Types of Massage Therapy

In alphabetical order, here is a quick guide to the most popular types of massage therapy to help you figure out which massage therapy style is right for you.  Many of these styles are offered at Advanced Healthcare:

  • Aromatherapy Massage
  • Back Massagemassage544__2_.jpg
  • Chair Massage
  • Cranial-Sacral Therapy
  • Cupping
  • Deep Tissue Massage
  • Geriatric Massage
  • Hot Stone Massage
  • Lymph Drainage (Vodder Technique)
  • Myo-Fascial Release Therapy
  • N.I.S.A. 
  • Prenatal Massage
  • Reflexology
  • Shiatsu
  • Sports Massage
  • Swedish Massage Therapy
  • Thai Massage
  • Trager Massage
  • Trigger Point Therapy

Click here for article, "Target These 6 Areas with Massage for Immediate Relief".

Aromatherapy Massage
Aromatherapy massage is massage therapy with the addition of one or more scented plant oils called essential oils to address specific needs. The massage therapist can select oils that are relaxing, energizing, stress-reducing, balancing, etc. One of the most common essential oils used in aromatherapy massage is lavender. Aromatherapy massage is particularly suited to stress-related conditions or conditions with an emotional component.

Back Massage
Some massage clinics and spas offer 30-minute back massages. If a back massage is not expressly advertised, you can also book a 30- or 40-minute massage and ask that the massage therapist to focus on your back.

Chair Massage  Types of Massage Therapy

Known as seated massage, chair massage, or on-site massage, this technique involves the use of a specially designed massage chair in which the client sits comfortably. The modern chair massage was originally developed by David Palmer, but the technique is centuries old, with some Japanese block prints illustrating people having just emerged from a nearby bath, receiving massage while seated on a low stool. Seated massage includes bodywork and somatic techniques, such as shiatsu, amma, and Swedish massage, provided to the fully clothed client in a variety of settings, including businesses, airports, and street fairs.

Cranial-Sacral Therapy 
Also known as craniosacral therapy, this type of massage is a gentle, noninvasive form of alternative medicine that deals with the movement of the fluid surrounding the skull and spine. Craniosacral therapists ease the restrictions of nerve passages by focusing on the membranes that encase the central nervous system. Cranial-sacral therapy seeks to restore misaligned bones to their proper position and is thought to eliminate the negative effects of stress as well as provide relief from migraine headaches, neck and back pain, temporomandibular joint disorder (the inflammation of the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull), and more. 


Cupping has become a trendy therapy for athletes, such as used by Michael Phelps, who want to improve their flexibility and range of motion. Many also swear that it helps their sore muscles recover after intense workouts.

Cupping creates suction, or negative pressure, which lifts the skin and other tissues.  The exact way it might work isn’t clear, but therapists who use it with their clients believe the negative pressure improves blood flow to the area and speeds recovery.

There haven’t been many high-quality studies of cupping, however. One 2012 review of 135 randomized, controlled studies of cupping concluded it could be helpful for conditions ranging from back pain to shingles to acne, especially when combined with other treatments.  But the study authors also cautioned readers against putting too much stock in the therapy since most of the studies didn’t rigorously test it.

Deep Tissue Massage 
Deep tissue massage is similar to Swedish massage, but is used to target knots and release chronic muscle tension from the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. The focus is on the deepest layers of muscle tissue, tendons, and fascia (the protective layer surrounding muscles, bones and joints). The massage therapist uses slower strokes or friction techniques across the grain of the muscle, not with the grain as in Swedish massage. Deep tissue massage is used for chronically tight or painful muscles, repetitive strain, postural problems, or recovery from injury. Other benefits include reducing inflammation and helping to eliminate scar tissue. The more intense movements and techniques such as deep finger pressure may be slightly uncomfortable and cause soreness that lasts a couple of days before resulting in the desired relaxation and pain relief.

Geriatric Massage
Geriatric massage is a form of massage designed to meet the specific needs of the older population. Active or passive movement of the joints may also be part of this treatment. Geriatric massage is very gentle and rarely causes adverse effects. Geriatric massage is gaining acceptance in the medical community. It is being prescribed to elderly patients to improve blood circulation and relieve arthritic symptoms for example.

