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the 4 most popular types of massage – what you need to know

Home » Blog » the 4 most popular types of massage – what you need to know

Ok so your muscles are tense and you’re ready to book in a massage but how do you decide which style to go for? Massage therapy can vary HUGELY depending on not only the style but of course the therapist giving you the massage.

I promise if you think you ‘don’t like massage therapy’ or it isn’t for you, you just haven’t found the right style or therapist for you – yet!

Let’s take a look at 8 of the most popular styles and them down for you…

Let’s start with what is probably the most well-known and widely used form of massage. The name “Swedish Massage” is only used in English and Dutch speaking nations — all other countries refer to it as a “classic massage.”

Swedish massage is the foundation for other types of Western massage, including sports massage, deep tissue massage and aromatherapy massage. It’s designed to relax the body and increase circulation & blood flow by massaging the soft tissue of the body.

If it’s your first time or you don’t get massage very often, Swedish massage is the perfect massage for you.

Swedish massage focuses on relaxing your muscles and joints without going very deep into the soft tissue.

There are five main massage strokes and/or styles in a Swedish massage:

Effleurage (sliding and gliding)
Petrissage (kneading)
Tapotement (rhythmic tapping)
Friction (with fibers or cross-fibers)
Vibration / Shaking

A typical Swedish massages can vary in length and last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes and can be performed to suit almost any individual but as with all hands-on holistic therapies, Swedish massage may not be suitable for everyone and certain medical conditions may prevent the use of this treatment, or may require your GP’s consent.

A full consultation should always be carried out before your first treatment  to make sure that Swedish massage is right for you.

What happens during a Swedish Massage treatment?
A massage oil will be applied to the skin to allow free movement of the massage techniques and to nourish the skin. A variety of massage techniques will be used that warm up and work the muscle tissue, releasing tension and breaking up muscle “knots” or adhered tissues, called adhesions. Swedish massage promotes relaxation, eases muscle tension and creates other health benefits.

Swedish massage is exceptionally beneficial for increasing the level of oxygen in the blood, decreasing muscle toxins, improving circulation and flexibility while easing tension.

My personal favourite! Personally I think deep tissue massage is, awesome! Not only do I love receiving the treatment but it’s one of my favourites working as a therapist because you get to really make a difference to the client in a short amount of time.

This type of massage uses more pressure than the swedish massage to reach deeper layers of soft tissue in muscles and tendons.

Deep tissue massage is a general term that can be used to describe any form of massage that goes into the deeper layers of muscles. Because of this, lots of different types of massage can be described as a type of deep tissue treatment (including sports massage) and will vary  depending on the therapist.

Deep tissue massage can help relieve chronic pain,

A typical deep tissue massage will still move at a slower pace, so if you’re looking for a firm treatment to help you relax and unwind, then a deep tissue massage may be just what you’re looking for.

What can I expect?

At the beginning of your massage, the massage therapist will still start working on the area with lighter pressure to warm up the tissue and prepare your muscles. After this deeper pressure will start to be applied slowly building up deepening on what is needed & how your body responds. This could include the use of elbows, forearms, thumbs or knuckles.

After the massage it is common to feel a little stiff and sore which may last a day or two.

Deep Tissue Massage uses many of the same techniques employed in sports massage, but it is focussed more towards relaxation rather than fixing injuries.

Ok, first of all – this massage is NOT just for athletes or people who play sports. Despite the misleading name, sports massage can be used to treat more or less anyone. If you have muscular aches and pain from poor posture or repetitive work or sitting patterns then you may find a sports massage approach helpful.

The main difference between sports massage and other types of massage is the deep tissue work and a much faster pace of the session with less emphasis on relaxation. usually the focus is also on a specific area or problem rather than treating the whole body.

Communication during this session is key and the client should have an active role during the treatment with breathing cues and positioning. There is less emphasis on relaxation than with other styles of massage.

