What Are the Different Types of Massages?
Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT — Written by Emily Cronkleton — Updated on November 14, 2018
What is a massage?
There are several types of massage that focus on different parts of the body or healing approaches. Massage is the practice of rubbing and kneading the body using the hands. During a massage, a massage therapist will apply gentle or strong pressure to the muscles and joints of the body to ease pain and tension. A massage therapist is a person trained in giving massages.
Read on to learn about the different types of massage and which type might be right for you.
- Swedish massage
Swedish massage is a gentle type of full-body massage that’s ideal for people who:
are new to massage
have a lot of tension
are sensitive to touch
It can help release muscle knots, and it’s also a good choice for when you want to fully relax during a massage.
For this massage, you’ll remove your clothes, though you may choose to keep your underwear on. You’ll be covered with a sheet while lying on the massage table. The massage therapist will move the sheet to uncover areas that they are actively working on.
The massage therapist will use a combination of:
long, flowing strokes in the direction of the heart
deep circular motions
vibration and tapping
passive joint movement techniques
Usually a Swedish massage will last for 60–90 minutes.
Choose a Swedish massage for relaxation or managing minor pain.
This type of massage is also good for people new to massage.
- Hot stone massage
Hot stone massage is best for people who have muscle pain and tension or who simply want to relax. This type of therapeutic massage is similar to a Swedish massage, only the massage therapist uses heated stones in lieu of or in addition to their hands. It eases muscle tension, improves blood flow, and relieves pain by using heated stones. Hot stone massage may help:
ease muscle tension
improve blood flow
During a hot stone massage, heated stones are placed on different areas around your whole body. Your therapist may hold a stone as they massage different parts of your body using Swedish massage techniques using gentle pressure. Sometimes cold stones are also used.
You don’t wear clothes for hot stone massage unless you’ll feel more comfortable wearing your underwear. You will be covered with a sheet. Usually the massage is 90 minutes long.
Hot stone massage may relieve more muscle tension than a Swedish massage because of the added heat.
This type of massage in usually more expensive than a Swedish massage.
- Aromatherapy massage
Aromatherapy massages are best for people who want to have an emotional healing component to their massage. This type of massage can help:
boost your mood
reduce stress and anxiety
reduce symptoms of depression
relieve muscle tension
Aromatherapy massages combine soft, gentle pressure with the use of essential oils. Your massage therapist will usually decide which essential oils to use, but you can let them know if you have a preference. Essential oils are diluted before being applied to the skin.
During the massage, you’ll be given a full-body massage while inhaling essential oils through a diffuser and absorbing them through your skin. Sometimes an aromatherapy massage will only focus on your back, shoulders, and head. You won’t wear any clothing other than underwear, which is optional.
An aromatherapy massage is 60–90 minutes.
Aromatherapy combines the gentle touches of Swedish massage with the addition of essential oils.
Do not use this type of massage if you’re sensitive to smell or essential oils.
- Deep tissue massage
Deep tissue massage uses more pressure than a Swedish massage. It’s a good option if you have chronic muscle problems, such as soreness, injury, or imbalance. It can help relieve tight muscles, chronic muscle pain, and anxiety.
During a deep tissue massage, your massage therapist will use slow strokes and deep finger pressure to relieve tension from the deepest layers of your muscles and connective tissues. You can be naked during this massage or wear your underwear.
The massage will last for 60–90 minutes.
While deep tissue may be more intense, you shouldn’t feel any pain or soreness.
Deep tissue massage is a good option if you have a lot of muscle tension or chronic pain.
Avoid this type of massage if you’re overly sensitive to pressure.
- Sports massage
Sports massage is a good option if you have a repetitive use injury to a muscle, such as what you may get from playing a sport. It’s also a good option if you’re prone to injuries because it can be used to help prevent sports injuries. You may also use sports massage to increase flexibility and performance. Additionally, sports massage can be used to relieve pain, anxiety, and muscle tension.
A sports massage can be done as a full-body massage or the massage therapist may focus on the parts of the body that need the most attention. Deep pressure may be alternated with soothing strokes depending on your needs.
You can have a sports massage while clothed or naked. If you prefer to wear clothing, make sure it’s thin, loose, and allows the therapist access to your muscles. Loose shorts and a tank top are options.
The massage will last for 60–90 minutes.
Sports massage is a good option if you have an injury from repetitive muscle use.
This type of massage may also help improve flexibility and sports performance, and reduce your risk for injury.
- Trigger point massage
Trigger point massages are best suited for people who have injuries, chronic pain, or a specific issue or condition. Sometimes areas of tightness in the muscle tissues, known as trigger points, can cause pain in other parts of the body. By focusing on relieving trigger points, this type of massage can reduce pain.
Trigger point massage uses broad, flowing strokes that are gentle and relaxing combined with stronger, deeper pressure. The massage will include work on your entire body, though your therapist will focus on specific areas of your body that need to be released. You can wear lightweight clothing for the massage or be fully or partially undressed.
This type of massage will usually last for 60–90 minutes.
Trigger point massage can help you manage chronic pain.
Wear lightweight clothing for this type of massage.