Hot Stone Massage
Heated, smooth stones are placed on certain points on the body to warm and loosen tight muscles and balance energy centers in the body. The massage therapist may also hold stones and apply gentle pressure with them. The warmth is comforting. Hot stone massage is good for people who have muscle tension but prefer lighter massage.

Lymph Drainage (Vodder Technique)
One of the most documented benefits of massage is stimulation of the lymphatic system and increased circulation. To specifically stimulate the lymphatic system, a special type of massage with specialized training is performed. A very gentle therapy, lymphatic drainage massage targets an increased efficiency in our lymphatic system. It is especially beneficial when dysfunctions appear related to edema, increased cold and flu incidence, or removal of lymph nodes that have caused slow lymphatic drainage that may result in swelling or discomfort. This therapy influences the flow of lymphatic fluid and its removal of wastes, while stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to produce a sedative effect.

It's well known that lymphatic drainage is an important factor in dealing with many illnesses and conditions. Our lymphatic system is the major system carrying nutrition-rich plasma protein back into our blood. When the lymph system is blocked, infection-fighting material is prevented from destroying germs and cell-nourishing nutrients are prevented from reaching our cells. This is why swelling at major lymph nodes is found with many conditions that develop into more serious illness.

As Dr. Fauci of the Natural Institute of Health has explained, our lymphatic system is primarily responsible for carrying disease fighting material to cells attacked by germs, transporting the dead germs away and supplying protein-rich plasma fluid back to the heart. When this system is blocked, we become defenseless against attacks by virus, fungus and bacteria. Most chronic disease problems occur at the major "lymph nodes" which are under the arms, below the clavicle (collar bone) and in the groin area.

Light pressure is applied to the skin or superficial fascia in the direction of fluid return to the heart. This increases the flow of lymph through the lymph vessels and aids in reducing swelling, inflammation and congestion. Most commonly used for burn victims and post surgery and sinus congestion.

Myo-Fascial Release Therapy
All muscles, arteries, bones, organs, etc. are held together by a 'Saran Wrap' kind of tissue called 'fascia'. Developed in the late 1960's by John Barnes, Myofascial Release works by the manipulation of the fascia that connects and surrounds muscles. Because the fascia is body wide, a tension or trauma in one part of the body can affect another part. The fascia responds to the trained touch to release the adverse effects of inflammation, tensions and trauma.

'Neuromuscular Integration and Structural Alignment' (NISA) aims to stretch, loosen and soften the body's fibrous tissues that surround the muscles and organs in our bodies. This stretching and loosening is important in order to restore function and maintain muscle elasticity.

Many of us have had our mothers tell us to sit up straight. Well I know we hate to admit mother was right, but our body's fascia shortens, hardens and causes us pain mainly due to sloppy posture. Undesirable posture can also result in other problems such as shortness of breath. It can also painfully restrict the way we move and cause chronic joint and muscle pain if posture is not corrected over a long period of time.

Neuromuscular integration and structural alignment is a beneficial treatment that starts with improving the posture. In essence, this therapy does exactly what it suggests it restores our proper body alignment (mainly posture) in order to relieve pain, restricted breathing and restricted movement.

Neuromuscular integration and structural alignment technique was developed by SOMA bodywork, a method of therapy invented by psychologist Bill Williams and his physician-wife, Ellen Gregory Williams. So neuromuscular integration and structural alignment technique is a marriage of medicine and psychology. Its half rooted in psychology and the idea that the body has an integral link to a person's psychological well being; while the other half is rooted in the actual neuromuscular practice of re-aligning the body. This is why NISA therapists firmly believe that a perfectly aligned body is the key to a harmonious body-mind connection.

NISA consists of 12 sessions for a complete therapy. It approaches the body gently to accomplish structural alignment. In fact, NISA is basically a softer version of Rolfing, a massage technique that aims to improve balance and flexibility with deep manipulation of rigid muscles, bones, and joints. The NISA technique is designed to affect the fascia by separating and stretching it.

