Massage Cheat Sheet: Different Styles Explained
If you’re feeling anxious, stressed or just a little tired and sore, a massage can be just what the doctor ordered. And the best thing about it? You don’t even need the doctor! All it takes is to book an appointment at one of the many massage spas you’ll find scattered around your city. However, with so many different styles of massage to choose from, I thought I’d run you through some of the most common massage styles to help you decide which is right for you.
Probably the most recognisable massage style in western cultures, Swedish massage uses five key strokes — effleurage (gliding strokes from the neck to the spine), petrissage (kneading the muscles), friction (deep, circular movements with thumbs or fingertips), tapotement (rhythmic tapping for releasing tension) and vibration (rapid shaking of the back or limbs). Swedish massage aims to relax the body and increase circulation.
Hot stone massage
Smooth, heated stones (usually basalt) are placed on the body. The heat allows for a greater feeling of relaxation in the muscles and also allows the massage therapist to penetrate the muscles more deeply.
Chinese acupressure massage
A tradition in Chinese medicine, acupressure massage is based on the belief that our bodies have several different ‘healing points’. Massaging these healing points is believed to lower stress and increase physical well-being. It is similar to acupuncture, except needles are replaced with finger pressure.
Another massage style with Asian heritage, Shiatsu originates in Japan and involves placing finger pressure on various points in the body in order balance the body’s ‘energy’. Unlike acupressure, which focuses mostly on physical well-being, Shiatsu practitioners regard the technique as capable of relieving a range of disorders, including stress, depression, anxiety and even headaches.
Completing the trio of Asian-style massages discussed in this article is Thai massage. While the influx of western tourists to Thailand may have seen the idea of a “Thai massage” turn into something a little more vulgar in recent times, the style itself involves ancient techniques designed to decrease stress, increase flexibility and promote a greater physical, mental and emotional balance. Recipients usually lie on the floor and the style involves stretching and deep massage.
Reflexologists apply pressure to specific points in the feet in order to detect blockages of energy in the body. In this sense, reflexology is similar to acupressure, except that only the feet (and sometimes the hands and ears) are used. It is designed to restore the body’s natural balance and help maintain equilibrium.
Deep Tissue Massage
This massage technique loosens the connective tissue to promote muscle healing. It focuses on the deeper layers of tissue in the body. It can relieve stress and pain, and also helps promote motion and posture. Due to the increased pressure being applied during a deep tissue massage, however, the style can be very painful, and it’s not uncommon for the recipient to feel sore for one or two days before the benefits begin.
Using similar techniques to that of Swedish massage and deep tissue massage, a sports massage has the added goal of being optimised to increase athletic performance while also lessening the chance of injury or pain. It is great for those who participate in sport regularly, particularly at a competitive level.