It can sometimes be a little daunting when trying to decide what type of massage you want or need. There are so many different massage styles and techniques. You’re not helped by the fact pretty much every practitioner will tell you the treatment they offer is the perfect treatment for you. To be fair, most massage is enjoyable and beneficial, although not all! Some of the more aggressive deep tissue and sports styles of massage can actually be quite painful to receive and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.
Below I’ve listed the most common styles of massage you will see offered here in the UK along with brief descriptions so you can make an informed decision about what type of massage you need or want.
Please note, I don’t offer all these massage types.
I’ve described them here to inform you of massage styles in general.
Do be aware that each practitioner applying a technique will have their own unique way of working so a deep tissue massage from one therapist may be completely different to a deep tissue massage from another therapist. I would recommend seeking out a massage therapist whom you feel comfortable with and who’s treatment makes you feel good. Don’t worry so much about the treatment name or style, if it makes you feel good then you’re heading in the right direction.
- Anma or Amma Massage – The first recorded hands-on massage style, Anma is a Japanese word meaning to press and rub although the techniques actually originated in China over 5,000 years ago. Anma spread to Japan around 1,500 years ago and developed separately from the technique in China. Both Tuina from China and Shiatsu from Japan have their roots in Anma techniques. Even Swedish massage, the most popular and well known massage technique in the West, was influenced by Anma and its seven core techniques. One of the main focuses of Anma was the development of exceptional palpation skills and hand sensitivity.
- Barefoot Massage – Massage performed with the feet is becoming more and more popular in both the UK and USA in recent years. Chavutti Thirumal or Indian Rope Massage is a traditional barefoot massage originating in India, performed with the client lying on a mat on the floor whilst the therapist massages with their feet holding a rope to provide support and stability. A modern variation of this technique is very popular in the USA. Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy is performed with the client on a massage table, the therapist using suspended bars for support and stability whilst they stand on the table and massage with their feet.
- Deep Tissue Massage – Used to treat muscular-skeletal disorders and pain. Deep tissue techniques are applied in localised areas to stimulate change within the soft tissues of the body. It can at times be a very intense treatment and is often reported to leave the client feeling a little tender and sore the following day. A true deep tissue massage is never performed as a full body massage because it would usually be to intense for the client, and the tissue damage that occurs would be counterproductive for the body generally.
- Deep Pressure Massage – This is what most clients want when requesting a deep tissue massage. A deep pressure massage incorporates sustained deep pressure techniques during a full body massage. This additional pressure will often feel good to the client as opposed to deep tissue massage techniques that have to be endured.
- Esalen Massage – Developed over many years at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California USA. Esalen massage can best be described as an amalgamation of massage styles and techniques that have evolved over many years. Many teachers and originators from different schools and styles of massage have spent time at Big Sur and been absorbed and incorporated into Esalen massage. Each practitioner will perform Esalen massage in their own particular style as the technique also evolves within the practitioner.
- Hot Stone Massage – A soothing and relaxing style of massage using smooth, heated volcanic basalt stones and sometimes cold marble stones as well. Heat has a calming, and soothing effect for the CNS (Central Nervous System) giving hot stones massage it’s relaxing quality.
- Lomilomi Hawaiian Temple Massage – A traditional massage from Hawaii, often used to describe a variety of Pacific island styles of massage which has melded over the years. There is huge variety within the style depending on the originating island or family lineage. Generally, it involves liberal use of oil, long flowing full body strokes and forearm use.
- Medical/Clinical Massage – This term can be confusing as sometimes it may describe any technique that is being used to treat a medical condition; e.g., A Swedish massage for cancer patients could be classed as medical massage. On other occasions, it may describe a specific style of massage that is akin to what we more frequently refer to in the UK as Remedial Massage.
- Myofascial Techniques – Targeted at the Muscle (Myo) and Fascia (fascial) of the body and including a wide range of techniques from very gentle JFB Myofascial Release techniques to deep and slow massage movements from a Structural Integration and Rolfing background. It is claimed that myofascial techniques help to improve the structure of fascial layers, loosening soft tissue restrictions, scars and adhesions whilst also improving pain free range of motion.
- Remedial Massage – Techniques aimed at helping the body recover from injury. Uses a wide range of massage and other soft tissue techniques including, Cross Fibre Frictions, Muscle Energy Technique (MET), Positional Release Technique (PRT), Soft Tissue Release (STR), Myofascial Techniques and Trigger Point Therapy (TrPT).
Also see Medical/Clinical Massage.
- Rolfing | Structural Integration – Myofascial techniques as mentioned above. All are usually cared out as a series of treatments anywhere from three treatments in a series to The ten Series of Rolfing sessions.
- Shiatsu – A traditional bodywork technique originally from Japan. Shiatsu translates as “finger pressure” however in practice the therapist will use a variety of different touches, holds and manipulations.
- Sports Massage – Pre and post event sports massage consists of techniques to prepare the body for activity and help it recover afterwards. Sports massage is also an umbrella term used to describe therapeutic, remedial, and deep tissue massage techniques tailored for athletes and other physically active people.
- Swedish Massage – Probably the best-known type of massage in the UK; most western styles of massage are based on this modality. Developed by Per Henrik Ling at the University of Stockholm in 1812, know in Sweden as classic massage. Pressure varies (dependant on therapist). It would have originally included stretches and mobilisations, but this aspect of the technique is seldom done anymore.
- Therapeutic Massage – Similar techniques to Swedish massage but usually with more pressure and often focusing on one specific body part instead of full body as in Swedish massage.
- Traditional Chinese Massage – Evolved over thousands of years, Chinese massage is usually performed through sheets or clothes with no oil. Using rhythmical pressure from thumbs, hands, forearms, and elbows this technique can be gentle or deep depending on the pressure used. Based on the principal of meridians or energy lines within the body.
- Traditional Thai Massage is often referred to a Lazy Mans Yoga. It’s usually performed in relaxing clothing and involves compressions of the soft tissue structures and stretches. Based on Thai medicine theory and believed to release energy blockages within the Sen energy meridians throughout the body.
Thai on the table is an adaption of Traditional Thai massage for use during a table massage.
- Trigger Point Therapy – Primarily concerned with what we commonly refer to as muscle knots. A trigger point or tender spot present as small hyper-sensitive areas under the skin and can often cause lots of pain and discomfort. There is currently very little scientific evidence as to exactly what they are or how they appear although there are several theories that are popular.