Massage therapy

Massage is a treatment that aims to relax, revive and heal the body. Using manual hands-on movements and manipulation of the soft tissues and muscles in the body, massage therapy works to promote healing and enhance a person’s overall well-being.

There are many forms of massage therapy, each with its own benefits. No longer is massage thought of as a luxury, only available to those who can afford it. Treatment is available for anyone, whether for relaxation purposes, sports recovery or pain relief.

On this page, we'll explain more about the different types of massage therapy and the benefits, what to expect from a session and how to find a massage therapist.

What is a massage?

A massage is the stroking, kneading, rolling and pressing of the skin and muscles. There are many different styles, each with different origins and aims, but the premise of the treatment is the same - to relax and rebalance the body and to make you feel good.

With more than 250 variations of massage and bodywork therapies available around the world, understandably, it can get a little overwhelming. Below we look at some of the most common forms of massage, to help you learn which type of massage might be right for you.

Common types of massage

Swedish massage

Swedish massage is designed to improve circulation, soothe muscles and improve relaxation. It uses five main techniques; stroking and gliding, kneading, rubbing, tapping or pounding, and vibration. Swedish massage is what you probably consider a ‘typical’ massage.

This form of massage helps to stimulate the skin and nervous system and exercises the ligaments and tendons to keep them supple. The process can be incredibly relaxing and is championed for its ability to reduce both emotional, and physical stress.

Deep tissue massage

Deep tissue massage uses slow, firm strokes and pressure to help ease and release tension deep in your muscles. Commonly used to treat chronic aches and pains and tension in the neck, back and shoulders, deep tissue massage is an intense but effective treatment.

Deep tissue massage is actually a blanket term, describing a number of therapies (such as sports massage and lymphatic drainage) and occurs, in some form, in many massage treatments. Deep tissue massage is commonly used for medical reasons by physiotherapists and chiropractors, or through GP referral.

Prenatal massage

Designed to ease stress and relieve any aches and pains in the body during pregnancy, prenatal massage can help to relax and prepare expectant mums for labour. Prenatal massage is a gentle therapy, involving light, rhythmic techniques, tailored to the woman’s needs and the current stage of pregnancy. Typically, pillows and/or a massage table will be used to enhance comfort and support the body during treatment.

Postnatal massage

Postnatal massage is designed to help both the mind and body adjust and recover from childbirth. Using gentle techniques, benefits include reduced stress and improved sleep. Also thought to ease aches and pains, speed up recovery and rebalance hormones, postnatal massage is available to new mums as soon as they feel ready.

Remedial massage 

Remedial massage can be effective in preventing and treating muscle injuries and pain. Commonly used to treat back pain, remedial massage uses deep tissue techniques to help remove blockages and damaged cells in the body. This helps to reduce recovery time after injury, and encourage healing.

Sports massage

Sports massage is designed to help prevent and treat injuries that can occur as a result of exercise. Sports massage therapists will use a range of deep, intense techniques to restore mobility to an injured muscle. Stretching, compression, toning, and trigger point response techniques similar to acupressure may be used.

Many find sports massage to support them through all stages of training, from injury recovery to prevention of further injury, before and after exercise. Though this treatment isn’t only for athletes, anyone who partakes in regular physical activity can benefit from a sports massage.

Indian head massage

Focusing on the head, neck and shoulders, Indian head massage comes from Ayurveda. Using a range of techniques with varying pressure, Indian head massage is a deep massage that aims to encourage healing and restore balance in the body.

The treatment may be firmer than expected but you shouldn’t feel discomfort. Benefits include an improved sleep routine and a release of tension in your neck, back and shoulders.

There are so many forms of massage therapy, with treatment and techniques varying all over the world. What might work for one person, may not work for you, so be sure to do your research and ask questions.

Other types of massage include:

  • Chinese massage
  • Thai massage
  • amatsu therapy
  • deep lymphatic therapy
  • infant massage
  • hot stone massage
  • lomi lomi massage
  • manual lymphatic drainage
  • shiatsu
  • aromatherapy

There are a number of other therapies that, while they don’t fall under the category of massage, are also designed to promote relaxation, healing and balance in the body, such as reflexology, acupressure, Reiki and Bowen therapy.

Find a massage therapist

Finding a therapist

When searching for a therapist, it is important you check they are suitably qualified to practice.

For your peace of mind, professionals must meet the requirements of our proof policy before becoming a member of Therapy Directory. This means they must provide proof of qualifications and insurance or membership with a professional body (such as the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council).

Searching for a therapist can be overwhelming, especially with so many forms of massage available. We encourage all members to fill their profiles with plenty of information so that you can learn as much about the way they work and their experience as possible.

Preparing for your massage

Once you’ve decided on the type of massage right for you, you’ll need to find a massage therapist and book a session. But what next?

If you’re worried or unsure of how to prepare for a massage, be sure to ask questions. You may have the opportunity to ask questions during your initial conversation, or you may think of questions nearer the time of your session. Whenever the moment occurs, there’s no shame in contacting the therapist to ask. The aim of massage is to relax you - if you need to ask a couple of questions for your own comfort, that’s OK.

You can also speak to friends and family who have had a massage before but be aware that they may have had a different type of massage, for different reasons.

Of course, the questions you ask will depend on the type of massage you have chosen, and the reasons why you are seeking treatment. However, common concerns include:

What do I wear?

A common concern, and one that often puts people off the idea of treatment. It can be awkward, not knowing what to expect and indeed, what clothing (and how much of it) you are to wear and what may be removed. The thing to remember is, the therapist is a professional. If you are worried prior to the session, just ask.

Typically, you are required to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing for treatment. Some massage types require less clothing (with your modesty protected) while others are fully clothed. 

Will oils be used?

Not all treatments use oils, but if you’re concerned or have any allergies, be sure to speak to the therapist before the session. Typically oils are used for two reasons. The first as a lubricant, aiding in the first strokes and movements of the hand to glide on the skin. The second, to promote relaxation through inhalation of the aromas.

Will it hurt?

The pressure applied will vary depending on the type of massage you are receiving. Deep tissue massage is more intense than a hot stone massage, for example. The therapist will explain what to expect at the beginning, but if during treatment you are uncomfortable or the pressure is too firm, speak up.

It is important to tell the massage therapist prior to the session if you have any medical conditions, are pregnant or have recently had an injury. This way they can amend the treatment to suit you.

Remember, a massage is meant to be a pleasant experience, so enjoy the moment. 

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