Top Ten Massage Techniques Explained

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By Marie Dakin

There are many types of massage, each with their own benefits to relieve stress, pain or enhance general wellbeing. Massage is an ancient art with many variations depending on the country of origin. I explore some of the most popular, explaining the treatment and their individual benefits.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage, the most popular worldwide, is also known as ‘Classic massage’ and is the foundation for most other types of Western massage. It involves using firm but gentle pressure to promote relaxation, working on areas of specific muscle tension. It is performed on bare skin using oils or lotions. The therapist uses their hands, forearms or elbows to manipulate the superficial layers of the muscles. Swedish massage shortens recovery time from muscular strain by flushing the tissues of lactic acid, uric acid, and other metabolic wastes by increasing the level of oxygen in the blood, it increases the speed body cells can eliminate their waste materials.

The five basic strokes of Swedish massage include:

Effleurage (sliding or gliding)

Petrissage (kneading)

Tapotement (rhythmic tapping)

Friction (cross fiber)

Vibration/shaking

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep Tissue Massage, as the name implies, focuses on the deeper layers of muscle tissue. Unlike Swedish massage, which is used for relaxation, deep tissue massage focuses on a specific problem, such as: Chronic pain. It treats the connective tissue of the body rather than just the surface muscles. It is similar to Swedish massage but with slower movements and deeper pressure. Deep tissue massage helps to refresh and relax muscles, increasing the blood flow and therefore the oxygen flow around the body. A deep tissue massage is very slow using long, flowing strokes to ease in and out of the muscle. The aim of deep tissue massage is not to leave you feeling relaxed and blissful; rather, it helps to tackle particular physical, muscular problems to relieve pain and restore normal movement.

Sports Massage

Sports massage was designed for athletes, but is suitable for anyone with chronic pain, injury or range-of-motion problems. It focuses on the prevention and healing of injuries to muscles and tendons. Sports Massage differs from therapeutic massage in that it is a deeper form of soft tissue massage using specific techniques to treat physically active individuals.

The different types of massage include: Post-event – to bring body tissues to normal state. Restorative – during training allows athletes to train harder and minimise chance of injury. Rehabilitative – aimed at alleviating pain due to injury. A sports massage is a good choice if you have a specific problem sustained through sport. It stimulates circulation of blood and lymph fluids which allows for optimal metabolic exchanges, enhanced recovery after intense training, better performance and decreased onset of muscle soreness as well as reduces the possibility of injury.

Indian Head Massage

Popular in Asia Indian Head Massage has been shown to be good at relieving stress, insomnia, headaches, migraine, tension, and sinusitis. The West has caught on to its benefits using it as a quick de-stressing program.

Indian Head Massage is a very relaxing treatment which, as the name suggests, focuses on massaging the head. Indian Head Massage (Champissage) also includes massage of the shoulders, upper arms, neck, scalp, face and ears. The treatment uses a range of different movements including deep kneading and compression movements over the neck, shoulder and scalp areas. Performed sitting upright in a chair, it helps to clear the mind as it revitalizes and improves alertness and concentration levels, whilst improving joint mobility and flexibility in the neck and shoulders.

Reflexology Massage

Reflexology, also known as zone therapy, is based on the concept that there are “reflex” areas on the feet and hands that correspond to specific organs, glands, and other parts of the body. The underlying theory is that if pressure is applied to a specific reflex area, it affects the organ represented.

This seated treatment involves applying pressure to “Zone” areas on the feet and hands with specific thumb, finger and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion. Reflexology stimulates internal organs, boosts circulation and can restore bodily functions to normal. Reflexology promotes healing by stimulating the foot, which increases the flow of vital energy to various parts of the body as well as releases endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers)

Hot Stone Massage

A hot stone massage is a full body treatment that uses smooth flat water heated stones placed along both sides of the spine (the chakra centres). The aim is to relax muscles and relieve tension very quickly. Differently weighted stones are used for different amounts of pressure.

Hot stone massage combines the proven benefits of Swedish massage with the deep heat and pressure provided by using warm basalt stones and soothing oils to relax the muscles, allowing for a deeper and more intense all-over massage. The stones are used as tools to deliver effective tissue and muscle massage at light, medium or deep pressure levels in the treatment of sore muscles, back pain, stress and other common ailments. Benefits include the restoration of the body’s natural balance, deep muscle relaxation, improved circulation and the sensation of all over comfort and warmth.

Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu massage is a traditional hands-on therapy originating in Japan used to achieve the harmony of chi in the body. Shiatsu works on the whole being, from the physical to the spiritual.

Shiatsu, also known as acupressure, is a finger pressure massage which involves acupressure techniques (without the needles) using hand, thumbs, elbows and knees incorporating pressure, holding, rubbing, heating or stretching movements which can be deep and firm. Usually performed on a floor mat or futon, Shiatsu is a deeply relaxing experience which stimulates the body’s own healing systems and brings the body into balance, energetically and physically. Shiatsu massage is best known for relief of stress-related symptoms such as headaches and general muscle tension as well as increasing mental and spiritual awareness.

Neuromuscular Massage

Neuromuscular massage therapy is a deep form of tissue massage for reducing muscle pain through the stimulation of circulation to the nervous system. The theory behind neuromuscular massage is that when a muscle spasms – it is not in the entire muscle, but in a centralized area within the muscle. When blood flow to that area is decreased it may then reverberate to other areas of the muscle, causing pain.

This treatment involves using static pressure focused on a specific area called a trigger point and does not involve massage of the whole body. By applying pressure to the trigger point for several seconds, the lactic acid build-up at the trigger point is dispersed. This relaxes the muscles by increasing the blood flow and oxygen available to them, which releases lactic acid and thus the cause of pain, via the nervous system. Muscle pain and soreness are neutralized by repeated concentrated pressure over the trigger points.

Pregnancy Massage

Pregnancy massage is similar to Swedish massage with several positional adjustments. It is used to ease some of the discomforts associated with pregnancy such as swelling in the legs, muscles and joint aches or reduced flexibility and circulation.

The massage is usually carried out with the mother on her side using special pillows to position her body for the greatest comfort. Also known as pre-natal massage, the treatment helps with relaxation, reduces stress and relieves strained back and leg muscles to correct the posture and reduce back strain. Pregnancy massage aids the circulatory and lymphatic systems, which allows healthy blood flow to the mother and her baby.

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy massage uses highly concentrated plant oils, known as essential oils, which are added to the massage oil or lotion. This technique combines the natural therapeutic properties of essential oils and the healing power of massage therapy. It can be very effective in relaxing and healing the mind, body and spirit and is often described as a very relaxing and rejuvenating experience. The oils are the most important part of the treatment, chosen for their therapeutic effect, and not just the fragrance to “therapeutically” stimulate the nasal/olfactory senses. These are administered as incense, oil diffusers, or scented oils applied directly to the body, depending on the need.

A full body massage using essential oils utilises different strokes directly related to the desired effect, whether to relieve tension, restore energy, aid relaxation and pain relief or to promote a sense of general well-being.

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