Massage treatment has been practiced in almost every culture throughout human history, but besides being a way to relax your muscles, you’re probably wondering what else massage does to your body.
It’s quite simple (and powerful!) as soft tissues and muscles in the body are manipulated, boosting your physical and mental health.
It’s a popular therapy, that’s for sure!
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, 25% of men and 21% of women in the US enjoyed a massage last year, with over half of them motivated by health and wellness reasons.
Below we’ve explored 19 different types of massage, the benefits of each one and answered a number of frequently asked questions:
1. Swedish Massage
A Swedish massage should be top of your list if you’re looking for a way to relax, or if you want to experience your first treatment.
It’s all about using long strokes and light-to-firm pressure that will leave you feeling rejuvenated.
Typically your therapist will use five Swedish massage techniques: stroking and gliding, kneading, rubbing, tapping or pounding, and vibration.
If you’re looking to reduce tension or suffering from anxiety then definitely opt for a Swedish massage.
A study by the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program of Emory University, investigated the effects of Swedish massage on people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but who weren’t receiving medical treatment.
Over six weeks participants were separated into two groups: one group received a Swedish massage twice a week, while the other only received light touch massage.
The Swedish massage group reported significantly reduced anxiety scores, with researchers stating it may be an effective treatment for the condition.
It’s great for circulatory issues too. Academics in Malaysia discovered a four-week course of the technique reduced the heart rate and blood pressure of women suffering with hypertension.
2. Sports Massage
A sports massage is, as you’d expect, great for athletes or anyone with a physically demanding lifestyle.
Focus is on the impact of sporting activities on your joints, muscle groups, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues.
To ensure the therapist really hits the spot, you can expect an initial assessment so you get a tailored plan.
Lots of different movements are involved in a sports massage including: Swedish style, stroking, kneading, compression, friction, striking, vibration, gliding, stretching, percussion and trigger points.
The ultimate aim of a sports massage is to improve athletic performance. However, don’t rule it out if you’re not a sporty person!
There have been other reported benefits, including increased flexibility and a greater sense of wellbeing, plus it’s one of the many things to help you sleep.
3. Shiatsu Massage
Shiatsu massage can be traced all the way back to ancient Japan and means ‘finger pressure’.
But be prepared for much more, as your therapist may use their knuckles, elbows, feet and knees.
The idea of energy flow, also known as ‘Ki’ or ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’), is the underlying principle here.
Practitioners believe disruption to the ‘Ki’ causes illness. Shiatsu is about freeing any blockages or imbalances to the Ki flow and rejuvenating the body by restoring energy to where it’s needed most.
It’s also the perfect treatment for loosening up your muscles and improving your circulation.
There are many other benefits too, including easing constipation, decreasing stress and tension and improving symptoms of insomnia.
4. Percussion Massage
Percussion massage has been dubbed the ‘new foam rolling’ by Men’s Health.
Delivered through a percussive massage gun, it packs a powerful punch, reaching deeper into tired muscles to relieve tension and bring blood flow to the area.
You’ll have likely seen professional athletes and fitness influencers promoting massage guns, such as the devices in the popular Theragun range.
That’s because they’re recognised for the way they enhance athletic performance and aid recovery from injury, to mention just a few of the percussion massage benefits.
Watch below as physical therapist, Dr Jo, demonstrates how a percussive tool can be used to relieve back pain:
Reflexology, also known as ‘zone therapy’, is about applying different levels of pressure to your hands, feet and ears.
Theoretically it’s thought that these parts of your body are connected to certain organs and body systems.
If you do suffer from pain and discomfort associated with a medical condition, reflexology may be helpful.
Researchers have reviewed 17 studies that analyze the psychological benefits of reflexology and concluded that is does boost mental wellbeing and help people manage long term health conditions.
6. Thai Massage
Thai massage is different to other techniques as the patient lays on the floor and actively participates.
Only gentle pressure is applied, with stretching incorporated for whole body relaxation.
There are lots of scientifically proven health benefits.
One study discovered that Thai massage can reduce levels of the stress marker present in our saliva.
Another randomized trial revealed it helps to combat fatigue and boost energy levels.
Massage has always been a great way to get the blood pumping. Thai massage in particular works wonders with its yoga-like stretches that fill the body’s tissues with oxygen.
7. Aromatherapy Massage
Aromatherapy massage uses essential oils from plants to improve both mental and physical wellbeing.
Think Roman chamomile, geranium, lavender, tea tree, lemon, ginger, cedarwood and bergamot. Not only do they produce wonderful smells, but each one has a different chemical composition that affects how it’s absorbed and then impacts on our body.
A number of trials have shown how Roman chamomile can help to decrease anxiety.
One study, involving 58 cancer patients, tracked how participants felt before and after an aromatherapy massage.
Findings revealed that the treatment eased anxiety and also offered relief from depressive symptoms.
Suffering from menstrual cramps and looking for solutions?
A double-blind clinical trial discovered that the therapy is great for easing discomfort.
Participants found their pain level was reduced as well as the duration. In fact, the duration of the cramps decreased from 2.4 days to 1.8 days!
