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Types of Massage Therapy Treatments

There are many types and flavours of massage therapies. Most of the Western based massage therapies build on a school of massage known as Swedish Massage. The massage techniques taught in Swedish Massage form the foundation of the techniques used across many other types of Western massage therapies.

This article will introduce you to the techniques of Swedish massage along with the other foundational massage therapies and the various specialist massage therapies that have evolved from them, as well as some non-Western massage therapy modalities.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is among the oldest and most widely practiced Western-based massage therapy today. In addition, it's techniques are widely used as the foundation for teaching other Western modalities.

In the 1800s specific massage techniques were codified into a particular style, by a Dutch doctor Johann Georg Mezger, that later become known as Swedish Massage.

There are five main techniques used in Swedish Massage:


"to lightly touch or to skim"

Effleurage involves long gliding strokes along the body using the fingers and flattened hands. Effleurage increases circulation by increasing the temperature of muscles and preparing them for more vigorous massage techniques. Massage therapists use a slow pace of strokes to decrease stress and reduce tension and faster for clinical intent such as sports massage.


"to knead"

The petrissage massage technique involves stretching, kneading and squeezing soft tissues and underlying muscles. It can be slow and light for relaxation or fast and with deeper pressure for clinical intent. It is performed with the padded palmar surface of the hand and the surface of the fingers or thumbs.



Rhythmic tapping of muscle tissue increases local blood circulation which helps to warm and soften the muscle tissue. There are five types of tapotement: 1. Beating - closed fist lightly hitting area; 2. Slapping (use of fingers to gently slap); 3. Hacking (use the edge of hand on pinky finger side); 4.Tapping (use just fingertips); 5. Cupping - shape your hand into a cup shape to gently tap the area.


A rubbing motion applied to a specific area, typically using just the fingers or thumbs. Compression can be applied in a circular rhythm (Circular Friction) or perpendicular rhythm (Transverse Friction).

Friction can be executed with a deeper pressure to remodel scar tissue and soften adhesions in muscle tissue.


Rapid shaking or vibrating of specific muscles in which tissues of the body are pressed and released in an "up and down" movement primarily intended to break up adhesions in muscle tissue. This often takes the form of a fine trembling movement applied using the palm of the hand or the fingertips of either or both hands. It is an efficient way to stimulate deeper tissues and organs.

Relaxation Massage

Relaxation massage is a gentle massage designed to relieve muscular tension, increase circulation and generate a sense of relaxation. This type of massage therapy makes use of the Swedish techniques of effleurage and petrissage but with light pressure only. Long, smooth, gliding strokes are used that are both rhythmic and flowing.

Aromatherapy Massage

An aromatherapy massage uses the techniques of a relaxation based massage and gentle Swedish techniques, with the addition of essential oils to further promote positive thoughts and feelings. The calming scent of essential oils diffuse into the air to intensify the relaxation experience.

Pregnancy Massage

A pregnancy massage makes use of gentle Swedish techniques and remedial if applicable. The main difference between this and other types of massage is that after 12 weeks massage should be done in a side-lying position with pillows or towels used to prop up the abdomen. The legs and pelvis should only be lightly massaged.

Trigger Point Therapy Massage

Trigger point therapy is used to target trigger points in the nervous system to get rid of pain and tension. It targets myofascial trigger points found in muscles and fascia, that you would usually experience as a "knot" in the muscle.

Trigger points are released using local compression of the trigger point and local manual stretching along the taut band where multiple trigger points are located, as well as adjacent parts of the taut band.

Myofascial Release Massage Therapy

Myofascial release therapy focuses on relieving pain in your myofascial tissues - the thick connective tissues supporting muscle tissue.

Myofascial pain may be difficult to identify because it can radiate from the area and spread. Usually this tissue feels elastic and pliable but when tight, muscle and joint movement can become restricted.

Myofascial release therapy and trigger point therapy both address stubborn muscle knots but they’re not exactly the same. Trigger point therapy applies direct pressure to specific muscle knots. Whilst myofascial release involves slower stretching and movement across larger areas of tissue with a lighter pressure.