Prenatal Massage
Pregnancy massage is becoming increasingly popular with expectant mothers. Massage therapists who are certified in pregnancy massage know the proper way to position and support the woman's body during the massage, and how to modify techniques. Pregnancy massage is used to reduce stress, decrease swelling, relieve aches and pains, and reduce anxiety and depression. The massage is customized to a woman's individual needs.

Reflexology is a branch of massage that focuses solely on the hands and feet.  Originally developed as "zone therapy" in the early twentieth century, reflexology uses specifically targeted points on the extremities to send signals to the brain and balance the nervous system. A reflexologist stretches and moves the hands and feet, applying pressure on reflex areas that correspond to specific organs and other parts of the body.  Endorphins are released throughout the entire body, reducing stress and returning the body to equilibrium. Reflexology has been known to provide relief from ailments such as tension headaches, arthritis, digestive issues and back pain. Reflexology is very relaxing, especially for people who stand on their feet all day or just have tired, achy feet. 

Shiatsu is a form of Japanese bodywork that uses localized finger pressure in a rhythmic sequence on acupuncture meridians. Each point is held for two to eight seconds to improve the flow of energy and help the body regain balance. People are normally pleasantly surprised when they try shiatsu for the first time. It is relaxing yet the pressure is firm, and there is usually no soreness afterwards.

Sports Massage
Sports massage is specifically designed for people who are involved in physical activity. But, you don't have to be a professional athlete to have one; people who are active and work out often also use it. The focus isn't on relaxation, but on preventing and treating injury and enhancing athletic performance. The particulars of the massage are specific to the athlete's sport of choice and are often focused on a particular troublesome area like a knee or shoulder. Combinations of techniques are used. The strokes are generally faster than Swedish massage. Facilitated stretching is a common technique as it helps to loosen muscles and increase flexibility.

Aspects of massage are gaining popularity as useful components in a balanced training regimen. Sports massage can be used as a means to enhance pre-event preparation and reduce recovery time for maximum performance during training or after an event. Athletes have discovered that specially designed massage promotes flexibility, removes fatigue, improves endurance, helps prevent injuries, and prepares them to compete at their absolute best.

Swedish Massage Therapy
Swedish massage is the style that comes to mind when most people think about massage. It was developed in Stockholm a couple of centuries ago and is the most common and best-known type form of bodywork performed today. The goal is relaxing the entire body and this is accomplished by rubbing the muscles with long gliding strokes in the direction of blood returning to the heart.  Additional techniques include circular pressure applied by the hands and palms, firm kneading, percussion-like tapping, bending and stretching. It is very gentle and relaxing, using special lotions or oils to reduce friction and stimulate the skin. Swedish massage is exceptional for increasing the level of oxygen in the blood, decreasing muscle toxins, improving circulation and flexibility while easing tension. If you've never had massage before, this is a good one to try first.

Thai Massage
Like shiatsu, Thai massage aligns the energies of the body using gentle pressure on specific points. Thai massage also includes compressions and stretches. You don't just lie there; the therapist moves and stretches you into a sequence of postures. It's like yoga without doing any work. Thai massage is more energizing than other forms of massage. It is also reduces stress and improves flexibility and range of motion.

Trager Massage
Trager was developed over the past 55years by Milton Trager, M.D. It is a combination of hands-on work, relaxation, and movement education. Theorizing that the body learns to be light and effortless by experiencing light and easy sensations, Trager practitioners gently cradle, jiggle, rock, and stretch the body. This is turn helps release deep-seated physical and mental patterns and facilitates deep relaxation, increased physical mobility, and mental clarity.

Trigger Point Therapy
A trigger point is a tight area within muscle tissue that causes pain in other parts of the body. A trigger point in the back, for example, may trigger pain in the neck. The neck, now acting as a satellite trigger point, may then cause pain in the head.  The pain may be sharp and intense or a dull ache. Trigger points are caused by muscle overuse or injury, and because the aches are associated with moving parts, the pain is commonly mistaken for arthritis. Trigger point massage (also known as myotherapy) is specifically designed to alleviate the source of the pain through cycles of isolated pressure and release. In this type of massage the recipient actively participates through deep breathing as well as identifying the exact location and intensity of the discomfort. The result of trigger point massage is the elimination of toxins in the muscles and the release of energizing endorphins. A significant decrease in pain is often found after just one treatment.

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