There are many types of massage therapy, from classics like Swedish and deep tissue to more exotic styles like shiatsu. Whether you'd like to branch out a bit or have a health condition or injury, choosing a style of massage can be confusing if you're not quite sure what it involves. Here is a list of the most popular types of massage (including some that may be new to you).
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Shoulder pain. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science reports that shoulder pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal disorders, affecting as many as 66.7 percent of the population. The study goes on to say that massage therapy can often help reduce this type of pain, sometimes in a matter of days, though 36 sessions appeared to offer the greatest level of relief.
With possible benefits such as improved fitness endurance and performance, increased flexibility and recovery time, and injury prevention, sports massage is way more than just a massage for athletes! Traditionally, sports massage is a deep tissue massage that targets the deepest layers of muscle in order to stimulate blood flow. It is best done before or after the event as a means to later restore or rehabilitate. For more, see our Comprehensive Guide to Massage.
While many believe that Deep Tissue Massage simply means heavy pressure, this is a misconception. Deep Tissue Massage includes many of the same techniques from its foundation in Swedish massage, but takes it in a different direction with a different purpose. Often times the pressure is deeper, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember, deeper isn’t always better. Deep Tissue Massage should be looked at as technique with a purpose, to provide structural and functional outcomes.
Effleurage is the most common stroke in Swedish massage. It is a free-flowing and gliding movement towards the heart, tracing the contours of the body using the palm of one or both hands. Oil is applied with this stroke to begin the first stage of massage. The therapist applies a light or medium constant pressure. This stroke is used to warm up the muscles, relax the body, calm the nerves, improve blood circulation and heart function, and improve lymphatic drainage.
Massage has been shown to reduce neuromuscular excitability by measuring changes in the Hoffman's reflex (H-reflex) amplitude. A decrease in peak-to-peak H-reflex amplitude suggests a decrease in motoneuron excitability. Others explain, "H-reflex is considered to be the electrical analogue of the stretch reflex...and the reduction" is due to a decrease in spinal reflex excitability. Field (2007) confirms that the inhibitory effects are due to deep tissue receptors and not superficial cutaneous receptors, as there was no decrease in H-reflex when looking at light fingertip pressure massage. It has been noted that "the receptors activated during massage are specific to the muscle being massaged", as other muscles did not produce a decrease in H-reflex amplitude.
Referred pain spreads the goodness. Undoubtedly another reason that massage pain can feel good is the phenomenon of referred sensation. If you stimulate internal tissues anywhere in the body, muscle or otherwise, the brain really has trouble telling quite where the sensation is coming from. When you press hard enough on your muscles, particularly on sensitive trigger points, the pain is often experienced as though it originated from a much broader area.
According to Robert Noah Calvert, author of The History of Massage, what we now call Swedish massage was never part of Ling’s movement system. Swedish massage, as Calvert asserts, is defined by its system of stroking, kneading, and other bodily manipulations. These he credits to a Dutch practitioner, Johann Georg Mezger, who lived and worked in the late 19th century. As a result, what Americans know as Swedish massage is called “classic massage” throughout most of Europe.
Most deep tissue massages normally focus on major muscle groups — such as the neck or lower back — along with joints and tendons that are susceptible to straining or injuries. Certain areas of the body that tend to tense up in times of stress, including the shoulders, neck and hips, can often benefit the most from this type of deep manipulation. Many people consider “sports massages” to be a form of deep tissue massage, which involves physical treatment primarily to neuromusculoskeletal systems to treat pain and disability, improve muscle recovery and joint mobilization, and prevent injuries.
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As mentioned above, reflexology has been known to open neural pathways, and this sort of free-flowing neural activity results in a more relaxed state in the body. For this reason, reflexology can flood your system with relaxation, inducing a state of calmness throughout your body and mind. In this same vein, reflexology is commonly used to cure sleep disorders. Insomnia can be a very troubling condition to suffer through, but reflexology helps your body relax and get back to its normal, healthy circadian rhythms.
Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so), and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel. In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.
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Aquatic bodywork comprises a diverse set of massage and bodywork forms performed in water. This includes land-based forms performed in water (e.g., Aquatic Craniosacral Therapy, Aquatic Myofascial Release Therapy, etc.), as well as forms specific to warm water pools (e.g., Aquatic Integration, Dolphin Dance, Healing Dance, Jahara technique, WaterDance, Watsu).
One of the most well-known and verified benefits of reflexology is an improvement in circulation throughout the body, which means that blood and oxygen are being cycled through the body more effectively. This means more oxygen reaches vital organs, thereby optimizing their functioning and further increasing the metabolism. This also results in faster healing and re-growth of damaged cells.