8. Hot Stone Massage
When you book a hot stone massage you can expect smooth, heated stones made of volcanic rock to be placed on certain parts of your body.
Typical places would be your spine, stomach, chest, face, palms, feet and toes.
Cold stones may also be used to soothe the skin and calm swollen blood vessels.
It’s an indulgent treatment and the perfect option if you want to gift someone a massage.
As well as sharing similar benefits with other forms of massage like relieving muscle tension and helping to promote better sleep, hot stone massage can treat painful conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Research conducted in Miami found that people with RA benefited from moderate-pressure massage like hot stone therapy.
Participants experienced less pain, greater grip strength and a more extensive range of motion after just one month of treatment.
9. Craniosacral Therapy (CST)
Despite not being as common as other types of massage, Craniosacral Therapy can be used to treat a variety of symptoms.
During your treatment you stay fully clothed, with soft music and low lighting used to help you unwind.
You can expect a gentle hands-on technique that is all about light touch to examine membranes and movements of the fluids in and around the central nervous system.
The Craniosacral Therapy Association says it’s suitable for everyone — from newborn babies to the elderly.
CST is thought to relieve compression in the head, back and neck, easing pain and releasing both emotional and physical stress and tension held in the body.
When reviewed as a therapy for individuals with moderate to severe migraines, CST was shown to be effective for reducing symptoms.
Watch the video below from the Craniosacral Therapy Association as they demonstrate the light touch that is the bedrock of this technique:
10. Deep Tissue Massage
As the name suggests, deep layers of muscle and the surrounding tissue are targeted with the aim of lengthening and relaxing deep tissue.
This results in an intense treatment, as blood and nutrients are carried to your muscles, helping to eliminate toxins.
If any of our readers are suffering from persistent pain (and chronic pain statistics show there are many of us!) or have a sports injury, you need to pay special attention now:
Researchers examined the effects of deep tissue massage on males with ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis.
They discovered that the treatment significantly reduced pain compared to therapeutic massage.
When it comes to helping with recovery, studies have shown that it can also work wonders for ankle injuries.
11. Trigger Point Massage
Wherever there’s muscle tissue, you could develop a small area of tension that feels like a knot or marble under the skin — this is a trigger point.
When someone applies pressure you will either feel absolutely nothing or significant pain!
Trigger point therapy is mostly rubbing and pressing on trigger points, which can relieve tension and feel amazing.
One common form of the treatment is acupuncture.
The underlying belief of acupuncture is that an illness is the result of blocked or interrupted ‘chi’ (similar to ‘Ki’ we mentioned earlier, but this is the Chinese spelling as acupuncture has roots in China). ‘Chi’ provides your body with healing energy.
Through acupuncture these blockages are eradicated and your energy flow can hopefully go back to normal.
You can expect fine needles to be inserted into certain parts of the skin as part of this process.
The Journal of Pain concluded that acupuncture should be recommended if you’re looking for alternative ways to manage pain.
Another way to treat trigger points is through the ancient Chinese therapy acupressure, a blend of acupuncture and reflexology.
During treatment the therapist will apply pressure to ‘acupoints’ and by doing so will stimulate your nerve center, boost your circulation and get the flow of energy moving around your body.
You can even enjoy acupressure at home by investing in an acupressure mat. When you lay on one, the plastic or metal points will replicate the treatment.
12. Head and Scalp Massage
A head and scalp massage is a pure sensory pleasure. You can sit there, close your eyes, relax and enjoy.
But did you know that besides placing you in a total zen-like state, this type of massage may ease headaches, cut down feelings of stress and even boost hair growth. Amazing, right?
Don’t just take our word for it, listen to the American Massage Therapy Association.
They have reported that a scalp massage may help decrease the intensity, duration and frequency of tension headaches.
If you’re experiencing hair loss or thinning then you need to hear this.
Scientific research from Japan has proven scalp massage can increase hair thickness.
As part of the process, cells within hair follicles are stretched. This, in turn, stimulates the follicles to produce much thicker hair.
Also blood vessels are dilated beneath the skin and this encourages hair growth.
That’s not all:
Another piece of research which tracked 340 participants suffering from alopecia, revealed twice-daily scalp massages improved hair loss for 69% of participants.
13. Foot Massage
After a hard day, we could all do with a calming foot massage. They’re relaxing and may relieve muscle aches.
As Harvard Medical Schools explains, foot massage is excellent for improving circulation, stimulating muscles, reducing tension and easing pain.
Also paying close attention to your feet helps you watch out for other complaints like blisters, bunions, corns and toenail issues.
You can enjoy a foot massage in the comfort of your own home by investing in a foot massager — read our roundup of the best products on the market.
14. Myofascial Massage
Myofascial release therapy is all about easing pain in the thick connective tissues that support your muscles, known as myofascial tissue.
Think of myofascial as being a network of tissues that connects muscles, joints and bones, as well as providing support to and keeping your organs in the right place.
Do not expect this to be gentle as it’s a very hands-on approach to pain management.
