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What Are All the Types of Massage?

Gina Arena
Medically reviewed by Gina Arena, Research Fellow Written by Leon Mao, Medical Writer on February 21, 2023
Massage comes in various types, each with its unique approach and purpose. For example, sports and deep tissue massages focus on easing muscle problems and injuries, whereas reflexology aims to induce relaxation.

Read on to learn more about the various types of massage and which one might be suitable for you.

Hot stone massage

Hot stone massage is a type of massage therapy where smooth, heated stones are placed on specific points of the body to help relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation.

This type of massage is ideal for people who suffer from muscle pain and tension or are looking for a way to unwind and relax.

Hot stone massage has several benefits, including:

  • Easing muscle tension
  • Improving blood flow
  • Alleviating pain
  • Promoting relaxation
  • Relieving stress

For this massage, you will be asked to remove your clothing unless you prefer to wear your undergarments. You will be covered with a sheet during the session.

Typically, a hot stone massage session lasts for 90 minutes.

Swedish massage

Swedish massage is designed to relax the entire body by using long strokes, kneading, friction, and other techniques that help to improve circulation and reduce muscle tension.

This type of massage is often used as a general relaxation and stress-reduction technique, but it can also be helpful for specific physical issues such as chronic pain or injury recovery.

Swedish massage is a form of full-body massage that's perfect for those who:

  • Are new to massage therapy
  • Seek to relieve tension
  • Prefer a gentle touch

When you receive a Swedish massage, you will be asked to remove your clothing, although you may choose to keep your undergarments on. The therapist will then cover you with a sheet and work on the exposed areas of your body.

The massage therapist will use a combination of techniques such as:

  • Kneading
  • Long flowing strokes towards the heart
  • Deep circular motions
  • Vibration and tapping
  • Passive joint movement techniques

Typically, a Swedish massage session lasts between 60-90 minutes.

Aromatherapy massage

Aromatherapy massages are ideal for those who enjoy scents and wish to have an emotional healing component included in their massage therapy.

This type of massage can provide the following benefits:

  • Elevating your mood [2]
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Alleviating symptoms of depression
  • Relieving muscle tension
  • Easing pain

Aromatherapy massages incorporate the use of essential oils with soft and gentle pressure. Your massage therapist will typically choose which essential oils to use, but you can express a preference if you have one. The essential oils will be diluted before being applied to your skin.

During the session, you will receive a full-body massage while breathing in essential oils through a diffuser and absorbing them through your skin.

You will not be required to wear any clothing during an aromatherapy massage, but you can if you would prefer.

Typically, an aromatherapy massage session lasts between 60-90 minutes.

Deep tissue massage

Deep tissue massage focuses on reaching the deeper layers of muscles and fascia (connective tissue surrounding muscles).

It uses more intense pressure and slower strokes than Swedish massage to target knots and areas of tension in the muscles.

Deep tissue massage is an ideal option for those who experience muscle problems, such as:

  • Soreness
  • Injury
  • Imbalance
  • Tightness
  • Chronic muscle pain

During the session, your massage therapist will use slow and deliberate strokes combined with deep finger pressure to target the deepest layers of your muscles and connective tissues.

The massage session typically lasts between 60 to 90 minutes.

Sports massage

If you're prone to injuries from playing a sport or have a repetitive use injury to a muscle, sports massage [3] might be a good option for you.

Here's what you can expect during a sports massage:

  • Focus on problem areas: A sports massage can be done on a specific part of your body that needs attention, or as a full-body massage.
  • Alternating techniques: Depending on your needs, deep pressure may be alternated with soothing strokes.
  • Clothing options: You can choose to whether or not you want to wear clothes while receiving a sports masage. If you choose to wear clothing, opt for thin and loose shorts and tank tops that allow the therapist to access your muscles.

Sports massage can be a great way to improve athletic performance, relieve pain, and reduce anxiety.

Consider a sports massage if you're looking for a way to take your performance to the next level.

Sports massage sessions typically lasts between 60 to 90 minutes.

Trigger point massage

Trigger points, which are areas of tightness in muscle tissue, can lead to pain in other parts of the body. Trigger point massage therapy is great for people who have muscle injuries or experience chronic pain.

A review conducted in 2018 [4] found that trigger point therapy for the head and neck muscles may decrease the frequency, intensity, and duration of tension and migraine headaches, although further research is necessary.

During a trigger point massage, your therapist will alternate pressure levels on the trigger point area to relieve tension.

The massage session will include a full-body approach, with specific emphasis on areas needing release. You may wear lightweight clothing for the massage or opt to be fully or partially undressed.

