The Definitive Guide to Massages

Understanding what a massage is will help you choose the right one and find the relaxation you seek. You may want a massage and that's simple enough, but there are several types of massage, which fit with different types of people and help with different issues.

It all starts with figuring out your reason for getting a massage and matching the right massage therapy to your reason. There's no need to feel overwhelmed. This definitive guide to massages will become your go-to source for all the information you need about massage and massage therapy.

What is a Massage?

A massage is defined at applying pressure on the body with hands, fingers, elbows, forearms, feet, kneads or with a device. A massage can be used to relieve pain or stress and has become a common form of relaxation.

Receiving a massage in a professional setting means you will be lying on a massage table, lying on a mat on the floor or sitting in a massage chair. If you're getting a massage in an amateur setting, such as your spouse giving you a massage, you're more likely to be lying on a bed or sitting on the couch at home.

It's even possible to receive a massage in a warm-water therapy pool. This type of massage is called aquatic massage, which is performed while you're floating or submersed in the pool of water.

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is defined as the manual manipulation of muscle tissue, connective tissue, ligaments and tendons to increase the health and well-being of an individual. There are dozens of different methods used within massage therapy called modalities.

Many people will seek massage therapy to help with reducing stress, relaxation, reducing pain, rehabilitation from an injury or simply to promote better health and wellness. Massage therapy has been used for centuries by many cultures around the world to help improve overall wellbeing and health.

Where can you Get a Massage?

Most people will seek out a professional massage therapist to provide massage services. This therapist may work at a number of different types of facilities, depending on their specialty. Some of the common places to find massage therapy services include:

  • Hospitals
  • Sports Rehabilitation Facilities
  • Spa Facilities
  • Medical Facilities
  • Chiropractic Clinics
  • Mobile Massage Services
  • Massage Clinics

Many different places offer massage and some will even have massage therapists on staff. The type of massage you need or desire may determine where you go to receive the services. A spa facility may offer more relaxing options, while a hospital or sports rehabilitation facility may offer massage services fit for specific injuries or ailments.

Why is a Massage Beneficial?

Massage therapy offers a number of benefits covering both physical and emotional well-being. Massage can help to relieve pain, relax the boxy and reduce stress. There are several different types of massage therapy, which can provide different benefits.

Some of the most common benefits of massage therapy include:

  • Reduce pain
  • Improve circulation
  • Reduce muscle tension
  • Help with the healing process
  • Improve joint mobility
  • Improve lymphatic drainage
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Relieve headache pain
  • Help with insomnia
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve quality of life
  • Reduce nausea from chemotherapy
  • Manage lower back pain
  • Increase performance for athletes
  • And More!

Depending on the type of massage you receive, your massage could provide a number of physical and emotional benefits. Massage therapy has long been one of the healing choices for a number of ailments, illnesses, diseases and pains found within the human body.

History of Massage and Massage Therapy

Massage and massage therapy have a very long history dating all the way back to 2,700 BCE. This was the first time massage was mentioned in writing, as it was found in the text called, "The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine." This Chinese book was not published in English until 1949, but it clearly shows massage therapy was being used even back in 2,700 BCE. Massage and massage therapy likely date even further back, but this was the first mention in writing.

In 2,500 BCE tomb paintings in Egypt show massage therapy was used as a part of the medical treatment. The culture of Egyptians is also credited for discovering reflexology and had a large impact on other cultures, such as the Romans and Greeks.

India is credited with the first written massage therapy traditions. These date back to between 1,500 and 500 BCE, but the practice could date all the way back to 3,000 BCE. The art of healing touch was the practice known as Ayurvedic medicine, which was used by the Hindus. Ayurveda is translated to life science or life health. It's known as a type of holistic medicine that combines aromatherapy with meditation and relaxation techniques.

About 1,000 BCE saw monks start using massage therapy in Japan. At this time, Japanese monks were studying Buddhism in China. They had observed methods of healing found in traditional Chinese medicine, which included massage therapy. Many Chinese massage techniques were imported to Japan and adopted to fit with the culture. This was about the same time when Shiatsu massage was created to help raise energy levels in patients.

Not long after massage became popular in Japan, Greece saw massage become popular. It started as a practice for athletes and philosophers between 800 and 700 BCE. Many of the technique grew out of those used in Eastern massage therapy.

