a guide to

Different Massage Types

and their Benefits

Different Massage Types and their Benefits

The practice of using touch as a healing method is rooted in ancient history, with massage therapy forming a significant part of medicine in many different culture. The first written records of massage therapy are found in China and Egypt, with the popular Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine , and incredible Egyptian tomb paintings that depicted their medical traditions.

Considering the long history of massage, its existence in Western medicine is still only in its infancy. That said, the growth and research into the healing properties of therapeutic massage has fast gained momentum, and public demand for massage therapy is at an all time high.

Today, massage is seen everywhere from spas, gyms, and workplaces to hospitals, nursing homes, and birthing centres. It’s also used heavily in physical therapy and chiropractic clinics to increase circulation and expedite the healing of injured muscles.

Once considered an ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ form of medicine, therapeutic massage is now one of the most recommended and sought after practices when it comes to maintaining good health and wellbeing.

What can massage therapy help to treat?

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Headaches
  • Cancer and stroke symptoms
  • Palliative care
  • Fractures and edema
  • Post-surgical rehabilitation
  • Pregnancy and labour support
  • Back, leg, and neck pain
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sports injuries
  • Muscle tension and spasm
  • Stress
  • Tendinitis and whiplash

Massage can also be a regular part of managing illness and chronic conditions, such as:

  • Asthma and emphysema
  • Arthritis and bursitis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Different forms of massage

Massage and bodywork therapies are often complex mixtures of holistic healing practices that involve physical, emotional, and spiritual components. As a result, the number of different therapies out there is huge - in fact, there are over 200 different massage techniques and types, all treating different needs and providing various benefits.

REMEMBER

Before you decide on what type of massage is for you, you should ask yourself what it is you’re hoping to achieve from your massage.

  • If it’s relaxation and the opportunity to destress, then a therapeutic massage style may be the answer.
  • If you’re hoping to enhance your athletic performance, then a therapeutic sports massage would work.

Talking to your therapist about what it is you want from your massage will ensure you receive the best benefits possible. Many therapists use more than one form of massage and can customise your massage to suit your age, condition, or any special needs/goals you may have.

But before you turn up to your appointment feeling confused at all the different options available, let’s start by looking at the features of some of the most common forms of massage out there.

Relaxation massage

The Swedish - or any other relaxation type massage - is one of the most popular and effective methods. These form of massages target the upper layers of muscles, using techniques like:

  • Gentle strokes,
  • Gentle muscle lifting,
  • Taps, and
  • Chopping motions to help relieve stress in the muscles.

Relaxation types of massage actually do go beyond just relaxation. It’s exceptionally beneficial for:

  • Increasing the level of oxygen in the blood,
  • Decreasing muscle toxins, and
  • Improving circulation and flexibility while easing tension.

The movements used in these massage styles warm up the muscle tissue, releasing tension, and gradually breaking up muscle knots and adhered tissues.

Proof

In a study published in The New York Times, volunteers who received a 45 minute Swedish massage experienced significant decreases in cortisol levels (the ‘stress hormone’) and an increased white blood cell count. That means less and anxiety and stronger fighting power!

Deep tissue massage

A deep tissue massage targets the deep layers of the muscle, using deep, slow, and smooth strokes to ease tension beyond the reach of a relaxation massage. It’s particularly beneficial for releasing chronic muscle tension.

  • The deepest layers of muscle tissue,
  • Tendons, and
  • Fascia.

Neuromuscular massage, a kind of deep tissue massage, specifically targets the trigger points that cause knots, pulled muscles, and headaches.

Proof

A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that people saw a significant decrease in blood pressure after just one 45 - 60 minute deep tissue massage.

Remedial massage

Remedial massage uses specific techniques that:

  • Stretch and lengthen connective tissue and muscles,
  • Reduce pain and discomfort,
  • Bring wellness, and
  • Promote relaxation and mobility.

One of the primary goals of remedial massage is to speed venous blood return from the extremities, shortening recovery time by flushing the tissue of lactic and uric acid and other metabolic wastes.

Remedial massage is extremely beneficial and can help:

  • Relax tension in the muscles,
  • Stimulate blood flow,
  • Break down and eliminate toxins,
  • Relax the nervous system and mind, and
  • Enhance oxygenation of the brain.

The therapeutic effects it offers are based on a person’s individual needs rather than general therapy.

Proof

A study published in the Journal of Complementary Therapy in Clinical Practice found that patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis reported relief following four weekly massages. They also reported stronger grip and a greater range of motion.