Typically, a trigger point massage session lasts from 60 to 90 minutes.

Reflexology

Reflexology involves applying gentle to firm pressure on pressure points in the feet, hands, and ears.

This massage therapy is ideal for those seeking relaxation or restoring their natural energy levels. It's also suitable for those who feel uncomfortable with a full-body massage.

The following benefits have been associated with reflexology:

  • Relaxation
  • Reduced pain
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved mood

A 2018 review [5] showed that reflexology effectively reduced anxiety in patients undergoing cardiovascular procedures compared to the control group.

Additionally, a 2019 clinical trial found that reflexology could help reduce fatigue, pain, and improve sleep quality in patients with lymphoma [6].

During a reflexology session, it is recommended to wear loose, thin and comfortable clothing that allows access to your legs. This type of massage typically lasts from 30 to 60 minutes.

Shiatsu massage

Shiatsu massage uses finger pressure on specific areas of the body to relieve tension and pain. It is based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, particularly the concept of energy flow through the body along specific pathways called meridians.

Shiatsu massage is perfect for those who want to feel relaxed and soothe stress, pain, and tension.

This type of massage is known for:

  • Providing emotional and physical calmness and relaxation
  • Relieving pain
  • Alleviating headaches
  • Reducing muscle tension
  • Improving sleep and reducing fatigue
  • Enhancing mood

Research has shown the benefits of shiatsu massage. A study conducted in 2019 [7] found that when shiatsu therapy was combined with the standard treatment for lower back pain, it improved symptoms and quality of life immediately after treatment.

Another study from 2018 revealed that self-shiatsu significantly improved sleep quality and reduced daytime fatigue in young athletes with sports-related concussions [8].

A typical shiatsu massage session lasts 60 to 90 minutes.

Prenatal massage

Prenatal massage is a gentle form of therapy that helps alleviate pregnancy-related body aches, reduces stress, and eases muscle tension in expectant mothers.

Due to the risk of miscarriage during the first trimester, many massage therapists in Australia do not offer prenatal massage during this time. It's recommended to consult with a doctor before scheduling a massage while pregnant.

Prenatal massage is similar to a Swedish massage, with gentle pressure applied to lower back, hips, and legs.

Depending on your comfort level, you can choose to be fully or partially undressed. You can also choose whether to lie on a table designed for pregnant people with a cutout for the belly, or on your side.

If you have any pain in your calves or legs, it's important to see a doctor before getting a prenatal massage to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may require treatment.

Prenatal massage typically lasts 45 to 60 minutes.

Couples massage

Couples massage is a unique form of massage where two people, whether partners, friends, or family members, receive a massage in the same room.

Couples massage offers the opportunity to bond and enjoy a calming experience with someone close to you.

Depending on your choices and the clinic's offerings, you can choose the type of massage you prefer, and even opt for different types of massage for you and your partner.

During the massage, you'll be lying side by side on massage tables, with each of you having a separate therapist working on your body.

Chair massage

The main areas targeted during a chair massage include the neck, shoulders, and back.

Chair massage is designed to help relieve stress and promote relaxation. The pressure used during the massage is light to medium, making it a suitable choice for people of all ages and comfort levels.

During the massage, you will be fully clothed and seated in a specially designed chair. The chair is designed so that you will need to straddle the chair, with your chest pressing into the back of the chair, providing access to your back for the massage therapist.

Typically, chair massages last anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour.

Lymphatic drainage massage

Lymphatic Drainage Massage, otherwise known as Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD), is a gentle massage technique that aims to improve the circulation of lymph fluids throughout the body.

MLD can help alleviate several conditions, including:

  • Lymphedema
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Edema
  • Skin disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Stress
  • Digestive problems
  • Arthritis
  • Migraine

A 2014 study [9] found that lymphatic drainage massage was more effective in enhancing the quality of life for fibromyalgia patients when compared to connective tissue massage.

Similarly, a 2021 review of 17 studies [10] indicated that MLD in the early stages after breast cancer surgery might help prevent progression to clinical lymphedema, but it may not benefit moderate to severe cases.

It's important to note that certain conditions may prevent you from receiving lymphatic drainage massage, including:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • History of blood clots or stroke
  • Current infection
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney problems

You can choose to perform lymphatic drainage massage on yourself at home, or seek the help of a professional. Regardless of the method, it is always advisable to consult with your doctor first.

Typically, these massages last for 60 minutes or longer.

Cranial sacral therapy

Cranial Sacral Therapy is a gentle form of bodywork that aims to release compression in the bones of the head, spine, and lower back.

