Wondering what is the difference between massage therapies? Confused about Swedish and deep tissue massage? Do you know what the benefits of sports massage are? Is reflexology a form of massage? And who can benefit from Hot Stone massage? In this article, we’ll explain the differences between the most common types of massage in Ireland. We’ll also explain why or why you might not want to use them.
Differences Between Massage Types
There are two main differences between the various massage therapies. Most fall into one of two categories: Therapeutic massage and remedial massage.
Therapeutic massage focuses on your overall well being and is designed to promote good health through improved circulation, immune system function, and a reduction in stress. Therapeutic massage can also improve muscle tone and skin tone. This form of massage therapy aims to boost your physical and emotional senses.
Remedial massage therapy is designed to improve Range Of Motion and reduce pain in restricted or injured areas of the body. It’s used to both prevent and treat injuries.
1. Deep Tissue Massage
A type of remedial massage which targets the deeper tissue layers of the body, hence the name. The key here is that deep tissue massage therapy targets the deeper layers of fascia (tissue that encloses muscle). Deep tissue is in some ways similar to Swedish massage therapy but has notable differences.
Why would your body need deep tissue massage?
One benefit of this form of massage is that it helps break up scar tissue, which when left untreated, can slow recovery from injury. Deep Tissue helps get blood, vital nutrients, and oxygen to damaged areas.
For back pain sufferers, this form of massage is more effective at reducing pain than a remedial massage.
Inflammation, toxins, and other stresses can slow recovery. Deep tissue helps restore proper function by removing the toxins, reducing inflammation and increasing the range of motion by unlocking restricted areas and rigid tissue. Deep Tissue massage is very helpful for people with bad posture, or chronic pain from muscle tension.
Conditions treated by deep tissue therapy:
- Piriformis syndrome
- Poor posture
- Mobility restrictions
- Back pain (especially low back pain)
- Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
- Osteoarthritic pain
- Tennis elbow
What does it feel like?
Deep tissue is not considered a relaxation massage therapy although some people find it relaxing (especially for those that get regular treatments).
Therapists use hands, fingers, and elbows and the pressure applied can be strong. As the focus is on the scar tissue and adhesions that cause pain, you may feel some discomfort. Your therapist will adjust the pressure according to your tolerance and needs.
Soreness afterwards is normal. The more therapy sessions you have, the less sore you will feel afterwards.
2. Sports Massage
The aim of sports massage is to prepare the body for exercise. Unlike deep tissue massage, which targets the layers around the muscle, sports massage targets the muscle (soft tissue). Sports massage is great for preventing injury as therapists assess your functional movements, posture, and muscle imbalances. A trained massage therapist can then target muscles that need attention and advise you on stretching and mobile exercises.
Who benefits from sports massage?
A common misconception is that this type of massage therapy is only for sports people. Sports massage gets its name from the fact that is the most beneficial form of therapy for athletes and people that partake in regular sports. But anyone can enjoy the benefits. If you dance, walk, lift weights, run, swim, or do any form of regular exercise you can benefit from the therapeutic effects of sports massage.
What does it feel like?
Sports massage involves active manipulation of the muscles. It should feel good, but you won’t fall asleep. Don’t expect a spa pampering. You’ll be actively involved in the treatment and there may be some pain and discomfort. Your pain threshold will determine how much pressure a massage therapist will use.
Experienced practitioners will always do their best to get the maximum benefit with the least amount of pain. Massage should never feel unbearable. This is where it’s important to see an experienced massage therapist. You feel pain because your muscles are tense. Once tension is released, a deep tissue massage will cease to feel painful. Afterwards, it’s normal to feel a little drowsy.
3. Swedish Massage
Swedish massage is a common form of therapeutic massage therapy that’s you can find almost anywhere in the world. The difference between Swedish massage and deep tissue massage is that deep tissue works on a deeper level than Swedish. Both types of massage are often used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. Deep tissue works the fascia (the connective tissue that attaches and connects muscles).
Swedish massage could be considered a more ‘gentle’ form of therapy and is used for relaxation, rather than relieving tension in specific areas.