Craniosacral therapy

Craniosacral massage techniques focus on the skull and upper spinal column. Extremely light pressure is used to help stimulate the muscles and fluids within the cranium, sacrum, and around the spinal cord to help relieve stress and headaches.

Craniosacral therapy seeks to:

  • Restore the natural position of the bones,
  • Ease joint inflammation,
  • Decrease stress from chronic injuries and migraines,
  • Relieve back and neck pain.

Proof

In a study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, craniosacral therapy improved the sleep of participants and decreased migraines significantly.

Reflexology

Reflexology, while not technically a ‘massage’, uses pressure on the feet and hands with specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques. It’s based on a system of zones and reflex areas that purportedly reflect an image of the body.

Therapists use this mapping to manipulate health through the qi, helping to:

  • Stimulate nerve function,
  • Increase energy,
  • Boost circulation,
  • Eliminate toxins, and
  • Induce a deep state of relaxation.

Proof

A study by Kunz and Kunz found in 2008 that reflexology can have an impact on specific organs, symptoms of illness, and pain reduction.

Sports massage

Sports massage is detailed, focused, and anatomically specific massage that targets and corrects physical strain. It’s geared towards athletes of every kind, from the professional avid tennis player to the supermum who tries to do it all.

Sports massage:

  • Focuses on the areas of the body that are overused and stressed from repetitive and often aggressive movements,
  • Is a useful component in a balanced training regimen,
  • Relieves strain on muscles, and
  • Can help injury from occurring.

Specially designed sports massage can:

  • Promote flexibility,
  • Reduce fatigue,
  • Fortify endurance, and
  • Prepare the body and mind for optimal performance.

Proof

A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that sports massage can affect the cardiovascular system by dilating blood vessels, helping them to work more efficiently to promote circulation. This relieves muscle tension, reduces soreness, makes for a faster recovery, and increases flexibility and range of motion.

Prenatal massage

Massage therapy during pregnancy is a wonderful complement to prenatal care. Massage relieves many of the normal discomforts endured by a pregnant woman, from back and neck pain to leg cramps, headaches, and inflammation. Additionally, it encourages blood and lymph circulation, helping to aid in better sleep.

Proof

Studies have shown that performing massage therapy during pregnancy can help to:

  • Reduce anxiety,
  • Decrease symptoms of depression (often brought on by hormonal changes),
  • Relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and
  • Improve labour outcomes and newborn health.

Aromatherapy massage

Aromatherapy is a holistic method of treating the body, mind, and spirit. Essential oils are applied to the skin as part of aromatherapy massage, where they are then absorbed into the bloodstream and circulated around the body. Depending on the oils used, the blood vessels will either constrict or dilate, thereby raising or lowering blood pressure.

Aromatherapy massage can also be used to:

  • Strengthen the immune system,
  • Help to kill viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections, and
  • Help to encourage restful sleep.

Proof

A 2011 study in Hong Kong showed that aromatherapy massage can help to relieve constipation in patients with advanced forms of cancer.

Acupressure

Acupressure is an ancient Chinese healing method that involves applying pressure to certain meridian points on the body to relieve pain and aid health and wellbeing. The human body has 14 meridians that carry energy throughout the body. These start at the fingertips, connect to the brain, and then connect to the organ associated with that particular meridian.

Acupressure uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body’s natural self-curative abilities. When the pressure points are pressed, the circulation of blood is promoted as well as the body’s life force to aid healing. Acupressure can be a fabulous method of massage for preventing tension from turning into a disease.

What massage is right for me?

Massage and bodywork therapies are often complex mixtures of holistic healing practices that involve physical, emotional, and spiritual components. As a result, the number of different therapies out there is huge - in fact, there are over 200 different massage techniques and types, all treating different needs and providing various benefits.

Asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema

When it’s an effort to breathe, the muscles you use will be overworked and tired. Careful and precise massage of the chest, shoulders, neck, and back can make it easier to breathe, and remedial massage can help restore a good posture and help open up your airways.

Massage recommendations:

Look for massage techniques that use:

  • Deep friction,
  • Kneading,
  • Ischemic compression,
  • Vibration,
  • Percussion, and
  • Deep, gliding strokes.

Postural drainage can also be useful for clearing mucus from the respiratory tract.

