The Right Touch: Understanding Different Types of Massage

Massage is therapeutic in every sense of the word. It releases tension, realigns the body, and rejuvenates the mind. The occasional massage is great, but regular massage can do wonders in boosting your health and wellbeing. The benefits of massage go far beyond relaxation. Thanks to techniques that have been perfected over the past millennium, massage can reduce pain and stiffness, increase circulation, and keep your joints fluid to boost flexibility. On a mental level, it’s brilliant for relieving stress and anxiety – which are, to some extent, inevitable in everyday life. Every session builds on the one before, so you can continue reaping the benefits long after you’ve left the massage table.

There are different types of massages on offer through Bookwell. To figure out which one suits your needs, we’ve outlined the most common massage therapies, and the results you can expect from each.

Swedish Massage

Best for: First-timers and pure relaxation.

What it involves: The most popular type of Western massage, swedish massage is gentle and soothing. The classic massage uses long, smooth strokes in the direction of the heart. The therapist covers the parts of your body that aren’t being worked with a towel, and applies oil or lotion to achieve that gliding movement. Depending on your areas of tension (such as your lower back or neck), they may also knead, rub, tap or shake your muscles. Together, these movements warm up the muscle tissue, and help to release tension and break up any knots.

The goal of Swedish massage is to relax the entire body, which is why it’s important to let your therapist know about your preferred pressure: mild, moderate or deep. If you need any adjustments during your massage, be sure to speak up.

Swedish massage is a proven stress reliever. In a study conducted by the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers found those who received a single 45-minute Swedish massage experienced a significant decrease in their cortisol levels, the stress hormone [1]. Stress aside, the massage works on making the muscle tissues more elastic, which increases flexibility and reduces joint pain. And when the muscles are relaxed, the lymph system is able to flush out toxins, speeding up the healing process. The massage also boosts circulation and the level of oxygen in the blood.

Deep Tissue Massage

Best for: Releasing tight or chronically painful muscles

Deep Tissue Massage

What it involves: For chronic pain and tightness, deep tissue massage is an effective therapy. It’s similar to Swedish massage in terms of technique, but the pressure is more intense. Deep tissue massage is aimed at the deeper layers of muscle and fascia – the connective tissue that surrounds and protects your muscles, bones and joints. Using slow strokes, the therapist applies a firm, gliding pressure (known as ‘stripping’ or ‘friction’) to release muscle tension and break down ‘knots’. If you’re experiencing inflammation, pain or a limited range of motion in certain areas, this technique is especially useful. For instance, those with stiff necks, lower back pain, and leg muscle tightness benefit most from this kind of massage. Since it’s so focused, it’s also the go-to therapy for injury rehabilitation (for example, falls) and postural issues.

While deep tissue massage shouldn’t hurt, it’s likely to be more uncomfortable than other types of massage. The therapist will warm up your body with a lighter pressure, before using his or her fingertips, knuckles, hands, elbows or forearms to roll out those areas that have been bothering you. You may be sore for a day or two afterward – but that’s just your body’s way of telling you that it’s busy flushing the lactic acid out of your muscles. To speed up this process, be sure to drink lots of water!

Along with easing muscle tension, deep tissue massage triggers the release of oxytocin and serotonin (dubbed the ‘happy hormone’), which lowers stress levels. What’s more, a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that participants’ blood pressure fell after just one 45- to 60-minute deep tissue massage[2].

Aromatherapy Massage

Best for: Relaxation, stress relief and emotional balance

What it involves: Aromatherapy massage uses the restorative properties of essential oils. The therapist adds scented essential oils to massage oil (like jojoba oil), and uses long, gliding strokes – similar to Swedish massage.

At the beginning of your service, the therapist will talk you through the different essential oil blends, and explain the effect of each. The oils have unique properties, so you should choose one based on how you want to feel when the massage is over. For example, lemongrass and neroli are energising, while lavender and orange blossom are calming. To combat congestion and inflammation, go for eucalyptus or tea tree. If you’re stuck, ask the therapist to suggest a blend to suit your symptoms.

The massage usually starts with three deep inhalations of your chosen oil to set the mood. It has the same benefits as other massage therapies – with the added benefits of aromatherapy – but is especially effective in relieving stress, headaches, insomnia, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Hot Stones Massage

Best for: Relieving stress and tension in the body

Hot Stone Massage

What it involves: For a therapeutic massage that loosens your muscles even further, consider a hot stone massage. If you’re feeling very stressed or tense, this is a great option, and it’s usually offered as an add-on to Swedish massage or other massage types. The therapist tailors the massage to your area of tension, and uses smooth, heated basalt stones to relax your muscles.

The heat increases blood flow, which can melt muscle tension, spasms and pain, and in turn, boost flexibility. It promotes deep relaxation and more restorative sleep (bliss!). Hot stone massage can also relieve the symptoms of autoimmune conditions, such as fibromyalgia. From the therapist’s point of view, the heat warms up tight muscles, allowing them to perform a deeper massage.

Remedial Massage

Best for: Stress relief, and addressing specific areas of discomfort

What it involves: With roots in science, remedial massage identifies the cause of an issue (such as tension headaches or back pain), and then works on the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia connected to that pain or discomfort. It’s a treatment-oriented therapy that is suitable for people with specific problem areas, as well as those recovering from injuries. It strengthens the body’s ability to heal, and is most effective when done on a regular basis. Qualified therapists will recommend a treatment plan, and take notes after every session.

