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Types of Massage Therapy

Massage Therapy Types

Massage is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body, especially the muscles. It can help to relax, stimulate and heal all of the body or part of it. It has been shown to increase flexibility & movement, improve circulation and reduce stress.

There are many different types of massage – some claim there are over 200!

Here are some of the most popular forms of massage…

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is probably the best-known type of massage in the UK. It consists of some basic movements:
Effleurage – these are gentle, sweeping, often long strokes. They are used at the beginning of a massage to apply oil, to relax the client and to get them used to the therapist’s touch before using deeper techniques. They are also used at the end of the massage to gently ease the client out of the massage.
Petrissage – a deeper technique consisting of kneading the tissues and muscles. These movements are useful for breaking down any tension that is present.
Friction – a firm, rubbing stroke which stretches muscle fibres and releases tension.
Percussion – these are striking movements, for example rapidly “chopping” with the outer edge of the hand. They are very invigorating, and can help improve muscle tone and energise the body.

Other types of Western massage, such as sports massage and aromatherapy, are based on Swedish massage. Swedish massage uses Western concepts of anatomy and physiology, as opposed to many Asian techniques which are based on meridians and other Eastern concepts of anatomy and physiology.

The time a Swedish massage lasts can vary – I’ve known them last from as little as 30 minutes to up to 90 minutes. It can be gentle and relaxing, or deep and energising, depending on what you want from it and the therapist’s style of massage.

After lubricating the skin with oil, the therapist will use some or all of the techniques described above to warm up the tissues, release tension and break down any muscular “knots”. The result should be relaxation and a general feeling of well-being.

Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) – a physiologist and fencing master – developed many of the techniques used in Swedish massage. Ling was from Sweden. By the way, just in case you were wondering, in Sweden, Swedish massage is referred to as classic massage.

Sports Massage

This is used to treat injuries and to prevent them occurring. It is also used to enhance athletic performance. Many of the strokes used are the same as for Swedish massage.

Thai Massage

This is based on a mix of Indian and Chinese traditions of medicine. It can use gentle pressure on certain points, and it can also use stretching movements and compressions.

Hands Free Massage

The therapist uses mostly their elbows and forearms. An experienced therapist can give a gentle, sensitive treatment. However, if a deeper treatment is needed for particularly tight muscles, hands free massage can be ideal. When expertly applied it can gently relieve the most persistent muscle tension.


This applies the principles of acupuncture without the use of needles. It is based on the meridian system within the body – a series of channels through which life energy flows. Pressure is applied to the acupuncture points using the hand, elbow or other devices, with the aim of clearing blockages in the meridians.