Athletes in Greece started to use massage in order to keep their bodies in top condition for competition. Many physicians started to use herbs with massage techniques to treat athletes and provide the many benefits they needed. Women in Greece saw the benefit and started to use the oils and massage techniques as beauty treatments.

It took a few centuries, but between 200 and 100 BCE massage started to catch on in Rome. It was used for many physical injuries and diseases of the time. Most of the massage techniques in Rome followed the principles set by Hippocrates, which stated that exercise, healthy diet, rest and massage were necessary for maintaining and restoring the body's health and well-being.

Wealthy Romans were often treated in their own home, but the less fortunate received massage therapy in public baths from trainers and doctors.

Massage therapy caught on in the rest of the European world between the 17th and 19th centuries. It had declined between the years of the Roman Empire and the 1600s before massage became popular again. Many scientists and physicians recognized the benefits and started to use massage again. However, advancements to the Western massage techniques were not made until the 19th century.

While massage and massage therapy date back to nearly the beginning of human history in other parts of the world, it didn't become popular in Western culture until the 1800s. The Swedish Movement System was where it all started in the West with Swedish Doctor Henril Ling.

This system was created by Ling and became the foundation of the Swedish massage used today. Even though Ling developed the system, Johan George Mezger is actually credited with the hand strokes of Swedish massage. This is the most common type of massage today in the Western portion of the world.

Massage therapy has continued to grow in popularity through the 20th century. Many World War I patients suffering from shell shock and nerve injuries were treated with massage. However, it wasn't a mainstream treatment for many years as it was reserved for the wealthy. It had also gained a bad reputation as a part of the sex trade until the second half of the 20th century.

As the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s arrived, an interested in natural healing helped to revitalized massage in the United States. It became a popular choice for those looking to heal the body without drugs or other dangerous treatments. Those seeking an alternative option to traditional medicine often turned to massage therapy.

Today, massage therapy is a very mainstream practice and many massage therapists provide multiple techniques coming from ancient methods. It's used to heal, relax, relieve and as a way to escape all across the globe.

An Overview of the Different Types of Massages

Several types of massage and techniques are used for different reasons. Here's a look at the many types of massage therapy you can choose from, along with some of the many techniques used.

Swedish Massage

A Swedish massage is mainly used to help relax the entire body. It includes gentle strokes of the muscles in the direction of blood flowing towards the heart. A Swedish massage provides many relaxing benefits and it's the most popular technique found in the United States because of the gentle technique.

This type of massage will cover the entire body and will be performed on a bed or massage table. You will be covered with towels, which will be removed as the therapist is working on each section of your body.

Your massage therapist will use massage oil to help lubricate the surface of the skin while performing many massage strokes to warm the muscle tissue. Often, circular movements, kneading and stroking will be used to apply pressure with the hand and palm.

When your massage has ended, you should expect to fee completely relaxed. Swedish massage comes with a number of benefits including:

  • Whole-body relaxation
  • Stress relief
  • Breaking up of scar tissue
  • Tight muscle relief
  • Help with injury recovery

Deep Tissue Massage/Trigger Point Therapy

A massage using slow friction and deep pressure, the deep tissue or trigger point massage is used to help with persistent muscle tension, pain and aches. Those suffering from hypertension may benefit from this type of massage. While deep tissue massage is similar to Swedish massage, it includes deeper pressure.

A deep tissue or trigger point massage helps to reach the deepest levels of the muscle. It works great for those suffering from sore shoulders, back pain and stiff necks. Those working at a desk and sitting most of the day can benefit from a deep tissue massage.

The massage therapist will slowly apply deeper pressure to the problem areas. They may use hands, fingertips, forearms, elbows or even their knuckles to allow the pressure as you take deep breathes throughout the massage.

Deep tissue or trigger point massage provides many benefits including:

  • Lowering of blood pressure
  • Relief of chronic muscle pain and stiffness
  • Loosening of painful knots in muscles
  • Relief of sore muscles

After a deep tissue massage, it's very important to stay hydrated. This will help to flush any metabolic waste from muscle tissues. It's also common to experience tenderness for a day or two after the massage.

Sports Massage

The sports massage is a specialized type of massage therapy for athletes. It helps to provide athletes with peak performance before, during and after events. This type of massage can help to prevent injuries by reducing fatigue and tension throughout the body.