Fibromyalgia

Due to the prolonged pathological hyper tonus in muscles in cases of fibromyalgia, fascia becomes tense and causes compression of muscle fibres, nerve tissue, and blood vessels. Over time this constant tension causes pain, which lowers serotonin levels, mediating basic bodily functions such as smooth muscle contraction.

Massage recommendations:

Look for techniques that focus on areas around:

  • Neck,
  • Upper and lower back, and
  • Buttocks.

These areas are often the root of most tension. After ten sessions, it’s recommended you introduce a series of rehabilitative exercises.

Parkinson’s disease

Because Parkinson’s disease typically causes muscle stiffness and rigidity, bodywork’s ability to alleviate joint and muscle stiffness makes massage a logical choice. A full body Swedish or relaxation massage can enhance functioning in progressive or degenerative central nervous system disorders by physically manipulating the musculoskeletal system.

Massage recommendations:

Look to completing a half hour massage that focuses on both the prone position and the supine position, twice a week.

Multiple sclerosis

Massage therapy can help to:

  • Relieve muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis,
  • Improve circulation,
  • Alleviate pain, and
  • Reduce anxiety.

Massage recommendations:

Relaxation or Swedish massage is a good option, as is acupressure. Look for massage techniques that promote intense relaxation. Relaxation allows an individual to enter into a lower anxiety state by increasing parasympathetic signals, which in turn helps to decrease an elevated cortisol release caused by the chronic stress of the disease. This could have a profound effect on MS symptom management and quality of life.

Osteoarthritis

Massage therapy eases the pain that occurs when wear and tear breaks down the cartilage cushions between the joints. It also aids in:

  • Flushing out toxic inflammatory substances that add to pain and swelling,
  • Increasing blood flow,
  • Blocking pain signals that go to the brain, and
  • Releasing stress-reducing chemicals like serotonin.

Massage recommendations:

Deep tissue massage isn’t recommended for acute osteoarthritis, or when there is severe swelling, heat, pain, or redness. Relaxation massage and reflexology are both popular choices, however deep tissue massage and trigger point massage can still be used to ease chronic connective tissue pain.

Stroke

Massage is probably the most effective therapy there is for restoring normal nerve function following a stroke. The intent of massage is to stimulate the nerves in such a way that the nervous system can’t ignore the stimulation. ‘Nerve strokes’ causes the nerve system to track and process the tactile sensations, and the brain is forced to develop new circuitry by establishing cellular connections around the damaged areas.

Massage recommendations:

Look for techniques that focus on nerve strokes, and aim to start treatment as soon after stroke as possible.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a compression of the median nerve at the wrist, and if left untreated can cause severe pain and motor deficits. Massage therapy is a known technique for treating carpal tunnel syndrome as it can help to:

  • Promote circulation,
  • Relieve inflammation,
  • Aid in the removal of metabolic residues, and
  • Soothe irritated muscles and tendons.

Massage recommendations:

Sports massages are particularly effective, but look for any type of massage that effectively relaxes the muscles and tissues in your hands and wrists.

Stress and anxiety

Massage therapy can act to cleanse the body of impurities, break down buildup of toxins in the muscles, and have a calming effect on anxiety. A deep tissue massage reaches deep into the sublayer of musculature and fascia while a relaxation massage will energise the body by stimulating circulation.

Massage recommendations:

Whatever technique you use, look out for five basic strokes to try and relax the mind during your massage:

  • Kneading,
  • Rolling,
  • Vibration,
  • Percussive, and
  • Tapping.

Whichever technique you choose, look for the five basic strokes - kneading, rolling, vibration, percussive and tapping and try to relax the mind during your massage.

Insomnia

As massage increases relaxation, it’s an obvious choice when treating insomnia. Insomnia is associated with a lack of serotonin, an extremely important neurotransmitter that’s essential to our survival. Serotonin is a precursor to the body’s rendering of melatonin, which resets parts of the brain and prepares you for sleep. Massage directly influences the body’s production of serotonin, therefore improving the likelihood of falling asleep. A full body massage shortly before bed is ideal for insomnia sufferers.

Massage recommendations:

Favourite techniques include acupressure, aromatherapy massage, and Swedish massage.

This is just a snapshot of the many benefits that can be achieved through massage therapy. Talk to your massage therapists about any symptoms you’re experiencing and any goals you may have with your massage. Always discuss any pains, medications, and other treatments you may be having.

Looking to be a massage therapist yourself, or want to learn more about this method of healing? Contact Discover Massage Australia today to start your journey to better health through massage.

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