The technique involves the manipulation of the skull, spine, and pelvis bones to improve the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the central nervous system, leading to a deeply relaxing experience.

This therapy is used to treat a range of conditions, including:

  • Migraines
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia
  • Scoliosis
  • Sinus infections
  • Neck pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Ear infections or colic in infants
  • Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders
  • Trauma recovery, including whiplash
  • Mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression
  • Difficult pregnancies

A review conducted in 2019 showed that Cranial Sacral Therapy was more effective than classic massage in reducing the pain intensity of individuals with non-specific neck pain [9].

This form of massage is not recommended for people with severe bleeding disorders, a diagnosed aneurysm or a history of recent traumatic head injuries.

These massages typically last 60 minutes or longer.

Abhyanga oil massage

Abhyanga is a type of Ayurvedic massage that involves the application of warm, herbal oil to the entire body, including the scalp and face.

Abhyanga is believed to help promote relaxation, balance the body's energy, stimulate the lymphatic system, and nourish the skin. It is commonly used as a form of self-care in Ayurvedic medicine.

There have been several studies [11] that have shown that Abhyanga offers various health benefits, including:

  • Reduced stress levels
  • Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest and digest" response
  • Improved skin health and hydration
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Reduced muscle stiffness

Abhyanga can be performed by yourself or with the help of a qualified practitioner. It typically lasts for 60 minutes or more.

Myofascial release therapy

Myofascial Release Therapy is a type of bodywork that aims to alleviate stiffness in the fascia, which is the connective tissue system that holds each muscle in place.

A therapist performs the therapy using gentle pressure to massage and stretch tight areas.

Some of the conditions that may benefit from Myofascial Release Therapy are:

  • Myofascial Pain Syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Venous Insufficiency

These massages typically last 60 minutes or longer.

How to find a massage therapist

Choosing the right massage therapist is important for ensuring the best possible experience.

Here are some tips to help you find the right therapist:

  • Get a personal recommendation: You can ask your doctor, a friend, or get a referral from an online directory.
  • Try a few different therapists: Booking a few sessions with different therapists can help you determine which one you prefer.
  • Find someone you feel comfortable with: It's important to choose a therapist you feel comfortable with, so you can fully relax during your session.
  • Verify credentials: Make sure your massage therapist is trained, licensed, and certified. You can request to see their credentials to verify they are up-to-date.
  • Have a conversation: Consider having a brief conversation with your therapist before your session starts. This is a good opportunity to communicate your expectations and ask any relevant questions you may have.

With these steps, you can find a massage therapist that's right for you.

The takeaway

Massage therapy can improve your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. It is recommended to try different types of massage and therapists to determine which type and provider suit your needs best.

Make sure to let your massage therapist know about your expectations and and communicate any discomfort you may experience during the session.

If you have any health concerns or conditions, it's advisable to consult with your doctor before scheduling a massage.

Frequently asked questions

What are 8 types of massage?

  • Swedish Massage: A classic, well-known massage perfect for first-timers.
  • Deep Tissue Massage: Targets deeper muscles to alleviate tension.
  • Aromatherapy Massage: Incorporates scents for relaxation.
  • Hot Stone Massage: Uses heated stones for a unique experience.
  • Shiatsu Massage: Based on Japanese acupressure techniques.
  • Sports Massage: Helps athletes recover from training and competition.
  • Prenatal Massage: A safe and soothing massage for expecting mothers.
  • Chair Massage: A quick, convenient massage done in a seated position.

Should I get a Swedish or Deep Tissue massage?

The main difference between the two depends on the pressure desired. If you want to de-stress, improve circulation, or relieve minor muscle tension, Swedish massage may be a good option. If you have chronic muscle tension, are recovering from an injury, or have limited mobility, deep tissue massage may be more beneficial.

What should you not do during a massage?

Avoid the following during a massage:

  • Asking your therapist for personal favours or contact outside of the massage.
  • Making excessive noises.
  • Commenting on the therapist's appearance.
  • Poking your head out to signal readiness.
  • Undressing while the therapist is still in the room.
  • Touching the therapist.
Sources
Authors
Medical fact-checkers
Medical reviewers
Last medically reviewed on February 21, 2023
Zable has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.
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Content Disclaimer

This content is general in nature and is for informational purposes only - it does not constitute medical advice. Content on Zable is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Read more from our Content Disclaimer

Leon Mao
Written by Leon Mao
Medical Writer, University of Melbourne
Published on February 21, 2023
Gina Arena
Medically reviewed by Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on February 21, 2023
Article last updated on April 18, 2023
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