Massage 101: Different Massage Therapy Styles

Massage therapy: simply giving muscles and ligaments a nice, firm rubdown while listening to ambient sounds, right? Actually, that could not be further from the truth. People new to massage therapy don’t often recognize the many different techniques and their nuances. The disciplines of massage therapy are as varied as the people who enjoy them every single day. In the following paragraphs, we will highlight some of the best known massage therapy styles.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is probably the most popular massage technique worldwide. This massage therapy style relies on 5 different types of “strokes”. This strokes include effeurage (sliding/gliding) petrissage (kneading), friction, tapotement (rhythmic tapping) and shaking. Swedish massage does wonders for people suffering from joint stiffness, lower back pain, and other musculoskeletal ailments. Interestingly, the term “Swedish massage” is only recognized in Dutch and English speaking countries. The techniques originated from by Dutch practitioner Johan Georg Mezger and feature French names.

Deep Tissue Massage

Like the name implies, deep tissue massage focuses on targeting the body’s deeper layers of muscle and fascia. This style of massage therapy relies on heavy finger pressure as well as slow, firm strokes. At times, therapists push patients to the point of discomfort depending on their needs. This high-pressure massage techniques provide tremendous benefits, including increased circulation stress relief. Deep tissue massage is popular among athletes looking to help break up scar tissue or treat tight, injured muscles.

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Myofascial Release “Trigger Point” Therapy

Many refer to Myofascial release as trigger point therapy. This style of therapy looks to relive pain and discomfort caused by tightness within our bodies’ myofascial tissues (the thin, fibrous tissue that supports our muscles and bones). The theory suggests that issues within localized areas of myofascial tissue can lead to widespread muscle pain. During a session, a massage therapist will look for these specific areas, or trigger points, that feel stiff and immobile. Next, through a combination of manual pressure and stretching, they release stiffness in the trigger point. As a result of this release, the patient achieves normal function and range of motion.

Active Release Therapy

Developed by chiropractor Dr. P. Micheal Leahy, Active Release Therapy (ART) uses specialized techniques designed to give a therapist the most accurate understanding of patient issues. Using over 500 specific moves, a massage therapist can identify and treat specific issues by hand. X-rays and MRIs often cannot identify these issues.

CranioSacral Therapy

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) comes from discoveries made by osteopath William Sutherland in the early 1900’s. While examining the skull, Sutherland theorized that the cranial sutures (joints) joining the temporal and parietal bones have significant flexibility. Dr. John E. Upleger, while conducting research at Michigan State University, furthered upon those theories. He developed the CST techniques that are still used today.

In short, CST uses light pressure to manipulate the cranial bone movement and release restrictions in the craniosacral system.  This system consists of membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Upon relieving that pressure, patients reports deep relaxation during sessions, and relief from headaches and neck pain.

Shiatsu Massage

Although the techniques used today were developed in the early 1300’s, Shiatsu massage can trace its roots as far back as the Nara Period (710-793 AD). It was during this period that Tui na, a Chinese bodywork system, arrived in Japan. Practitioners in Japan used Tui na as a framework to develop Anma, the framework for traditional Japanese massage and the earliest incarnation of Shiatsu. The term Shiatsu translates to “finger pressure” in English, and uses touch, light pressure and movement to clear and realign pathways of energy, or Ch’I, through the meridians in our body.

Thai Massage

While there are many legends and origin stories that exist regarding the development of Thai massage, history would suggest that its evolution is actually a combination of Chinese, Indian, and Southeast Asian healing techniques. The theoretical framework of Thai massage states that a vital life force, or “Lom”, that is carried along pathways in our body called “Sen”.

The pain and discomfort we feel is caused blocked pathways and trapped energy, so a Thai massage practitioner will work with you to clear these blockages and promote a better sense of well-being. Thai massage is unique in that muscles are not rubbed and kneaded like other forms of massage, rather the practitioner will utilize assisted yoga-like positions to rock, stretch, pull, and compress specific areas of the body.

Rolfing

Developed by Dr. Ida P. Rolf, Structural Integration, or “Rolfing”, is a massage technique aimed at improving movement and realign the body in relationship to gravity by the manipulation of the bodies’ fascia. Rolfing relies on high to extreme pressure to eliminate stiffness and tension, improve circulation, and improve flexibility and alignment.

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What is your favorite of these massage therapy styles? Interested in trying something new? Contact Conscious Chiropratic and Acupuncture and schedule an appointment with one of our extremely talented massage therapists today!