The pressure is applied with the therapist’s hands, elbows or a tool like a foam roller or ball.
Having regular therapy can improve the body’s natural recovery process, alleviate stress, cut down any soreness and help with overall relaxation.
In the video below, Massage Sloth Ian Harvey, demonstrates the basics of the technique and answers a number of frequently asked questions:
15. Compression Massage
Compression therapy dates back to ancient times when it was used as a way to heal wounds and inflammation.
But what does it entail?
Compression therapy is all about using controlled pressure to increase blood flow in your legs, supporting your veins and decreasing swelling.
If you want optimum effectiveness then you need to combine compression therapy with movement.
When you move around, your calf muscles move and compression helps to pump blood back to the heart, reducing swelling.
It’s ideal for anyone that stands or sits for large chunks of time and works wonders for varicose veins.
Compression socks are great if you’re looking for support for your Achilles and arches or if you suffer with arthritis, muscular swelling or stress fractures.
In fact, even if you don’t suffer from these conditions, there are a number of compression products on the market designed for improving your sporting performance.
16. Chair Massage
A chair massage involves sitting in a more upright position. Instead of laying on a table, you kneel in a specialized chair that has a padded face cradle to support your head and chest.
Although chair massages are limited to the upper body, you can still enjoy full body benefits.
Awender Chiropractic states states that a chair massage has a wealth of health advantages.
It can lead to a reduction in stress levels, greater physical flexibility, a stronger immune system, and enhanced athletic performance.
You can get your own personal massage therapist at home when you purchase a massage chair.
We’ve written a guide on how to choose the right massage chair to help you make sense of all the functions and features.
17. Couple’s Massage
As you may have guessed, this is not a massage for one but for two.
Enjoy a treatment with your partner, friend or relative in the same room at the same time.
Dr. Dana McNeil, founder of the Relationship Place in San Diego, explains the relationship benefits of couples massage.
She describes how it can be a fantastic way to open up to your partner emotionally and break down any defences.
You’ll both be placed into a calm, stress-free environment that will allow you to communicate better.
18. Pregnancy Massage
A pregnancy massage is a gentle treatment tailored to the aches and pains of expectant mothers, encouraging deep relaxation.
Research by the University of Miami School of Medicine found massage therapy to be powerful for many of the issues associated with pregnancy, including anxiety, lack of sleep and back and leg pain.
Another study looking at pregnant women with depression, found that massage increased the ‘feel good’ hormones serotonin and dopamine and decreased the stress hormone cortisol.
Reiki means ‘mysterious atmosphere, miraculous sign’ and comes from the Japanese words ‘rei’ (meaning universal) and ‘ki’ (meaning life energy).
Like shiatsu and trigger point therapy, it’s all about energy healing and removing blockages to reduce symptoms of illness.
Even though reiki is becoming more popular today, there’s very little evidence that demonstrates medical benefits.
Scientists state high quality research into its effectiveness is non-existent.
Don’t rule it out completely though, as an article in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine found ‘reasonably strong support’ for reiki being effective when it comes to reducing pain and anxiety in people with chronic health conditions.
FAQs about Massage
What are the benefits of massage?
Massage therapy has many benefits for both your physical and mental wellbeing, including:
- Lowering stress and increasing relaxation
- Improving immune function
- Reducing heart rate and blood pressure
- Improving circulation
- Boosting mental health and wellness
- Improving physical fitness
- Managing pain
We discovered a number of studies that have shown how it can help with many medical conditions such as digestive disorders, fibromyalgia and headaches.
What type of massage should I get?
There are many different types of treatment available. Think about what outcome you’re hoping for then speak to a medical professional who will be able to recommend which treatment could be right for you.
What is the best type of massage for stress relief?
If you’re feeling stressed and frazzled, you might want to consider a shiatsu massage. The technique has been scientifically proven to promote emotional and physical calm.
How does massage work?
The University of Minnesota explain that massage causes a physiological change in the human body in two ways. It triggers:
- A relaxation response caused by the nervous system responding to different techniques and touch.
- A mechanical response which are physical effects caused when pressure is applied to soft tissue.
How often should you get a massage?
Massage frequency really depends on the type you want, the area you want to treat and your budget. When it comes to your personal needs, speak to a medical professional for advice.
Do massage guns work?
Benefits of massage guns include enhanced athletic performance, improved sleep and can even help to prevent injuries.
How much does a massage cost?
Data from Thumbtack shows that the average cost of a massage is $100 per session.
Of course this varies depending on where you’re based (it’s likely to be more expensive in the city as the cost of setting up a practice is more), the setting (fitness clubs may be cheaper to attract members) and the therapist’s background (based on experience and training).
We suggest you shop around and do some research to find the best deal for you!
Is it safe to get a massage?
For most people massage is safe and effective. However, before you commence any treatment you should consult with a medical professional.
Want Your Own Massage Therapist at Home?
Now you know the many different massage techniques available, you might want to start experiencing them at home!
Take a look at our shortlist of the best back massagers on the market, including a seriously powerful tool that costs less than $60…