10 Basic Types of Massage Therapy

Jacqui Coombe

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Massage therapy includes many different techniques. It can be used to help manage a health condition or it can be a tool that’s used to relieve pain or enhance overall wellness.

Massage therapy has been practice in many different cultures throughout history. It dates back to 3000 BCE (or earlier) and it remains one of the most commonly practiced forms of holistic medicine today. To become a massage therapist you can focus on one particular technique or you can choose from multiple techniques including:

Deep Tissue massage

Many people shy away from deep tissue massage, fearing it will be too painful or uncomfortable. The truth is, deep tissue massage therapy shouldn’t be painful, although it does make use of slow, firm and more intense strokes and friction. Deep tissue massage targets the inner layers of muscles and connective tissues and it can reduce inflammation and promote faster healing by increasing blood flow and tension.

Sports Massage

While the name may point towards sports and athletics, sports massage isn’t strictly reserved for athletes. Sports massage can be used for anyone recovering from injury or looking to prevent injury. It works to reduce the stress and tension that can build up in the soft tissues of the body during exercise, increasing endurance, improving performance and quickening muscle recovery time. It can also be specifically tailored to different sports and different types of injuries.

Swedish Massage

When you think about modern massage therapy, Swedish massage is what opened the door. In the early 1800s, Swedish doctor Per Henrik Ling created the method to help treat chronic pain. It incorporates techniques such as effleurage (long, gliding strokes), petrissage (rhythmic kneading, rolling and lifting), tapotement (beating, tapping and cupping) and friction (deep, circular and crosswise movements designed to penetrate deep tissue). Swedish massage is ideal for those who are new to massage or for those looking to release tension from their bodies.

Thai Massage

The roots of Thai massage are actually based in India and it is sometimes referred to as “assisted yoga” because it is an active type of massage.

Thai massage focuses on a rhythmic compression of muscles, the movements of joints and using acupressure to reduce stress and improve flexibility, a deep form of stretching. It is a great massage technique for those looking to improve blood flow throughout the body or to boost energy levels.


Reflexology applies pressure to specific reflex points on the foot. These points correspond to organs and certain areas of the body. Techniques used include kneading the soft fleshy ball of the foot, pulling on the toes, tracing around the heel and pushing deep into the arch of the foot. It can sometimes move from the feet to hands or ears as a way to restore the flow of energy throughout the body.

Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu massage is a form of therapeutic bodywork from Japan. It uses kneading, pressing, soothing, tapping, and stretching techniques through light, comfortable clothing. A Shiatsu therapist is trained to recognise patterns of disharmony in the body before physical signs appear. A therapist will assess the Qi (the vital energy in one’s body) and stimulate and harmonise the body’s meridians. It can be a great form of massage for anyone experiencing regular colds and flus or headaches, digestive difficulties or body aches and pains.

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy massage uses essential oils that improve both mental and physical wellbeing. The skin absorbs the essential oils, keeping skin supple and providing mental stimulation with different aromas. Aromatherapy massage stimulates positive emotions and relaxation, and scientists believe that by stimulating receptors in the nose it can cause powerful mood changes.

Lymphatic Drainage Massage

Lymphatic Drainage Massage relieves swelling that happens when medical treatment or illness blocks a person’s lymphatic system (the network of vessels through which fluid drains from the tissues into the blood). It involves gently manipulating specific areas of the body to move fluid (known as lymph) from tissues to lymph nodes, aiding conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and lipedema.

Hot Stone Massage

A hot stone massage is an indulgent treatment that can help to promote better sleep. During a massage, heated stones are placed onto the body, along both sides of the spine, palms, legs, abdomen and feet. This warms up the musculature, making it easier for a therapist to apply the therapeutic benefits of manipulation. Hot stone massage is connected to ancient Mayan practices and the stones themselves are volcanic basalt often sourced from beaches in Mexico or Chile. It’s a popular treatment in spas and wellness centres.

Craniosacral Massage

Craniosacral is gaining popularity thanks to its profound therapeutic effects. It requires highly skilled training to listen to the body’s inherent health expressions so that natural adjustments can be brought about using the body’s own resources. The beauty of craniosacral massage therapy is in its simplicity. A practitioner will facilitate the body towards intrinsic reorganisations across the body’s tissues in the quest for greater health.

Understanding massage options

Massage is recognised as one of the best ways to relax, rejuvenate and heal the body but it’s not always easy to know which type of massage a person should choose. Aside from the above there are other types of massage such as prenatal, chair, Abhyanga, couples and trigger point, so as you can imagine there’s a lot to learn about!

All massage therapy tends to focus on the same basic type of manual manipulation of muscle tissue. There are many different ways to approach this task, however, and each technique creates specific results for the patient who receives them. It’s important that clients know what options are available to them, so whether you’re studying massage therapy or choosing your next treatment, do you research!

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Jacqui Coombe has been a prolific reader since childhood, and now channels her love of the written word into writing content on a range of topics from business, marketing and finance to travel and lifestyle.

Santa Monica, CA

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