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What are the Different Types of Massage Therapy?
You may want to have a massage but are confused about all the different types available.
Read this quick guide for an idea of the most popular modern and ancient styles.
Please note: We offer Relaxation & Remedial Massage ONLY (including Deep Tissue, Trigger Point, Myofascial Release & Sports Massage)
WE DO NOT OFFER ALL OF THESE STYLES OF MASSAGE - THIS DOCUMENT IS FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY.
Almost every culture developed some form of massage however of all the regions, Asia seems to have taken it the most seriously with almost every country having a deep tradition of one or more styles of massage. The list that follows is in no way exhaustive however I have tried to include popular modern styles and the longest traditional styles as well.
Active Release Technique
Active Release Technique (or ART as it is commonly abbreviated) is a series of protocols developed and patented by Dr. P. Michael Leahy several decades ago to help elite athletes with their soft tissue dysfunction. The technique involves shortening a muscle, applying contact tension and then lengthening the muscle. This is sometimes referred to as pin and mobilise within the bodywork community. Leahy notes that soft tissue issues often come about due to one or more of the following:
- Acute situations - Such as pulls, tears and collisions
- Microtrauma – A build-up of small tears over time
- Hypoxia – The lack of oxygen to a muscle
This can result in the creation of scar tissue which can result in reduced range of motion, decreased strength and discomfort or pain. There are more than 500 specific actions which are used to address problems in specific areas of muscle.
Acupressure works on similar principles as acupuncture but instead of using needles, the pressure is applied with fingers, thumbs and other body parts. Acupressure originated from Traditional Chinese Medicine which contains a system of meridians which span the human body. Acupressure is often combined with other techniques as part of a Chinese Massage. Acupressure has been shown to be effective for preventing nausea however many of the other health claims regarding Acupressure have not been proven.
Aquatic bodywork is becoming more popular in modern times. It is used for relaxation, fitness, and physical rehabilitation. The client may be submerged fully, partially or floating during the treatment. There are many techniques that may be used such as diaphragmatic breathing and active progressive resistance, cardiovascular conditioning (running or jogging in water) and exercises to develop balance, coordination, flexibility, endurance, speed, and strength.
Ashiatsu refers to the practice of massing with the bare feet. The bodyworker will hold a bar that is attached to the walls or ceiling to support themselves and then massage your body with their feet and body weight. This allows a lot more pressure to be exerted without taxing the practitioner too much. It is often included in Asian styles of massage such as Chinese Massage or Thai Massage.
Ayurvedic Massage, otherwise known as Abhyanga, involves massaging the body with ample amounts of warm coconut and/or sesame oil. It is considered a daily practice within Ayurveda which is said to assist with balancing the doshas (the three vital humors conceptualised in Ayurveda) It is common for an ayurvedic massage to focus on the head. Warm oil is applied and then a massage is performed in specific directions to stimulate circulation to heal the skin of the scalp.
Bio-Mechanical Stimulation (BMS) Massage
Bio-Mechanical Stimulation uses machines to vibrate the muscle tissues at certain frequencies (8-30Hz) and amplitudes (0.1 – 5mm) to stimulate tissue regeneration. These vibrating rhythms are said to be like the muscle’s own vibratory patterns. The work is done longitudinally to the muscle fibres rather than across the fibres.
Biodynamic Massage was created by Gerda Boyesen and may be used in conjunction with body psychotherapy. There are many techniques that touch on skin, muscles, fascia, energy and aura of the client. According to Biodynamic massage, the digestive system is responsible for more than just physical nourishment. It also allows us to process stressful or emotionally intense situations. Once we are safely away from the threat, the event can be processed in our gut. Biodynamic practitioners use a stethoscope during the session to listen to the peristaltic waves of the digestive system as feedback to direct the treatment.
Craniosacral Therapy (CST) was developed by an Osteopath named John Upledger and uses subtle palpation to manipulate the joints of the skull. This is said to regulate the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. CST has been criticised for lack of scientific proof however many people find it extremely relaxing. Upledger proposed a theory of Primary Respiratory Mechanism which requires that the skull has motility and it is linked with the movement of the cerebrospinal fluids. For a treatment you will lie on your back comfortably on a treatment table, fully clothed. The therapist will tune into your body gently by holding the feet or shoulders to begin with.