Sports massage therapy is used during training to help restore the body, before a sporting event to help stimulate specific areas of the body, after the event to normalize the body tissue for recovery and after an injury to help with healing. This type of massage will focus on specific areas of the body instead of the entire body. The massage may vary, depending on the needs of the athlete.

Sports massage provides many benefits including:

  • Faster elimination of lactic acid
  • Quicker recovery
  • Increased blood flow
  • Better range of motion
  • More flexibility
  • Drains fatigue
  • Relieves swelling
  • Reduces muscle tension

You may feel some stiffness or tenderness after the massage, which should go away in a couple of days.

Aromatherapy Massage

Typically, an aromatherapy massage is a Swedish massage including scented plant or essential oils. These oils are added to the massage oil used to help with relaxation and provide a pleasing aroma during the massage.

Commonly rose and lavender oils are used for relaxation, while other blends may be used for energy or to uplift the patient. An aromatherapy massage provides a soothing effect and many of the same benefits of a Swedish massage. However, the oils used have the ability to help with insomnia, headaches, back pain, premenstrual symptoms and even some digestive issues.

It's important to make sure you're not allergic to the essential oils used before getting an aromatherapy massage.

Hot Stone Massage

A hot stone massage uses heated stones throughout the massage to provide additional benefits and relaxation. The stores are used to relieve tightness from muscles. This type of massage used to be used as a spiritual type of healing in ancient times. Today, it's used for stress relief and found at many spas all over the world.

The stones will not be painful or even feel hot enough to burn you. They are heated in water at 120 to 150 F. During the massage, the stones will be place on various parts of the back and along the spine. If the stones cool, the massage therapist may replace them with warmed stones.

Hot stone massages provide many benefits including:

  • Pain relief
  • Reduce stress
  • Helps the body rid toxins
  • Relaxation

If you suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, heart issues or you're pregnant, a hot stone massage is not recommended.

Shiatsu Massage

The Japanese word Shiatsu means "finger pressure." With a Shiatsu massage, the therapist will provide firm pressure with their fingers as they manipulate muscles through many techniques. They will also use their feet, knees and elbows to apply pressure to the meridians of your body.

Shiatsu massage is based on techniques used in acupuncture and acupressure. Different therapist may use a different style focusing on specific points of the body. Four common types of shiatsu massage include:

  • Zen - Use of knees, elbows, palms, fists and hands on acupressure points to provide a deep massage.
  • Ohashiatsu - Focus on energy work and may include meditation.
  • Five Elements - Uses Traditional Chinese Medicine to discover and heal imbalances in the body, along with use of traditional shiatsu massage techniques.
  • Ashiatsu - Use of the feet to apply stronger pressure for a deeper massage.

A shiatsu massage provides many benefits including:

  • Feeling loose and invigorated
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Helps to detoxify the body
  • Increases circulation
  • Relief of muscle tension
  • Pain relief
  • Reflexology Massage

A foot massage used to induce deep relaxation; reflexology helps those suffering from plantar fasciitis and ankle injuries. It can also help those suffering from other types of foot or leg pain.

Within a reflexology massage, both Swedish and sports massage techniques are used on the food, upper leg and calf to relieve pain.

Many benefits are experienced from a reflexology massage including:

  • Relief of foot pain
  • Help with plantar fasciitis
  • Help with arthritis pain
  • Decrease stress
  • Relieve anxiety

Lymphatic Massage

Lymphatic massage may also be called Manual Lymphatic Drainage or MLD. This type of massage is used to stimulate the lymphatic system of the body and reduce swelling. It includes slow and light movements with gentle stretching of the skin in a circular pattern. The massage is performed on bare skin with no oils used.

Traditionally, a lymphatic massage is used in a medical setting to help reduce swelling after surgery or to help with fluid build-up. It's also found in many spas to help decrease puffiness in the face, reduce body toxins and smooth out cellulite.

A lymphatic massage provides many benefits including:

  • Reduced swelling

  • Reduced fluid build-up

  • Remove the appearance of cellulite

  • Reduce puffiness from pregnancy or PMS

It may take a few sessions to notice results with a lymphatic massage and it may even be prescribed by your doctor.

