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Learn About the Different Types of Massage

woman enjoying back massage

Swedish massage, Shiatsu, trigger point massage: there are dozens of types of massages out there. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and see what makes them different.

Navigating through the vast number of massages available today can be confusing. From pain relief to improved circulation the health benefits they provide are abundant, even if all you want is to enjoy a moment of relaxation. There are over 80 different styles of massage therapy and they all involve the manipulation of your muscles and deep tissues using hands (and sometimes other implements) and following special techniques. 

Swedish Massage

If you’re new to massage therapy and you don’t have any injury or serious problems that need attention, this could be the best option for you. This is the most common type of full-body massage, focused on total body relaxation and tension release.

It involves long continuous strokes, kneading, and rhythmic tapping movements to ease any superficial muscle or joint stiffness.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends massage as therapeutic for many types of arthritis. At least one recent study found improved function in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who got a Swedish massage twice per week. 

Deep Tissue Massage

This is similar to a Swedish massage, but with more pressure applied throughout the body. The therapist tackles deeper layers of muscle, tendons, and soft tissue using more intense movements. If you’re feeling stiff or dealing with a medium level of discomfort in a specific part of your body, this type of massage could help you relieve the pain, improve the range of motion of your muscles, and provide you with 60-90 minutes of total relaxation. 

Hot Stone Massage

Stone-therapy massage close-up
Aleks Gudenko/Shutterstock

As the name suggests, this type of massage involves the use of heated basalt stones usually placed on the back or on different parts of the body to help loosen up the area and work out knots. It’s very much like a Swedish massage, helpful in relieving stress, alleviating pain, and improving blood circulation. 

Trigger Point Massage

This is a more targeted type of deep tissue massage. It aims to eliminate chronic tension and tightness located deeper in specific parts of muscle tissues, called trigger points, which can cause pain in the surrounding areas of the body. Due to its intensity and high level of pressure focused on the troubled areas, this massage tends to be more painful than other types. This is suitable for people wanting to manage chronic pain or treat a specific condition.


Rolfing is sometimes confused with deep tissue or trigger point massage because they all are aimed at deeper layers of muscle and tissue. Rolfing involves a specific series of targeted sessions (usually ten) that focus on different areas of the body. The goal is to manipulate a person’s myofascial system of connective tissue to help alleviate tension- or injury-related structural and postural problems.

Shiatsu Massage

Initially originated in Chinese medicine and later refined by the Japanese, a shiatsu massage focuses on restoring the flow of the body’s vital energy, known as chi. The therapist uses a special technique to apply pressure on specific spots of the body, called acupressure points, which are believed to prevent the body’s energy force from circulating when blocked, resulting in symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, and stress.

Hands, elbows, and knees are used to release the stiffness in the body, promoting blood circulation and oxygen production, relieving tension, and stress, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Sports Massage

Massage therapist massaging shoulders of a male athlete

Specifically designed for athletes, this type of massage is a great option for active people who are prone to injuries and want to prevent them, or are looking for help recovering from injury. The techniques involved address aches resulting from tightness or strains encountered after a series of repetitive motions.

The therapist can work to minimize the pain, increase blood flow, and improve flexibility and performance. There are four types of sports massage you can choose from depending on your case: pre-event, post-event, restorative, and rehabilitative. If you’re unsure which one is more suitable for you, you can discuss your issues with the therapist who will help you choose the best option for your wellbeing. 

Prenatal Massage

Aimed at expecting mothers, a prenatal massage is a good way to help reduce pregnancy body aches, such as lower back pain, swelling on the limbs, and muscle tensions. Through the use of unique pillows and a table designed to accommodate the belly and provide comfort for the mom and the baby, the therapist will apply pressure on the affected areas as it’s usually done during a Swedish massage.

On top of the physical benefits of prenatal massage, it can help relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. However, it’s recommended to consult your doctor before you go in for a session. 


Closeup of masseuse doing foot reflexology to woman's foot

Usually executed on the feet, this is another good introductory option to massage therapy and ideal for those who don’t feel confident enough getting undressed and touched by a therapist. It entails special finger techniques aimed at stimulating specific points on the surface of the feet believed to be connected to different organs and systems in the body in order to restore balance.

Though such benefits mostly depend on personal perception, this type of massage can still provide you with relaxation and tension release after a long day of walking or standing around, especially if you’ve been wearing heels from the moment you woke up.

Thai Massage

If you’ve been to Thailand, you probably already know what this massage is all about. With moves and stretches reminiscent of yoga, a Thai massage is a more active massage that focuses on applying deep pressure on the muscles and twisting the body in different positions to improve flexibility and blood circulation.

Though it might feel a bit painful for first-timers, it’s able to improve energy levels, alleviate pain, relieve stress. Unlike most other types of massages, this allows you to stay fully clothed throughout the entire session. 

So if you’re feeling pain, suffering from an injury, or you’re simply looking to relax your body and mind for a little while, there are plenty of massage options for you to choose from. If you’re unsure as to which one is best suitable for you, you can always discuss your preferences and their techniques with the therapist in order for them to point you in the right direction or even customize a massage just for you. 

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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