Lomi lomi is a traditional Hawaiian style of massage that may be performed with or without liniment. The practitioner may use almost any part of their body or tools such as sticks and stones. The practice is quite traditional, so it may be performed with prayer and intention. The client may be advised to adjust their lifestyle in certain ways to assist in their health journey. Client’s may be undraped to a large degree and massaged with flowing strokes along the entire body during a lomilomi session.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is designed to assist the flow of lymph away from the soft tissues of the body back toward the heart. The movements developed are of a very light pressure and in a circular rhythmic motion which is modelled on the existing movements within the body which drain the lymph back to lymph ducts and eventually back to the heart to be recirculated. Emil Vodder and Estrid Vodder were the first people to begin developing the idea back in the 1930s. Treatments are generally an hour long though this may vary depending on which areas are swollen and to what degree.
There are several forms of myofascial release. Some are quite gentle, and some are more invasive. What they have in common is that they attempt to work on the fascia to achieve improved soft tissue health outcomes. Fascia is the webbing structure that is found throughout the entire body. It forms a sort of web and encapsulates many muscle groups. Myofascial release is performed very slowly and often without and oil or liniment. This can be in the form of myofascial stretching or deep tissue techniques. The strokes will usually pass over several muscles to address a whole fascial line or at least a group of muscles.
In a reflexology treatment, the therapist applies pressure to specific points on the feet and hands for a minimum amount of time. The reflexologist has a map of the foot showing which part represents other parts of the body. For example, the tips of the toes could represent the brain or a part on the heel could represent an organ such as the bladder.
Remedial Massage is the term used for a practitioner that is approved to provide private health fund rebates by Medibank and other health funds. There is a minimum standard of education these practitioners have completed to obtain their diploma including anatomy, pathology, physiology, professional standard & ethics. Remedial Massage Therapists also train in specific massage techniques such as Swedish, deep tissue, trigger point, myofascial release, manual lymph drainage and sports massage.
Developed in Japan, Shiatsu translates as ‘finger pressure’ and is a form of massage that was derived originally from the Tui Na of China. The practitioner will utilise their hands, fingers, thumbs and other body parts to apply pressure to a client’s muscles. Shiatsu may also include joint mobilisation and assisted stretching. Oil of liniment is not normally used for a shiatsu treatment.
The idea behind structural integration is that there are functional lines of fascia that work in a holistic way within the body. The Structural Integrator will assess the body and attempt to find tightness within these fascial bands or slings. In theory, once these are balanced and corrected the whole body will function with more ease and less pain and discomfort. It is common for photos to be taken of the client for comparison over a series of 12 treatments to show the resulting changes in posture.
One of the most common forms of massage primarily used for relaxation. Swedish Massage is performed with oil or other liniment and uses five different types of strokes to work the soft tissues of the body. The strokes are:
- Effleurage – Superficial, long spreading strokes
- Petrissage – Kneading styles of motion
- Deep Friction – deeper circular movements that contact deeper tissues
- Tapotement – rhythmic or percussive movements
- Vibration – shaking of the soft tissues and limbs
Swedish massage is probably the most popular form of massage in Western Countries and is frequently used in beauty or day spa settings as a luxurious and pampering treat for the client.
Thai massage is the traditional style of massage developed and used by the people of Thailand for millennia. It is a combination of assisted yoga stretches, Ayurveda and acupressure. Thai massage is conducted without the use of oil and follows a meridian system consisting of “sen” lines. Thai massage may also include being massaged by the feet of the therapist as they support their weight with a metal rod that is attached to the ceiling of the treatment room. The sessions usually consist mostly of assisted stretching and may include deep or rhythmic pressure. Thai massage is mostly commonly performed on a mattress which may not have a headrest, so some people may find it uncomfortable compared to a standard massage table.
Traditional Chinese Massage
Traditional Chinese Massage is an ancient form of massage that has been practiced in China as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. It is now popular all around the world. It is often performed without liniment and can include Kneading, grasping, pushing stretching, friction and vibration.
Trigger Point Therapy
Trigger Points are isolated areas of muscle tissue that cause either local or radiating pain. A trigger point therapist will work across the fibres of a muscle to identify areas that are creating specific pain patterns. Once found, they will apply pressure with the thumb, fingers, the elbow or a massage tool. After a period, the pain will slowly reduce. This may need to be repeated many times per session and for several sessions to resolve the issue. There are charts available that show the most commonly reported pain patterns for specific trigger points.
There you go. I hope that wasn’t too overwhelming. The only true way to find a style you like is to give them a try but please ask around first for recommendations from your family, friends and colleagues.