Reflexology is best for people who are looking to relax or restore their natural energy levels. It’s also a good option if you aren’t comfortable being touched on your entire body. Reflexology uses gentle to firm pressure on different pressure points of the feet, hands, and ears. You can wear loose, comfortable clothing that allows access to your legs.
A reflexology massage lasts for 30–60 minutes.
Reflexology focuses on pressure points in your feet, hands, and ears.
This is a good option if you’re uncomfortable being touched over your entire body. You can also be fully clothed during this type of massage.
- Shiatsu massage
Shiatsu massage is best for people who want to feel relaxed and relieve stress, pain, and tension. It’s a Japanese type of massage that:
promotes emotional and physical calm and relaxation
helps to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression
may relieve headache
reduces muscle tension
Shiatsu massage works the whole body, but your therapist may focus on areas of your body that need extra attention. During the massage, your therapist will use their hands, palms, and thumbs to massage certain points of your body. Pulsing or rhythmic pressure is used. You can be fully clothed during this massage.
Shiatsu massages typically last for 60–90 minutes.
Shiatsu is a good option if you’re looking for a relaxing massage. It may also help release minor tension.
You can be fully clothed during this type of massage.
- Thai massage
Thai massage is best for people who want a more active form of massage and want to reduce and relieve pain and stress. It can also help improve:
Thai massage works the entire body using a sequence of movements that are similar to yogic stretching. Your therapist will use their palms and fingers to apply firm pressure to your body. You’ll also be stretched and twisted into various positions. You can wear loose, comfortable clothing during the massage.
Thai massage lasts for 60–90 minutes.
Thai massage is more active than other forms of massage, and the therapist will stretch your body in addition to providing a massage.
This is another type of massage where you remain fully clothed.
- Prenatal massage
Prenatal massage can be a safe way for women to get a massage during pregnancy. It can help reduce pregnancy body aches, reduce stress, and ease muscle tension. You can get a massage at any time during your pregnancy. However, many facilities, especially in the United States, do not offer massages to women in their first trimester due to the risk of miscarriage during this time.
Prenatal massage uses mild pressure similar to Swedish massage. The therapist will focus on areas such as your lower back, hips, and legs. You can be fully or partially undressed depending on your comfort level. During the massage, you’ll either lie on your side or on a specially designed table with a cutout for your belly. If you’ve had pain in your calves or other parts of your leg, see a doctor before you have a massage.
The massage will last for 45–60 minutes.
Prenatal massage is a good option for pregnant women.
This type of massage focuses on gentle pressure and is good for relaxation and mild tension relief.
- Couple’s massage
A couple’s massage is a massage that you do with your partner, friend, or family member in the same room. It brings all the benefits of a regular massage and sometimes provides you with access to the spa’s hot tubs, saunas, and other facilities. Other treatments such as pedicures, facials, and body scrubs are sometimes offered as part of a package.
You can usually choose which type of massage you’d like to receive, and you and your partner can each get a different type of massage depending on your preference and the offerings at the spa. Your partner and you will be on tables side-by-side, and you’ll each have your own massage therapist working on your body. You can talk during the massage if you wish.
A couple’s massage is a massage you have in a shared room with a friend, partner, or family member.
You can usually choose from a variety of types of massages to have during your appointment. Swedish and hot stone massages are commonly offered as an option during a couple’s massage.
- Chair massage
A chair massage is best for people who want a quick massage that focuses on your neck, shoulders, and back. A chair massage can also be a way to introduce you to massage if you’ve never had one before. Chair massage also helps to relieve stress and promote relaxation. This type of massage uses light to medium pressure.
During the massage, you’ll remain fully clothed and sit in a specially designed chair. You’ll straddle the chair so that your chest pushes into the back of the chair, allowing the massage therapist to have access to your back.
These massages are usually 10–30 minutes.
A chair massage is a great option if you’re short on time.
This type of massage is also a good option if you’re new to massage.
How to find a massage therapist
You can get a personal recommendation for a massage therapist from a doctor, friend, or an online directory. Or you can book a few massages with different therapists to see which one you prefer. Make sure it’s someone with whom you feel comfortable so that you can fully relax.
Make sure your massage therapist s properly trained and has certificates and state licenses that are up-to-date. You may wish to have a brief conversation with your therapist before beginning your sessions so that you can communicate your expectations and ask any relevant questions.
How much does a massage cost?
Prices vary greatly for massages in the United States. An hourlong massage is usually $50–$150. Most therapists will expect a 15–20 percent tip on top of this. However, some places don’t accept gratuity.
Aromatherapy, hot stone, and prenatal massages tend to be more expensive than standard massages. Depending on the place, some specialty massages such as deep tissue, Thai, or sports massages may run a bit higher, too.
You can check out a massage school in your area or find a massage therapist who works at home if you want to find massages at a more reasonable cost.
Insurance sometimes covers massage therapy if you can show it’s being used to treat a medical condition. Sometimes insurance companies will cover massage therapy if it’s part of chiropractic care.
Massage may be a way for you to feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. Experiment with different types of massage and with different massage therapists to find the type and provider that is most ideal for you.
Always communicate your expectations and intentions with your massage therapist and speak up if there is something with which you aren’t comfortable. Talk to your doctor before getting any type of massage if you have any health concerns or conditions.
Last medically reviewed on June 20, 2018
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