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11 Types of Massage to Try (Because You Deserve It)

Maybe you’re thinking about giving someone a massage or perhaps you simply want to book yourself a session for some much-needed TLC; either way, the spa menus you’re scanning probably offer quite a few different rubdown options and you haven’t the foggiest idea what it all means. Don’t stress: Our guide covers Swedish, Thai and all the popular types of massage in between, so you can find the one that fits the bill.

1. Swedish Massage

Probably the most popular of the massages on our list, the Swedish massage relies on a variety of techniques—effleurage, percussion and kneading, among others—to relieve tension, improve blood circulation and give your mood a boost. Plus, you don’t have to worry about too much discomfort during the process, since Swedish massage is one of the gentler types available. (The practitioner will also use oil on your skin to prevent any surface irritation due to friction.) The takeaway? Swedish massage is a pleasant and relaxing experience from start to finish (and after) that boasts recognized benefits for pretty much anyone.

2. Hot Stone Massage

This moderate pressure massage therapy combines Swedish massage techniques with the use of heated volcanic stones to improve blood circulation and ease pain. Depending on the practitioner, this massage might involve both hot and cold stones—the latter being used to reduce inflammation and soothe the skin. (Don’t worry, though, the temperature of the stones is never high enough to cause pain or skin damage.) Like other types of massage, a hot stone massage is designed to reduce pain, ease muscle tension and promote a general sense of well-being. 

3. Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage has some overlap with Swedish massage in that both techniques use similar strokes. That said, as you might guess, deep tissue massage involves applying considerably more pressure than Swedish massage in order to target the inner layers of muscle tissue. Deep tissue massage is not for the faint of heart and the experience is typically less relaxing compared with other techniques, so it’s best suited for folks who can handle some discomfort. However, according to a 2014 study published in The Scientific World Journal, the potential payoff is a reduction in muscle tension and considerable relief for those who suffer from chronic pain. 

4. Shiatsu Massage

This form of traditional Japanese bodywork involves using the fingers, thumbs, palms and sometimes elbows to apply relatively deep pressure to specific areas in an effort to reduce tension and improve blood flow. The technique relies on Eastern acupressure principles to correct your Qi (i.e., energy flow) and is purported to have a wide range of health benefits, such as alleviating lower back pain, according to one study out of St. Luke’s General Hospital in Tokyo, Japan. Aside from that, research on the benefits of Shiatsu is lacking, but if you’re looking for someone to go to town on your knots, it certainly won’t hurt to give it a try. (OK, maybe it will hurt a little.)

5. Reflexology

Reflexology is a type of massage that revolves around the traditional Chinese belief that certain pressure points in the hands, feet and ears correspond to other organs in the body. During a reflexology massage pressure is applied to these points in order to achieve a whole host of health benefits. That said, very few of the purported benefits have been backed by science, and reflexology is not an accepted form of medicine when it comes to serious health issues. Still, a reflexology session is risk-free, since it’s essentially just a special kind of foot rub—and according to research published in The Journal of Education and Health Promotion, it might be an effective way to ease stress and anxiety.

6. Thai Massage

Thai massage is distinct from the rest in that it combines yoga-like body positioning with massage techniques. The end result is a far more participatory massage experience that involves stretching and movement, in addition to pressure being applied to certain areas of the body. Another unique feature of Thai massage is that the practitioner will apply said pressure with more than just their hands—often putting their elbows, forearms and even feet to work throughout the process. To be sure, it’s a different and far more active massage experience, however, you’ll reap quite a few rewards if you’re up for it: Research shows that Thai massage can help reduce back pain, increase joint mobility and relieve headaches.

7. Sports Massage

As the name suggests, this type of massage is designed for athletes, but gym rats and casual exercisers alike can benefit from sports massage. There is no single method used in a sports massage; instead, the masseuse typically uses a combination of multiple techniques (stroking, kneading, compression and trigger points, to name a few) to improve joint range of motion and flexibility while reducing muscle tension. In fact, numerous studies—like this one published in The Journal of Athletic Training—suggest that sports massage can indeed be effective at alleviating post-workout muscle soreness. Of course, it also just feels good—like all types of massage, sports massage is intended to leave you feeling relaxed and happy.

8. Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy massage isn’t so much a type of massage as it is an add-on offered at many spas that involves the use of essential oils during a massage therapy session, be it deep tissue, Swedish or some other type. During an aromatherapy massage, essential oils may be applied directly to the skin or simply diffused into the air—either way, the idea is that these oils have benefits when it comes to relaxation, mood and pain management. There’s very little science to support these claims, but aromatherapy massage is nevertheless a safe and undeniably nice-smelling type of massage. (Note: While the risks of aromatherapy massage are few, not all essential oils are approved for use during pregnancy—so expectant mothers should definitely check with their healthcare provider before booking a session.)

9. Trigger Point Massage

A trigger point is just a fancy way of saying “a knot”—you know, those little marbles of misery that form in your muscles. Of course, not all knots are tender, but the ones that are can cause a great deal of soreness, and sometimes even pain that radiates to surrounding areas. As you might’ve guessed, trigger point massage is a form of bodywork that focuses on identifying these knots and then breaking them up, or releasing them, by bringing fresh blood to the area. This type of massage is particularly popular among those who suffer from chronic pain—namely because it can significantly reduce muscle tension and soreness when performed properly. It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to strip down for the session, though lightweight clothing is recommended.

10. Prenatal Massage

There’s no mystery here—prenatal massage is a type of massage that’s specifically designed and deemed to be safe for pregnant women. It’s also no secret that pregnancy involves quite a few aches and pains, particularly in the second and third trimester, which is most likely the only time you’ll be able to find a massage therapist who will address the problem. (The vast majority of massage therapists steer clear of women in their first trimester, due to the higher risk of miscarriage.) If you book a prenatal massage you can expect to enjoy the rubdown while lying on your side or belly—in the latter instance, you’ll be atop a special table with a cutout for your bump. Once you’ve settled in, the practitioner will perform a massage using light pressure to ease pain in your lower back, hips and legs (i.e., the regions most burdened by your bundle of joy). Overall, the experience is great for relaxing, relieving tension and giving yourself a little love.

11. Chair Massage

Here, a good ol’ fashioned (and fully-clothed) shoulder rub performed by a professional for instant stress relief. The session is short but sweet—usually between ten and thirty minutes—and is typically performed in a special kind of chair that you straddle, providing the massage therapist with access to more of your back. In other words, this is an efficient way to unwind without making a whole ordeal out of it—you might even consider getting one on your lunch break.

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