4. Hot Stone Massage
In this therapy, smooth stones, heated to a specific temperature are placed onto the body. The therapist moves the stones along lines of the body in gentle strokes, applying extra pressure where necessary. The warm pressure induces relaxation and calmness. Stones may be placed along the spine, stomach, chest, feet, and hands. Stroke techniques are similar to those of Swedish massage – long, smooth strokes and circular movements are common.
A hot stone massage is a gentler way to relieve tension than deep tissue or sports massage, for example. It doesn’t target the fascia or deep muscle fibres. It’s normal to feel so relaxed that you doze during the therapy – a sign that the massage is helping relieve stress and anxiety.
Who is hot stone massage for?
Arthritis suffers can experience a reduction in pain thanks to the therapeutic heating effect of the hot stones. Anxiety sufferers and anyone suffering from stress will also benefit from hot stone therapies calming effects. It’s an ideal therapy for the average office worker before or after a long day sitting at a desk.
“Is reflexology a form of massage?”, is a question we often get. Reflexology is a form of massage and its distinguishing feature is that the treatment is focused on the hands and feet. However, it is not a form of foot massage or hand massage for relaxation or muscle release in these areas. The terminology can get a little confusing. Reflexology is based on the theory that certain zones of the body are affected by pressure points on both the hands (palms) and feet (soles).
Reflexology treats conditions in other parts of the body. It is not a massage technique for relieving tension in the hands or feet. The effects of pressure and manipulation of zones in the sole of the foot, for example, should affect other parts of the body. Where depends on the exact point a therapist targets. Pressure on points in the hands and feet improves blood circulation in organs and other reflex areas of the body.
6. Indian Head Massage
One of our favourite types of massage, this form of therapy helps release the tension that builds up in the head, neck and shoulders. Office work, stress, lack of sleep, and bad posture can all create tension from the neck upwards. Great for unwinding at the end of the day.
Indian head massage is a therapeutic technique that uses pressure in circles on the scalp, deep tissue massage style strokes on the neck and shoulders, and tension-releasing stretches of the neck. Oils are used on the shoulders, back and neck, but not on the head itself so you won’t need to wash your hair afterwards. An Indian head massage is usually performed with the client lying on a massage table for maximum benefit.
The Benefits of Indian Head Massage:
- Stress relief – The perfectly pressured massage strokes are an instant signal to the brain and body to relax. Experienced therapists focus on relieving tension in the parts that need it most.
- Migraine relief – As anyone that has suffered from migraines will know, they are much worse than headaches and difficult to cure. Massage can help most patients with migraines.
- Hair follicle stimulation – recent studies show that regular, short massages increase hair thickness. For anyone worried about hair loss or simply the lack of ‘volume’ of their hair, massage can be a good alternative to drugs.
- Lymphatic system stimulation – The techniques used in Indian head massage are also used in Lymphatic drainage massage to help remove toxins from not only the head and upper body, but the entire system.
7. Thai Massage
Thai massage is a bit different to all the other massage techniques mentioned before. Thai massage practitioners use rhythmic, slow movements and medium pressure to relieve tension and increase flexibility. It’s almost like yoga where someone else is putting your body into the positions you would normally do yourself.
Thai massage is performed fully clothed. Special loose clothing is often supplied.
Oils are not used and the masseur will use their weight to help stretch limbs and release muscle knots. A therapist may sit/kneel on your back or legs while stretching the shoulders arms by pulling them backwards. It sounds quite intense, but it’s a good way to limber up.
There are other forms of massage that are less well known, but equally effective in their own focus area. At the Bodywise Clinic, we offer more than 10 types of massage therapy so you can choose whichever suits your needs best. We’d be happy to advise you on choosing the best option for you.
A fully qualified Complementary Health Practitioner, Siobhan brings over twenty-five years of working and training experience to The Bodywise Clinic. Member of the Irish Massage Therapy Association.
Originally trained in Canada, Siobhán has also studied in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland in the fields of Remedial Deep Tissue and Sports Massage, Lymphatic Drainage Massage, Pregnancy Massage, Dry Needling, Low Level Laser Therapy, Smoking Cessation, Reflexology and Reiki. Siobhán is constantly upgrading her skills and recently studied a course in Orthopaedic Massage and Pain Management.