Types of Massage - Society of Wellness

Types of Massage: What You Need to Know to Get Started

Massage therapy has a myriad of health benefits. But do you know which type of massage is the best for your condition? Find out here. 

A Quick Overview of Massage, Benefits, and Growing Popularity

Massage is a set of practices where a therapist applies pressure to parts of the body in order to relieve pain and stress and improve well-being. 

People have been using massage for a very long time. As an indispensable part of healing across different cultures, massage has gained immense popularity in recent years, fueled by rising cases of chronic pain, anxiety, and sleep issues. 

In 2020, about 1of 5 Americans got a massage, reports the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Interestingly, the AMTA report shows that men are more likely than women to see a massage therapist. The top three reasons for a visit include pain relief, stress reduction, and improved quality of life. 

Massage therapy may be used to manage the following conditions:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain 
  • Headache and migraine
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Soft tissue and sports injuries
  • Arthritis (joint inflammation and pain)
  • Digestive problems
  • Addiction 

Types of Massage 

There are dozens of different forms of massage, depending on the following factors:

  • Therapist’s hand movements
  • Body parts involved
  • Degree of pressure applied
  • Instruments used during therapy
  • Theories about disease development and treatment (for example, Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners believe massage promotes the flow of energy in the body)

Here, we will discuss the 8 most common types and their benefits.

Swedish massage

It is the most widely used massage in Western countries. This full-body massage involves long, kneading strokes on the outermost layers of muscles and passive joint movements. Besides, a therapist may also use rhythmic tapping strokes, deep circular motions, and taps with cupped hands. 

Benefits of Swedish Massage

  • Swedish massage relieves muscle tension, increases energy, and relaxes your entire body. 
  • It may help improve the perceived quality of life in people with cancer, heart disease, digestive problems, and lower back pain. 
  • It may help athletes improve their performance when used prior to competition.
  • Best massage option if you are new to massage or extremely sensitive to touch. 

During the massage, you will lie unclothed on a massage table (with or without your underwear on). Then, a therapist will cover you with a sheet to keep you comfortable. They may use creams or oils to improve their hand movements. 

Swedish massage usually lasts 1 to 1.5 hours. 

Deep Tissue Massage

Unlike Swedish massage, deep tissue massage uses more pressure and slow strokes targeting the deeper layers of the muscles and connective tissues. Because it is more intense, it may also be more painful so be sure to discuss that with your massage therapist.

Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage

  • It may help ease pain associated with muscle injuries or back sprains. 
  • It is an ideal option for chronic muscle tension, sports injuries, sciatica, and tennis elbow. 

Before the massage, your massage therapist will ask questions to locate the problem areas. Your answers will help them decide whether you need a full-body or partial body massage. Then, you will lie unclothed, covered with a sheet. 

In the beginning, gentle pressure is used to help you warm up. Once you are ready, the therapist will use slow strokes and deep kneading. 

Deep tissue massage usually lasts 1 to 1.5 hours.

Pregnancy Massage

Also called prenatal massage, it uses mild pressure to help you cope with pregnancy-related issues. These can include sleep problems, body aches, swellings, and stress. 

Pregnancy massage might be an option if you prefer or cannot take medications to ease these conditions because of pregnancy. 

Pregnancy massage targets your lower back, hips, shoulders, and legs. Though it may be used at any stage of your pregnancy, use during the first trimester is not usually recommended. Never start any therapy without talking to your doctor if you are pregnant.

Benefits of Prenatal Massage

Pregnancy massage may help reduce:

  • Stress
  • Swelling of the arms and legs
  • Muscle and joint pain 

It may also improve your mood and sleep.  

During a pregnancy massage, you will lie on your side or on a specially designed table. You may choose to be fully or partially undressed. Then, your therapist will cover you with a sheet. 

The massage usually lasts less than an hour.

Trigger Point Massage

This full-body massage combines gentle strokes and firmer pressure. You may consider it if you have injuries or trigger points (tight muscle tissues causing pain that can move to other body parts). 

For injuries, your therapist will apply mild pressure to help you relax. On the other hand, they will use stronger, deeper pressure to release the trigger points.  

Benefits of Trigger Point Massage

  • Best for chronic pain management. 
  • Reduces headaches
  • Improves flexibility

During the massage, you may wear lightweight clothing or be fully/ partially unclothed.

Trigger point massage usually lasts 1 to 1.5 hours. 

Sports massage

Sports massage was initially developed for athletes to help them improve endurance and promote recovery. Yet, you may use it if you are physically active or exercise regularly. 

Unlike relaxing massage techniques, it involves strenuous activities – stretching tensed muscles and stimulating weak muscles. 

Your therapist may massage the whole body or a specific part depending on your needs. They may also combine deep pressure and gentle strokes. 

Sports massage does not use specific techniques and can involve techniques derived from physical therapy. 

Benefits of Sports Massage

  • Increase flexibility
  • Helps prevent injuries
  • Promotes healing after a sports injury
  • Helps reduce blood pressure
  • Improves blood circulation and lymph flow 

A sports massage usually lasts 1 to 1.5 hours.


Reflexology is an ideal option if you want to relax and improve your energy levels. It works on the principle that applying pressure to specific areas on the feet, hands, and ears can help relieve stress. 

Reflexologists believe that this pressure can heal the body parts that correspond to these areas. They may also use foot charts that show which foot areas and biological systems are connected. 

Benefits of Reflexology

  • Reduces pain, stress, and anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Best for people who are uncomfortable getting undressed during massage

A reflexology session usually lasts 30 to 60 minutes. 

Shiatsu massage

The principle behind this Japanese massage technique is that applying pressure on specific points of the body helps activate your body’s natural healing capacities.

Shiatsu practitioners use their hands, palms, and thumbs to apply pressure on these points. They believe doing so will increase the flow of natural energy throughout the body.

Benefits of Shiatsu Massage

  • Makes you calm and relaxed
  • Reduces stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression
  • May relieve headache
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Best for people who are uncomfortable getting undressed during massage

A single session of Shiatsu massage usually lasts 1 to 1.5 hours.

Aromatherapy massage

This (full-body) massage combines soft, gentle pressure and essential oils. It is similar to Swedish massage except that it uses essential oils. 

Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage

  • Improves your mood
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Decreases muscle tension
  • Reduces pain

Before the massage, your therapist will select the essential oils to use. You may also ask them to include your favorite essential oils. The oils should be diluted before use. 

During the massage, you will lie unclothed on a massage table under a sheet. While your therapist gives you a full-body massage, you will inhale the essential oils and absorb them through the skin. Alternatively, you may choose a partial aromatherapy massage that focuses on your back, shoulders, and head. 

An aromatherapy massage usually lasts 1 to 1.5 hours.

How to Find the Right Massage Type for You?

No one-size-fits-all rule exists. 

The good news is that licensed massage therapists are there to help and guide you through the entire process. They may even be able to combine massage techniques to give you the best experience and treatment needed for your body. 


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