Thai massage, also called Thai yoga massage, combines acupressure and assisted yoga postures. Thai massage is based on the flow of energy through the body and focuses on energy lines called “sen.” It doesn’t use oils or lotions and, instead of rubbing muscles, the massage therapist compresses, pulls, stretches and rocks the recipient’s body to promote the flow of energy through these sen. In this form of massage therapy, practitioners use their hands, knees, legs and feet to apply deep muscle compression and stretch the body. It’s often performed on a mat on the floor instead of on a massage table. Like most forms of massage, Thai massage is used to relieve stress, improve range of motion and enhance flexibility. Some people also use Thai massage to address a range of health issues, including:
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At most spas, Swedish massage is the most popular treatment, and it’s for good reason. Perfect for first-time spa-goers, Swedish massage will help to release neck knots and soothe nerves. Traditional Swedish massage, or “classical massage,” consists mainly of long strokes over oiled skin and kneading of the outer layers of muscle tissue to reduce stress and soothe sore joints and muscles. Studies have shown Swedish massage relaxes the nervous system, aids circulation, and helps with detoxification. For more, read our Guide to Swedish Massage.
While a foot massage may feel the same as a reflexology treatment, a reflexologist will work on areas to promote a healing response in the corresponding organs. A massage therapist giving a foot massage will manipulate muscles and other soft tissues to improve circulation, relieve pain, and heal injuries in the area or to induce overall relaxation.
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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.
AD 1878: Dutch massage practitioner Johan Georg Mezger applies French terms to name five basic massage techniques, and coins the phrase "Swedish massage system". These techniques are still known by their French names (effleurage (long, gliding strokes), petrissage (lifting and kneading the muscles), friction (firm, deep, circular rubbing movements), tapotement (brisk tapping or percussive movements), and vibration (rapidly shaking or vibrating specific muscles)).
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AD 1776: Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and Pierre-Martial Cibot, French missionaries in China translate summaries of Huangdi Neijing, including a list of medical plants, exercises and elaborate massage techniques, into the French language, thereby introducing Europe to the highly developed Chinese system of medicine, medical-gymnastics, and medical-massage.
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Massage in China is an extremely popular therapy, the city of Shanghai alone playing host to over 1500 foot massage centers while there are more than 3000 in Shenzhen. It is one of the biggest service industries in China with workers in Shanghai numbering in the tens of thousands. The average rate of pay for a worker in the massage industry in China is over 10000 yuan per month, making it among the highest paid jobs in China’s service sector. China’s massage parlors are frequently linked to the sex industry and the government has taken a number of measures in recent times to curb prostitution and the spread of disease. In a nationwide crackdown known as the yellow sweep ("Yellow" in Mandarin Chinese refers to sexual activities or pornographic content), limitations on the design and operation of massage parlors have been placed, going so far as requiring identification from customers who visit massage establishments late at night and logging their visits with the local police.
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The main professionals that provide therapeutic massage are massage therapists, athletic trainers, physical therapists and practitioners of many traditional Chinese and other eastern medicines. Massage practitioners work in a variety of medical settings and may travel to private residences or businesses. Contraindications to massage include deep vein thrombosis, bleeding disorders or taking blood thinners such as Warfarin, damaged blood vessels, weakened bones from cancer, osteoporosis, or fractures, and fever.
For example, I worked on the Indiana Sports Massage Team starting in 1989, as well as the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships and National Championships. I coordinated massage for the 1992 Olympic Trials and was on the 1996 Olympic Massage Team for the Atlanta Olympics—the first time massage therapy was part of the medical staff for the Olympics. These were all volunteer positions, but I loved it!
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Find the right massage therapist. Look for a therapist who specifically identifies the massage type you’re interested in as part of their practice and background. If necessary, look for someone trained to treat a particular condition, such as sports injuries, fibromyalgia, arthritis, or pregnancy. Also check if the therapist is licensed or certified according to state requirements.
The reason the Pressure Question exists is that it’s hard for patients to tell the difference between nasty pain that might be a necessary part of therapy, and ugly pain that is just abusive. Not everything that hurts is therapeutic, but not every therapeutic procedure is painless! How can we tell if an intense massage technique is therapeutic or not?
So what does all of this mean? It seems that the positive mind (psychological) benefits of sports massage are indeed supported by research studies. Study findings also support that sports massage does not negatively affect performance, but the positive body (physiological) benefits on performance are not quite as clear. More research is needed on the positive body effects and also on the mind/body interaction after sports massage.
Following injury, and especially if it’s also a very stressful time, inflammation can prevent proper blood flow from reaching damaged tissue and can cut off vital nutrients and oxygen. This can cause toxins to accumulate around damaged tissue, which only increases swelling and pain. Some studies have found that even self-administered massage can help reduce pain associated with plantar fasciitis and other injuries. (10)
One narrative review in Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine explains that the impact of using these two modalities combined are somewhat inconclusive, mainly due to research limitations; however, after looking at 21 randomized controlled trials, the author ultimately concluded that “the effects of cold and static compression are clearly better than no treatment.”