-alone treatment or incorporated into a massage therapy session that utilizes various techniques,” Nagle says. She recommends trigger point therapy for clients who appreciate a direct (and sometimes uncomfortable) approach versus a more general approach like a Swedish massage.
6. Aromatherapy Massage
An aromatherapy massage is the use of essential oils, which can be incorporated into massage therapy treatments either environmentally (such as with an air diffuser or a scented eye pillow) or topically (through direct application to the skin via a carrier oil during the massage session. Oils can be selected based on the clients’ preferences or for medicinal and therapeutic purposes — some examples include lavender for relaxation or peppermint for stimulation.
Who it’s for: An aromatherapy massage is for anyone looking for a relaxing experience that engages more of their senses. However, Nagle recommends consulting with your massage therapist before adding aromatherapy to your massage because some oils are not favorable for specific conditions.
7. Prenatal Massage
Prenatal massages are treatments specifically tailored toward expectant mothers and can incorporate a variety of positions, techniques and modalities that help address the physiological and psychological impacts of pregnancy on the body. Nagle says there are plenty of benefits associated with prenatal massages, including addressing musculoskeletal discomfort, diminishing swelling, reducing anxiety and emotional stress, and helping to prepare for labor.
Who it’s for: A prenatal massage is for pregnant women in their second or third trimester (preferred). Nagle also believes that those looking to recover during postpartum also can benefit from a prenatal massage.
8. Reflexology Massage
A reflexology massage works its magic by massaging areas of the hands, feet or ears that have direct reflections on other parts of the body. For example, when one of Nagle’s clients is experiencing sinus congestion, she will use reflexology massage techniques by pressing on the sinus points on the tips of the fingers or toes that can help clear sinus congestion in the face.
Who it’s for: Reflexology can be a stand-alone treatment for almost any client (including children, the elderly or those with underlying conditions), or it can be incorporated into a longer full-body massage therapy session.