Sports Massage

A sports massage stretches tight muscles, stimulates inactive muscles and improves the condition of soft tissue. Sports massage therapy combines elements of Swedish massage techniques, trigger point, myofascial and remedial massage therapies.

The main benefit of a sports massage is the prevention of sore muscles after exercise. Exercise following massage also becomes more efficient and some of the common ailments after exercise are prevented.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage uses the techniques of Swedish massage but is characterised by the use of greater pressure to push deeper into the muscle. It is highly effective in providing a full-body massage targeting trigger points and knots. When the massage begins, it usually starts with lighter pressure to warm up the muscles and then works into using deeper pressure.

Knots, also known as muscle adhesions are bands of rigid and painful muscle tissue that can inhibit circulation and cause pain and inflammation. Techniques used in deep tissue massage therapy include stripping, deep pressure along the length of your muscle fibres, and friction, pressure across the grain of your muscle to break up adhesions and align tissue fibres.

Lymphatic Drainage Massage

This specialist massage technique focusses on the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. This type of massage is intended to help the body maintain proper blood circulation, body fluid balance, and immune functions. It involves light, skin-stretching massage movements that promotes the movement of lymphatic fluid out of swollen limbs.

The following types of lymphatic drainage massage techniques are commonly used:

1. Vodder - repetitive, circular and spiral shaped sweeping motions with the hands.

2. Foldi - based on the vodder, alternating between circular hand movements and relaxation movements.

3. Casley-Smith - circular hand motions using the sides and palms of the hands.

4. Leduc - hand motions designed to collect lymph fluid and redirecting it so it may be reabsorbed into the lymphatic system.

Remedial Massage

This type of massage requires a diploma qualification and is the only massage therapy specialisation that can be claimed against private health insurance extras cover.

Remedial massage involves assessment, analysis and treatment and makes use of a wide range of massage techniques including Swedish, deep tissue, trigger point, stretching and strengthening exercises, joint mobilisations and myofascial release, assisted stretching, cupping and dry needling.

It is intended as a targeted treatment for pain and injury and aims to treat damaged, knotted, tense or immobile muscles using various techniques to locate and promote healing of the affected muscles. In this way, remedial massage has more of a focus on the parts of the body requiring rehabilitation.

Therapeutic Massage

Therapeutic massage is similar to remedial massage in that both are aimed at analysis and treatment. Like remedial massage, any of a range of massage specialities can be used in treatment. A therapeutic massage therapist will tailor massage techniques depending on client needs.

Therapeutic massage is often relaxing but the end goal is not relaxation. It will not only relax your whole body but, at the same time, work through some of the muscle issues and "knots".

Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu massage is a practice that evolved in Japan based on traditional Chinese medicine with elements of Western massage therapies. In Japanese shiatsu means "finger pressure".

It relies heavily on the use the fingers, thumbs, palms and feet, applying pressure to various areas of the body in order to help heal common ailments and conditions, and correct imbalances in the body.

Whilst making use of Western massage techniques, Shiatsu practitioners also focus on connections between physical health conditions and blockages and imbalances in the body's flow of energy.

Hawaiian Massage

Also known as Lomi Lomi which means both "massage" and "loving hands" or Kahuna massage. It originated in Hawaii based on early Polynesians techniques, which the Hawaiins infused with their own unique style. Hawaiin covers a variety of massage styles that vary between families as they are passed down through generations.

This massage style is rhythmic and vigorous. Hands, elbows, fingers and forearms are used to move rhythmically around the table. The rhythmic motions have a deeply relaxing effect different from the muscle relaxation from other massage modalities.

The other aspect that sets this massage style apart is the use of intent by the massage therapist as they are trained to be focussed on the client with an attitude of compassion and love.

Thai Massage

Thai massage actually originated in India and has been around for over 2,500 years. traditional Thai massage includes influences from both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine.

Unlike other forms of massage, Thai massage involves remaining fully clothed on a mat on the ground while the therapist uses stretching, pulling, and rocking techniques to relieve tension, promote relaxation, and improve flexibility and circulation. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as assisted yoga.

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