Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy means many things to many people. In fact, a recently published scholarly article identifies more than 80 different styles of massage, many of which have been developed in the past 30 years! But to start, let's simply define massage as the manual manipulation of soft body tissues (muscle, connective tissue, tendons, and ligaments) to enhance health and wellbeing.

This definition excludes some kinds of bodywork, such as craniosacral therapy, Traeger, and Feldenkrais. While they are sometimes called "massage," they don't use manipulation of soft tissue as the main therapy. This definition also excludes therapies that are primarily energy work, such as Healing Touch, Reiki, acupressure, and reflexology.

Massage is often used for specific reasons, such as relief from pain, stress reduction, or enhancement of athletic performance. But whether there is a specific goal or not, massage therapy tends to increase the general health and wellbeing of the recipient.

Women receiving a massageWhat are some of the common styles of massage?

As the profession of massage therapy has grown, and more people are investing time and money in feeling better, many new terms are being used to market massage. As a result, it can be hard to understand just what is being offered.

To try to reduce the confusion, we have created two tables that explain various terms. The first table lists commercial names that are often associated with relaxation styles of massage; the second lists names associated with clinical styles. (A style of massage uses a set of specific techniques for a specific outcome. In a typical massage session, a therapist often uses more than one style to address different health goals.)

What are relaxation styles?

Relaxation styles of massage offer gentle techniques. The goal, or intention, of relaxation massage is to reduce stress, promote overall wellness, relax muscles, diminish pain, and move body fluids (such as blood) to nourish cells and help remove waste products.

Specific goals for relaxation massage include:

  • Relief for tight muscles (knots) and other aches and pains
  • Improved circulation
  • Reduction of stress
  • Enhanced sense of wellbeing
  • Improved mood (reduction in depression, anxiety, and anger)
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Increased energy and vitality
  • Experience of comfort through touch

(If you want to see videos of specific techniques, go to What Can I Expect in a First Visit? and scroll down to "Some typical techniques.")

Style/Commercial names Common Techniques
  • Swedish relaxation
  • Infant massage
  • Pregnancy massage
  • Watsu
  • Lomi Lomi
  • LaStone Therapy
  • Esalen massage
  • Chair massage
  • Geriatric massage
  • Massage for the medically fragile
  • Spa
  • Addition of hot or cold therapies
  • Static compression
  • Directed breathing
  • Direct pressure/static friction
  • Friction
  • Gliding (light)
  • Hand rolling
  • Holding
  • Kneading
  • Percussion
  • Rocking-jostling
  • Shaking
  • Passive stretching
  • Vibration

What are clinical styles?

Clinical styles of massage differ from relaxation because they focus on therapeutic goals (for example releasing muscle spasms or strengthening or stretching specific muscles affected by an injury). They use more specific manipulation of the muscle and/or surrounding connective tissue and may address other systems in twomen receiving a massagehe body such as the lymphatic, circulatory, and nervous systems.

Specific goals for clinical massage include:

  • Reduce pain
  • Release muscle tightness
  • Repair injured tissues, muscles, tendons, ligaments
  • Release adhesions
  • Release scar tissue
  • Release nerve compression
  • Greater flexibility and range of motion

 

Style/Commercial name Common Techniques
  • Rehabilitative
  • NeuroMuscular therapy
  • Myofascial release
  • Myofascial trigger point
  • Structural integration
  • Rolfing
  • Thai massage
  • Orthopedic massage
  • Post surgical/injury
  • Sports/athletic
  • Lymphatic drainage
  • Post surgical
  • Addition of hot or cold therapies
  • Compression-pumping
  • Static compression
  • Cross fiber friction
  • Direct pressure/Static Friction
  • Gliding-deep
  • Holding MFR
  • Kneading
  • Percussion with stretch
  • Skin rolling
  • Passive stretching
  • Resistive stretching
  • Manual-direct stretching
  • Traction

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