10 Most Popular Types of Massage

Woman receiving deep tissue massage
Stills/Getty Images

There are many types of massage therapy, from classics like Swedish and deep tissue to lesser-known styles like shiatsu. Whether you'd like to branch out a bit or have a health condition or injury, choosing a style of massage can be confusing if you're not quite sure what it involves.

Here are the most popular types of massage (including some that may be new to you): 

1) Swedish Massage Therapy

The standard type of massage offered in most clinics, gyms, spas, and wellness centers, Swedish massage therapy is virtually synonymous with massage therapy.

Using lotion or oil, massage therapists typically begin with broad general strokes and then transition to specific strokes to address problem areas.

There are five basic strokes in Swedish massage therapy: effleurage (long smooth strokes), petrissage (kneading, rolling, and lifting), friction (wringing or small circular movements), tapotement (percussion), and vibration (rocking and shaking movements).

2) Aromatherapy Massage

An aromatherapy massage is a Swedish massage with scented plant oils (known as essential oils) added to the oil. 

Extracted from flowers and other plant parts, essential oils have a wonderful scent and unique healing properties. Lavender is the most popular scent. Although oils may be selected to address specific needs, the therapist typically uses pre-blended oils to relax, energize, or uplift. Learn more about aromatherapy massage.

3) Hot Stone Massage

A type of massage where the therapist places heated, smooth stones on specific points on the body and also holds the warm stones while giving the massage.

The stones are usually basalt (a volcanic rock that retains heat well).

The warmth of the stones can be relaxing and can loosen tight muscles so that the therapist can reach areas of muscle tension quickly. Find out more about hot stone massage.

4) Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage is a focused, therapeutic massage that targets muscle knots (also known as "adhesions") and specific problem areas in the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue.

Using deliberate, slow strokes or friction across the grain of the muscle, the therapist addresses chronic tight or painful muscles, repetitive strain, postural problems, or injuries. 

While it's true that the pressure of deep tissue is generally more intense than that of a Swedish massage, it shouldn't have to be painful to be effective. Learn more about deep tissue massage.

5) Shiatsu

A form of Japanese bodywork, shiatsu involves localized pressure using the therapist's fingers (or sometimes hands and elbows), applied in a rhythmic sequence along the body. Each point is held for about two to eight seconds.

With roots in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the goal of shiatsu is to stimulate acupressure points on the body to improve the flow of energy and help regain balance.

Since no oil or lotion is used, you wear loose clothing. Shiatsu is normally done on a mat on the floor or on a low massage table. Find out more about shiatsu.

6) Thai Massage

A unique blend of assisted yoga, passive stretching, and pressing massage movements, Thai massage is more energizing than other forms of massage. It's like yoga without doing the work, as the therapist moves and stretches you in a sequence of postures, usually on a mat on the floor.

Like shiatsu, Thai massage aligns the energies of the body. The therapist uses rhythmic compression along the body's energy lines to reduce stress and improve flexibility and range of motion. It is done fully clothed. Find out more about Thai massage and see photos of a Thai massage session.

7) Pregnancy Massage

Also known as prenatal massage, pregnancy massage is customized to an expectant mother's needs but is most often used to promote relaxation. 

Massage therapists who have received specialized training and are certified in prenatal massage know how to position and support the woman's body during the massage, modify techniques, and avoid certain areas and techniques during pregnancy.

Learn more about pregnancy massage.

8) Reflexology

Like having your feet worked on? The therapist uses finger pressure and techniques such as kneading and rubbing to promote relaxation and healing in the body. 

Reflexology is a deeply relaxing therapy, especially if you stand on their feet all day or have tired, achy feet. You remove your shoes and socks but otherwise remain clothed. Learn more about reflexology.

9) Sports Massage

Designed to prevent and treat injuries, improve flexibility, and enhance athletic performance, sports massage can be used by athletes of all abilities to prepare for or recover from athletic or sports events. Even if you aren't an athlete, sports massage may help muscle pain or restricted range of motion.

This type of massage involves facilitated stretching and the strokes are generally faster than a typical Swedish massage. The therapist may also include compression, pressure point therapy, friction, and joint mobilization. 

10) Back Massage

Some massage clinics and spas offer 30-minute back massages. If a back massage is not expressly advertised, you can also book a 30- or 40-minute massage and ask that the massage therapist focus on your back.

More: Massage for Neck and Back Pain

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances, or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading