We associate massages with relaxation, but if you find yourself in a spa and choose the wrong style of massage for your needs, you may not feel so relaxed. That’s because, just as there are many types of spas, there are also many styles of massage, and they’re all quite different. Before you make your next massage appointment, then, take the time to familiarize yourself with the different approaches for maximum benefit.
Swedish massage is the most common style practiced in spas and wellness centers and focuses primarily on relaxation. Using wide strokes and moderate pressure, Swedish massage may integrate more intense pressure on a few trouble areas, but it’s more likely to include added elements like aromatherapy that encourage relaxation. For most people, Swedish massage is less of treatment for pain than an indulgence – a chance to unwind and be pampered.
Deep Tissue Massage
If you’re interested in booking a massage because of persistent muscle pain or injury, Swedish massage may not do enough to relieve your discomfort. Instead, you may want to consider deep tissue massage instead. While deep tissue massage can provide some relief for anxiety, it’s primarily designed to release tension in the deep layers of muscle and connective tissue. If you experience chronic muscle pain, deep tissue massage may feel very intense at first, but offer lasting relief.
Thai massage is quite different from what most people think of as massage in the United States because it requires the recipient to actively participate. It does, however, offer a range of benefits and can be of particular use to athletes because it stimulates circulation and increases energy. Practiced regularly, Thai massage can even increase range of motion through gradual stretching and by encouraging the flow of synovial fluid around the joints.
Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage that targets acupressure points using the fingers. This makes it highly targeted – it’s meant to unblock the flow of energy or chi, rather than to treat muscle tension. In this way, it has more in common with reflexology or acupuncture treatments than other types of massage. Though it does involve deep pressure, that pressure is performed in a precise order and is typically chosen because of its ability to promote healing, particularly of digestive complaints, headaches, and insomnia.
Though different types of massage offer different benefits, most types can offer at least some relief for stress and anxiety, headaches, and occasional insomnia, and for most people, they carry little risk. However, people with certain health conditions or risk factors should consult their doctors before receiving a massage. In particular, people taking blood thinners or with bleeding disorders, existing burns or healing wounds, fractures, or serious osteoporosis are not good candidates for massage. While massage may be an appropriate treatment for some injuries, it runs the risk of making other injuries worse.
Massages sit at the intersection of treatment and indulgence, which makes them unique – some insurance policies, for example, will cover massage along with acupuncture, and many physical therapists practice forms of massage. Whether you’re approaching massage as a path to better health or a way to relax when you’re feeling stressed, though, it can be a source of physical and psychological relief.