What Are The Different Kinds Of Massage?

Posted on: Wed, 06/02/2010 - 10:07pm By: Alice

Swedish massage. Deep tissue massage. Sports massage. Russian massage. Trigger point therapy. What are they and how are they different? If you are a client looking for a massage, how do you know what to ask for?

You don't necessarily need to know the name of a specific technique but you do want to be clear about your goal. When a new client walks into my office, I ask them what brought them in and what do they want to get out of their session? Some want to relax. Others have some sort of pain that they'd like to get rid of. Still others want to improve their performance. By understanding the client's goal, I can tailor the session to their specific needs. However, people do frequently ask the question, "What is the difference between these different kinds of massages?"

There are many specific styles of massage. Massage is as old as human beings, even older, (remember - even primates will groom each other when one of them is agitated) and each culture has developed its own approach. There are particular types of massage that have grown out of Thailand or Hawaii, for instance. There are many techniques, too numerous to address. However, I will describe some of the more common general categories of massage.

Swedish massage has come to be used as a generic term for general relaxation massage. European in origin, it leans heavily on gliding and kneading strokes, although rubbing and shaking strokes may also be used. It is general massage for relaxation and wellness. One may do a full body massage or a shorter session may concentrate on the back, neck, and shoulders.

Sports massage is massage done specifically to address the needs of athletes and physically active people. There are three broad areas: pre- and post-event massage, injury rehabilitation, and general sports massage done during training to maintain and help improve an athlete's performance.

Deep tissue massage is massage that targets the deeper muscles of the body. Both clients and massage therapists often mistakenly equate "deep" with "hard." However, they are not necessarily the same thing. Try this experiment on yourself: sit on a chair with your feet on the floor and your legs relaxed. Reach down and grasp the back of your lower leg with your right hand and shake the muscle vigorously back and forth. Do you see how the muscle, if your leg is in a relaxed position, vibrates easily all the way down to the bone? This movement is gentle and yet it affects the deepest muscles, something difficult to achieve with direct pressure on the thick muscles of the calves. You can't get any deeper than the bone. So, deep does not necessarily mean hard. However, deep tissue massage is generally more vigorous and uses more pressure than Swedish massage for general relaxation.

Russian Massage is a system of massage developed as a medical and sports massage in the former Soviet Union. Like other European massage, it uses gliding, kneading, rubbing, and shaking strokes. Although it is unfamiliar to many clients and massage therapists in the U.S., it is applicable to a wide variety of situations. It may be gentle or vigorous, depending on the needs of the client at that time. It is based on 150 years of continuing scientific research on the specific physiological effects that the various massage strokes have on the body. Russian massage should always feel comfortable to the client. Even when vigorous, it should not cause pain. Pain creates a stress response in the body and this is something to be avoided.

Prenatal or pregnancy massage is massage that caters to the needs of the pregnant woman. It may be general relaxation massage or may address some of the discomforts that sometimes accompany pregnancy. A therapist trained in prenatal massage will understand how to accommodate a woman who can no longer lay on her stomach and will know how to safely massage a woman whose body is undergoing the hormonal changes of pregnancy. They will understand how to relieve some of the discomforts that sometimes accompany pregnancy.

Trigger Point Therapy, also known as Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT), is a specific technique for specific kinds of pain problems. Trigger points are tender points that can develop in muscles that cause pain or other sensations elsewhere. Where we feel pain is not always the source of the pain. A good neuromuscular therapist will be familiar with common trigger point locations and their common referral patterns. Besides using pressure on the specific trigger points, the therapist may use other massage on the muscles and will try to help the client to understand why the pain problems developed in the first place and what steps can be taken to keep them from coming back.

These are just a few of the most common types of massage. I'll be covering each of them in more detail in future articles.