Thai Massage

A massage coming from Thailand, the Thai massage is a mix of massage and yoga. Stretching us used in a slow, rhythmic way called sens. The massage therapist will use their elbows, feet, knees, thumbs and palms to press, stretch and pull the body. This helps to loosen the muscles and joints while relaxing the boxy. It has also been known to help unblock energy in the sen pathways.

A Thai massage provides many benefits including:

  • Reduced stress

  • Improved circulation

  • Relaxed muscles

  • More flexibility

  • Balancing of the sen energy lines

  • Restoration of health and well-being


Known as a spiritual practice, Reiki is a hand-on type of massage related to the nerve plexes and vital organs. This type of massage helps to provide recuperation for the body and mind. It's a great choice for those dealing with a large amount of stress.

Reiki was developed in 1922 in Japan. Traditional Reiki uses hand movements, while Western Reiki is more about hand placements.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial Release is a soft-tissue massage therapy used to benefit the skeletal, myofascial and arthodial structures of the body. It also helps to support the neural, vascular and lymphatic elements of the body. Myofascial release works to release the Fascia layer of tissue covering the muscles. When this tissue is tight, it can keep the muscles from achieving full relaxation.

This type of massage technique provides many benefits including:

  • Better overall relaxation
  • Improved posture
  • Increased range of motion
  • Better muscle strength

The massage therapist may use their knuckles or forearm to provide this soft-tissue therapy.

Prenatal Massage

A custom massage tailored to fit the needs of an expecting mother is called a prenatal massage. This type of massage is usually performed on a special table that allows the woman to lay face down, even if she's pregnant. It may also use special pillows to help her lay comfortably on her side.

The massage therapist has to go through special training to provide this type of massage. They must learn how to safely remove tightness, relieve pain and help with the soreness caused by pregnancy.

Prenatal massage has many benefits including:

  • Relief of lower backaches
  • Help with stress
  • Relief of headaches
  • Better relaxation
  • Loosening of tight muscles
  • Improved posture

Make sure your massage therapist has been trained in prenatal massage techniques. There is no regulation standard right now, but many programs offer this type of training. Light pressure on the abdomen acceptable, but nothing more. Often, doctors will prescribe prenatal massage during pregnancy. However, it's not recommended during the first trimester or during times of morning sickness.

Geriatric Massage

Used specifically for the elderly, geriatric massage is tailored specifically to the needs of the patient. It's often gentle and uses lighter massage techniques compared to other types of massage. Passive stretching and lotion or light oil will be used to help relieve muscle friction.

The goals of geriatric massage may be customized to the patient and often include helping with circulation, improving flexibility, reducing arthritis pain, improving posture and helping with overall health. This type of massage may be prescribed by a doctor or even found in a medical setting.

Benefits of geriatric massage include:

  • Maintain better overall health
  • Better joint mobility
  • Improves balance
  • Reduces muscle and joint pain
  • Relief of stress and anxiety
  • Provides comfort

Since the massage technique can be tailored to the patient, other benefits may be experienced.

Cranial Sacral Therapy

Cranial Sacral Therapy may also be called craniosacral therapy. It's a gentle technique used to address the spinal column, sacrum and bones found in the head. The goal of this type of massage is to relief pain and stress, along with help to restore the natural position of the bones.

Often, this type of massage technique is used to help treat migraine headaches, TMJ, back pain and other issues with the neck, back and head. The technique used may provide lasting effects for up to three weeks for those struggling with migraine headaches.

Therapeutic Massage

The techniques used in therapeutic massage commonly include manipulating the soft tissue and muscles of the body. The goal is to relieve muscle tension and pain and therapeutic massage uses many of the same techniques as Swedish, deep tissue and sports massage.

Therapeutic massage is often used for rehabilitation or relaxation. It can also be used for sport conditioning. The massage can be customized to fit your specific needs and may cover the entire body or focus on one specific area. It may take multiple sessions to achieve maximum results.

Benefits of therapeutic massage include:

  • Removes muscle tension
  • Relieves muscle aches and pains
  • Better sleep quality
  • Reduces fatigue
  • Decreased anxiety

If you suffer from minor soreness or discomfort, this may be the right massage for you.

Choosing the right type of massage for you is very important. Different massage therapy techniques are used to treat different issues within the body. Make sure the massage you choose fits with your goals for relaxation and pain relief. If you'd like to read more, these are what we consider the most relaxing types of massages.