To alleviate any built-up tension, your therapist will use a combination of hands-on techniques. These may include trigger point therapy to release pressure, and direct myofascial release to improve mobility. Some remedial massage therapists use Muscle Energy Technique (MET), as gentle osteopathic technique that moves energy through the joints.

The primary focus of remedial massage is to correct certain issues in the body. By doing so, it helps to reduce pain, release muscle tension, and improves circulation and range of motion. In turn, it lowers stress, incites calm and boosts immunity.

Remedial massage is often confused with deep tissue massage, which works on the deeper layers of muscles and fascia. That is a much firmer massage, making it appropriate for chronically painful muscles.

Shiatsu

Best for: Overall wellbeing and healing, plus stress relief

Shiatsu Massage

What it involves: A cross between energy work and bodywork, shiatsu is a Japanese practice that applies gentle pressure to acupunctural points of the body. By doing this, it supports the body’s ability to heal and find balance. It’s a deeply relaxing experience, and one that works to realign the body’s qi, or energy flow.

During your shiatsu treatment, you can expect your therapist to use their fingers, thumbs and palms to press, manipulate and adjust your body. ‘Shiatsu’ translates to ‘finger pressure,’ and the therapy is as soothing as it sounds. You may find your therapist spends more time tapping on certain areas. This is because acupunctural points correspond to bodily systems. For instance, applying pressure to the abdominal area can help with digestive issues, while the kidney is linked to hormones.

Along with alleviating stress, shiatsu promotes overall wellbeing. Research by the European Shiatsu Federation found that 95 per cent of participants felt calmer after a shiatsu session, while 54 per cent slept better[3]. A huge 85 per cent said shiatsu eased their back pain, joint pain and muscle tension, and improved their posture.

Shiatsu is also proven to restore energy and reduce fatigue. It also reduces stiffness (particularly in the neck, shoulders and back). On an emotional level, it’s an excellent way to work through any blockages.

Thai Massage

Best for: Stiffness, soreness and gently stretching the body

Thai Massage

What it involves: If you’re craving an interactive massage, try Thai massage. Unlike most massage modalities, which use oils and involve little movement on your part, Thai massage is performed while you’re wearing loose clothing and lying on a mat on the floor. Based on ancient healing systems, it combines yoga stretches with pressure point therapy to lower stress, energise the body, and improve your range of motion. Over the course of 90 minutes, your therapist will stretch, pull, press, rock and rhythmically massage your body along its energy lines (‘sen’). They may use their hands, knees, legs and feet to massage and move your body into different positions. Often called the ‘lazy person’s yoga’, the massage flows beautifully, and the Oriental-style energy work is believed to shift blockages and imbalances in the body.

Along with encouraging the body to release mental and physical stress, Thai massage can help to relieve tension headaches, muscle pain, joint stiffness, and back pain. It also stimulates healthy circulation, and boosts energy while soothing the nervous system. Thanks to the stretches, it improves flexibility, and that change will become more pronounced with regular sessions.

A Thai Massage can be very vigorous, with lots of bending and, sometimes, even walking on your back!

Reflexology

Best for: Relieving foot pain, stress and tension

Reflexology Massage

What it involves: If you stand on your feet all day or experience foot pain, try reflexology. More than just a foot massage, reflexology is based on the Chinese belief that pressure points on the feet correspond to organs and bodily systems. The treatment is excellent for relieving stress and tension in the whole body, not just the feet and ankles.

During a 30- to 60-minute reflexology session, you will be asked to remove your shoes and socks. Your therapist will then stimulate your foot to clear any blocked energy and induce healing. The movements are small and intense, and you can expect to feel a sense of release in different parts of your body. For instance, your therapist may apply pressure to the ball of your foot, which is associated with fear, anger and stress. They might work on the arch, which not only feels wonderful after a day on your feet, but helps to relieve digestive issues. To alleviate the tension causing your headaches or migraines, your therapist may pull on your toes.

By working on those pressure points, reflexology promotes a feeling of all-over relaxation. After a good reflexology session, you should walk out feeling lighter and calmer, with a renewed sense of energy.

Sports Massage

Best for: Those who push their body to a physical limit (through work or sport)

What it involves: Not just for professional athletes, sports massage is ideal for anyone who pushes their body through running, cycling, hiking, swimming, dancing, racquet sports or strength training. It’s also beneficial for those in a physical line of work, such as labourers and gardeners. The massage is geared towards the client’s sport of choice, and focuses on those areas that are used the most. When done regularly, sports massage can shorten recovery time, reduce the chance of injury, and combat fatigue.

It’s a specialised kind of massage, so it’s important to book with a qualified therapist.

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References

[1] Hyman Rapaport M, Schettler P and Bresee C, 2010, ‘Preliminary study of the effects of a single session of Swedish massage on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and immune function in normal individuals.’ Published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/health/research/21regimens.html).

[2] Kaye AD et al, 2008, ‘The effect of deep-tissue massage therapy on blood pressure and heart rate.’ Published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18315516).

[3] Long AF, 2007, ‘The effects and experience of shiatsu: A cross-European study.’ Published by the European Shiatsu Federation (http://www.europeanshiatsufederation.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/5fprpp2frdec07.pdf).