The 4 Primary Massage Types and How to Select the One for You

Primary Massage Types

The art of massage is one of the oldest holistic techniques available, found all over the world. Though most often found in Eastern traditions, many major cultures developed their own style of massage. Few modalities are as effective at inducing deep relaxation like a good massage. The health benefits of massage therapy are well known in the scientific literature and have established in ancient cultures for thousands of years.

It is highly important to note that for deep detoxification, other modalities than massage need to be utilized. Massage is primarily aimed at the muscles and deep tissues, not the internal organs. As such, it can relieve a lot of stress, though in many instances the core problem could still persist, such as the ingestion of toxins or deep degenerative diseases. Still, it is one of the best tools for relaxation in general, and there is a significant body of evidence on the positive effects touch has on mental and emotional wellbeing. Further, the link between stress and serious illnesses cannot be ignored.

All massages are not equal, and which one you choose can make all the difference. There is quite a variation between the 4 primary massage types and an even bigger variation with regard to the quality of the massage therapist. Below is a list of the 4 primary massage types and who they are best suited for.

1. Deep Tissue Massage

The Deep Tissue massage is arguably the most common massage, found in every massage parlor. A deep tissue massage is designed to relieve stress throughout the body and involves the use of oil directly applied to the skin. It is one of the strongest massage types where the therapist attempts to strip the tension from the muscles. This massage reaches the deepest layers of fascia (connective tissue surrounding the joints) and tendons. The main goal in this form of massage is to breakdown tense areas within the muscles. These areas of tension are directly related to stress and inflammation, and they can often go unnoticed for years as people move with poor posture, and sit at desks all day long. This creates imbalances in the muscles which need to be corrected.

The deep tissue massage is ideal for dealing with this kind of tension that everybody has to some degree, especially around the shoulders and lower back due to the permeation of computers in today’s society. It is best used for those suffering from physical fatigue. It is not for the frail, thin, or faint of heart, as it can be too invasive. Athletes suffering from deep tissue muscle knots could benefit from this massage.

2. Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principals and originated in Japan. It is much softer than the Deep Tissue massage and usually does not involve any oil. Shiatsu uses the fingers to apply pressure to specific points in the body fixing energetic imbalances. While the deep tissue massage is good for the overall body, Shiatsu is more specific, removing blockages in unexpected places.

Based on TCM, the mentality of Shiatzu is that muscle stiffness is caused by an energetic blockage elsewhere. So if energetic points are ‘released’ the muscles will soon follow. This is the basis of acupuncture and acupressure, two modalities which have a long history. The Shiatsu massage is said to be effective at calming the sympathetic nervous system and at increasing circulation in the body.

Shiatsu is reputed to be particularly effective at treating migraines and back pain. A shiatsu massage is perfect for those who are not prepared for a deep tissue massage (including removing all clothes and being oiled up by a massage therapist). It can be a good entry into the world of massage therapy.

3. Thai Massage

In terms of intensity, the Thai massage comes a very close second to the Deep Tissue massage. It has been referred to as “yoga for the lazy” as it involves exotic and deep stretches of the body. While not as “deep”, be prepared for backbends and spinal twists assisted by the therapist. The therapist will use every part of his or her body to stretch yours, and it is very common for them to take off their shoes and walk on your back. Oil is generally not used in the Thai massage.

This is a very effective massage that is both relaxing and energizing, though sometimes uncomfortable while the procedure is being carried out. In this sense, it is very much like doing a yoga routine to remove excess energy from the body. It is the best massage for those looking for increased flexibility, especially in the lower back, neck, and shoulders. It is sometimes called the Thai Yoga massage and is based on Ayurvedic principals. Its benefits are similar to the Deep Tissue massage, though it is better for the spine and for increased flexibility. However, it won’t penetrate to the muscles tissues quite as much. Suitable for those looking for a very relaxing and invigorating massage or athletes who need to loosen up their bodies.

4. The Swedish Massage

The Swedish massage is the best massage for rest and relaxation. It is a far lighter, more relaxing form of massage compared to the deep tissue or Thai massage. You can simply sit back, relax, and let the therapist do all the work. The Deep Tissue massage often involves pressing in specific muscle areas, while the Swedish massage is a more gentle massage with long fluid strokes to generate relaxing sensations for the customer.

For people who simply need to de-stress after a long days work, no massage is as effective as the Swedish Massage. It is excellent at reducing cortisol and putting the customer in a good state of mind, ideal for emotional and mental wellbeing as well as ensuring a good nights sleep. A Swedish massage involves oil and is a gentle form of massage using 5 primary techniques. These are the effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement, and vibration.

Summary: Selecting the Right Massage

If you are an athlete who works out a lot or a person dealing with an injury, the deep tissue massage is best. If you want to increase flexibility, particularly in the spine, neck, and shoulders, then the Thai massage is appropriate. For pure and utter relaxation, then the Swedish massage is ideal. For those uncomfortable with the idea of getting undressed and applying oil, then the Shiatsu massage is a good introduction to the world of massage.

It should be noted that there are many styles and variations of massage and that the results will depend on your individual body as well as the skills of the therapist. Everybody should experiment with massage as a relaxation tool, or alternatively try out a simple foot spa or massage chair, which are commonly available and also quite effective.