Massage 101

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Have you ever noticed how many different types of massages there are? It seems endless! When you’re trying to decided which one is best for you it hard to know where to begin. What’s the difference between a Swedish Massage and a Therapeutic Massage? What is a Postpartum Massage or a Deep Tissue Massage? And what about Shiatsu or Hot Stone? 

In this blog post, I’m going to explain the differences and the benefits of the various modalities so that you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what massage is right for you. I want you to have a great massage experience.

Most massage therapists in the US are trained in Swedish Massage, which is the foundation of Western massage. The primary purpose of Western massage is to relieve muscle pain and promote relaxation. Oils are generally used and the client is undressed but always covered. Here are some of the more common types of Western Massage:

  • Swedish Massage – This is the foundation of all Western Massage

  • Aromatherapy Massage – Used for relaxation. It's a basic Swedish Massage with the addition of essential oils

  • Therapeutic Massage – Any Swedish Massage that aims to reduce pain or discomfort.

  • Trigger Point – A trigger point is a highly sensitive and painful area in a muscle. With Trigger Point Therapy, a type of Therapeutic massage, the pain point is located and released.

  • Myofascial Release – Fascia is connective tissue that encases all muscles and organs. It can be painful when it adheres to muscles. This therapeutic massage technique uses slow pressure to release the tissue.

  • Deep Tissue Massage – True “Deep Tissue” Massage is also known as Rolfing or Structural Integration. This is very deep work performed over a series of sessions (usually 10). The therapist systematically works through layers of muscles.

  • Prenatal and Postpartum Massage – This type of massage is for women who are pregnant or have just given birth. This massage can be either relaxing or therapeutic. It is often therapeutic and addresses imbalances caused by postural misalignment.


Massage therapists who train in Eastern massage will generally takes a more holistic approach, balancing the body and all of its parts, including the nervous and digestive systems. This style of massage tends to be more medical but always holistic. It also relies on the body’s ability to heal itself using the movement of energy. There may be stretching and hand placement but the main purpose is to move energy. The client is dressed during the session. No oils are used.

Here are some examples of Eastern Massage:

  • Shiatsu – This is a type of acupressure where the therapist uses hands, thumbs, elbows and knees to move energy along energy points called meridians. It also involves stretching. This is done on the floor and the client is comfortably dressed.

  • Thai Massage – This is traditionally done on the floor but can also be done on a table. It combines acupressure and assisted yoga stretching. I sometimes describe it as someone doing yoga to you.

  • Tui Na – This literally means “pushing and grasping.” It is part of Chinese medical protocol. Although not relaxing, it is therapeutic and generally has good results.

  • Reiki – This is a massage technique that originated in Japan. It promotes stress reduction and relaxation. Hands are placed on the body in a specific order to encourage energy flow. The belief is that if energy is flowing freely the body is healthy. When the energy is stuck it leads to an imbalance.

  • Reflexology – This focuses only on the feet. There are points on the feet that correspond to various organs in the body. The thinking is that by working the feet the corresponding body parts can be healed.


Hopefully you have a better understanding of your massage choices. Not all massage therapists are trained in all modalities. Always ask what training your massage therapist has and what she specializes in. I do mainly Swedish Massage which includes Prenatal and Postpartum. I also do Myofascial Release work and I offer Reiki as an Eastern alternative.

For more information contact me or go to the American Massage Therapy Association.

Is there another massage modality you want information about? If so, please leave a comment below. And be sure to book a massage soon. It’s good for your health!