It’s important to be realistic about what one massage can achieve. Many people ask for more pressure, thinking that if the therapist just pushes hard enough, they can get rid of all their knots in an hour. This might not happen..

Sometimes undoing chronic knots and tension built up over a lifetime is best achieved with an integrated program that includes exercise, stretches, work on your posture and ways of moving, relaxation techniques and a regular program of massage.

Massage has become a necessary ingredient for a complete workout. More and more people are realizing that a complete workout routine includes not only the exercise itself, but also caring for the wear-and-tear and minor injuries that naturally occur with strenuous movement. The physiological and psychological benefits of massage make it an ideal complement to a total conditioning program.

Sports massage techniques work deeply into muscles and soft tissues, helping to keep these structures supple and enabling the body to function at its best.
Sports massage works to encourage the health of both muscles and connective tissue.

What to expect
Before the massage begins, your therapist will talk to you about your health and lifestyle and may carry out a postural assessment to treat your issue in the most effective way.

Sports massage borrows from techniques used in other disciplines like physiotherapy and osteopathy. You will be expected to move around and change positions quite a lot and communicate continually with your therapist so they can respond to how your body is feeling. You might feel some discomfort during a sports massage. Always tell your therapist if you are in any pain. The treatment will probably be focused on very specific areas of your body and some passive stretching may be incorporated.

Oh, any you might get some homework 😉 don’t panic, it’s to help you! They may give you some tips or stretching techniques that you can do at home to get the most out of the session and get the results you want.

Sports massage is also designed to help athletes before, during and after training. It is useful for anyone who exercises to increase flexibility, prevent injuries and help with healing after a sports injury.

4. hot stone massage

In a word I’d say…heavenly. But you may not agree, this is a little like marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it!

This style of massage is like a swedish massage with an amp up of your massage experience with warm basalt stones which are heated anywhere from 120° F to 140° F, for enhanced relaxation.

As the name implies, a hot stone massage of course uses heated stones. The massage therapist may place warm, smooth stones on specific points on the body and also holds the stones while giving the massage.

The direct heat in Hot Stone Massage relaxes muscles, which can allow faster muscle manipulation than with regular massage.

The warmth of the smooth stones can be incredibly relaxing. Also, heat has been shown to relax tight muscles, so the hot stones can allow the therapist to relieve areas of muscle tension quickly.

There are a few more conditions that may not be suitable for this style, if you have certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or varicose veins, you should check with your health care provider if you plan on getting a hot stone massage.

The heat of the stones relaxes muscles, allowing the therapist to work deeper while using lighter pressure.

What to Expect

In preparation for the treatment the therapist will heat the stones in a professional stone heater until they are within a precise temperature range, typically between 110 and 130 F. To prevent burns, microwaves, ovens, hot plates, and slow cookers should never be used!! eeek! Not a good idea!

During the massage, the therapist may place stones on specific points on the body. While the points may vary depending on the areas of muscle tension and the client’s health history, the stones are generally placed in the following areas: Along both sides of the spine, palms of your hand, legs, abdomen, feet & Small stones may be placed between the toes or on the forehead.

The therapist mat also apply massage oil to the skin and hold the stones whilst performing traditional massage movements & techniques.

Hot stone massage has continued to evolve, with many massage therapists and spas offering their own versions of the massage.

If the stones are too hot or uncomfortable, be sure to let the massage therapist know immediately. Stones that are too hot can cause burns.

Because the stones are heated and used a massage tool for the body to enhance the massage and unblock & relieve tension held, giving a sense of deep relaxation and well-being.
The heat gently penetrates the skin and muscle, while knots and tension are smoothed away.
Hot stones expand blood vessels, which push blood and waste through the nervous system. This gives the body a sedative effect.

The really cool bit is that a deeper massage can be achieved with the stones as one massage stroke with the stone is equivalent to 5-10 with the hand.


Massage & Bodywork Therapist