Which Massage Is Best For Me?
Learn what kind of massage you need
Catherine Nelson, LMT, CST, CKTS
For anyone who has ever wondered "what massage do I need," this article will help you work out which massage is best for you.
There are so many different kinds of massage, and so many different massage therapists, it can be hard to find one that you like that can actually help you.
And it can be expensive to find one, because you have to pay for each massage along the way.
Knowing what kind of massage is best for you will help you narrow down your search, and make it more likely that you will find the right style of massage before you waste a lot of time and money.
Types of Massage
Did you know there are over 350 different types of massage? That's kind of mind blowing, right? No wonder it's so hard to find the right one for you!
Unless you've been to massage school, it can be difficult to understand the differences between the types of massage, or to know what each type helps with. That's why a guide is so important, so stick with me and let's walk through this together.
Massage In History
Hands-on healing, like massage, has been documented in human history since the beginning. The earliest written records of human history show hands-on healing was a part of health care, as well as religious ceremonies and other cultural rituals.
Hands-on healing has also been a part of every culture throughout human history. There are records found on every continent from Asia to Europe to Africa, and now to North America. This is so interesting to me, and it really shows how vitally important human touch is to human beings.
Video: The Human Need for Touch
In nearly every other culture around the world, hands-on healing therapies like massage therapy are considered legitimate and important health care options. In many cultures, therapies like massage are the first option for treatment, they are the things tried first.
America is a quite different. America has a period of bad history with massage, and that really changed the way people think of massage, which still affects our culture today.
During the mid-to-late 1900s, massage was directly associated with the sex industry. Prostitutes and other sex workers used massage as a cover to hide what they were up to. This was fairly easy to do because there were no licensing regulations and no other standards across the massage industry as a whole. It meant anyone could start a "massage business" and say they were a "massage therapist."
The health care industry pulled even further away from the massage industry, disassociating from the stigma of prostitution and sex work. That divide still exists today, though it has closed a little bit. But you probably know that massage therapy is not viewed very highly by doctors or other health care workers, and this is partly why.
So while other cultures consider massage to be important and smart health care, most Americans still think of massage in one of two ways. They either think massage is a dirty scam and a cover for prostitution and other shady stuff, or they think massage is a luxury, pampering thing only rich people do.
The truth is that massage has so many health benefits!
It is a noninvasive and affordable way to make huge changes in your health, and yes, I said affordable. It is so much cheaper to prevent health issues than it is to treat them when they happen. One massage a month is on average $70. That's about $800 a year. Treatment for any medical condition or problem is significantly more than that. In fact, the average American spent nearly $12,000 on health care in 2020. How much of that could have been avoided if those people had been receiving regular, preventative massage therapy? Well, that's a post for another time.
Common Types of Massage
Different types of massage are more common in different countries. For example, Asian-style types of massage are going to be much more common throughout Asia and Europe than in America. At the same time, some of the most common types of massage here in America are ones people in Asia and Africa have never heard of.
Common Types of Massage in America Today
Swedish of Classic Massage
This is the kind of massage you think of when someone says "massage." It's flowing and connected, and very relaxing. Swedish or Classic Massage is the massage most people have received, it is the most common kind of massage performed, and it is the most recognizable.
This kind of massage is practiced in spas, franchise clinics, medical clinics, and private practices. It is the go-to for most massage customers and more massage therapists.
This is the second most popular kind of massage, but it is often misunderstood by both massage customers and massage therapists. People think that any massage that includes deep pressure is "deep tissue massage," and that's not true.
Swedish massage includes very deep pressure, but that's not the same thing as deep tissue.
Deep tissue is a style of massage that utilizes specific techniques to reach the deepest layers of tissue. This is the kind of massage that works all the way to the bone, and surprisingly it does not always require very deep pressure.
Deep tissue massage does not include the same kind of flowing and connected strokes that Swedish massage does.
If you're a person that really likes deep pressure, but you still want that flowing and connected feeling during your massage, it's better to ask for Swedish or Classic Massage with deep pressure.
Sports massage is more of a philosophy than a specific technique. The strokes and techniques used in sports massage are almost all the same as those used in Swedish massage. The difference with sports massage is when and how those strokes are used.
With sports massage, timing is everything. The types of strokes and the order of strokes used very much depend on when your event is, what your training schedule is, and when your massage appointments fall compared to the rest.
For example, the day before your event, you wouldn't want to receive a sports massage that utilizes a bunch of recovery-type strokes. Instead, you would want to receive a pre-event sports massage that used a lot of strokes to excite and energize the muscles, preparing you to do your best at your event. Then after your event, you would want the recovery stuff to help heal and recover from the exertion of the event.
A knowledgable therapist with experience in working with athletes can help you maximize the benefits of this kind of massage.
Neuromuscular therapy is one of the most popular techniques in America today. It's taught in nearly all massage schools, and in some schools, it's the primary or the only technique taught to students. There are many explanations for it's popularity, but those don't really matter to this discussion. The point here is that you're very likely to find a neuromuscular massage therapist because it's a very popular technique.
Neuromuscular therapy is a technique that primarily targets trigger points, or small areas of muscle fibers in a sustained contracted state. Neuromuscular therapy is another style of massage that is poorly understood by both consumers and practitioners of massage therapy. For a highly educated therapist with an advanced understanding of anatomy and physiology, as well as high quality training in neuromuscular therapy, this style of massage can be highly beneficial to a large number of people.
Myofascial release is also very common in America, though it is not taught in schools as much as neuromuscular is. Myofascial release is a technique that targets the layers of fascia and works to separate those layers. The fascia is a web of collagen and elastic fibers that surrounds every muscle fiber, every muscle, every group of muscle, every region of the body, and large sheets of fascia run the length of the entire body. We have layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of fascia throughout every part of our bodies.
Through normal activity, and certainly through overuse and injury, those layers can become adhered, or stuck, to one another. The body does this to protect itself, but once the adhesions occur, the body can't free those adhesions on its own.
Through a number of assessment methods, a trained therapist can assess the body for these areas of adhesion, and utilize specific techniques to manually break up those adhesions. This results in greater range of motion, greater freedom of movement, significant reduction in pain, and greater injury resilience.
This is a general category of massage and bodywork, and it includes a lot of different techniques. Reiki is extremely popular in America, and is one you've probably heard of. There are many others, some that are practiced here in America, and some that are more prominent in other areas of the world.
Energy techniques may be hands on or not. Some require you, the patient, to be in the room with the practitioner, and others do not.
I am personally not a proponent of energy modalities, and do not practice any. For those who are interested in these types of work, you'll have to learn more about them from other sources.
What Are Your Goals?
The first step in finding the right kind of massage for you is for you to identify your goals for treatment. Why do you want to get a massage? Do you just want to relax, or do you want pain relief? Do you want to sleep better, or do you want to be able to get up and down from the floor so you can play with your grandkids? Are you having headaches or is your anxiety causing you to miss too many things?
Knowing what you want to accomplish will inform what kind of work you should pursue. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to just check out and relax, and there are so many health benefits to this kind of work. But a relaxation therapist is not going to be nearly as helpful to you as an injury specialist if you're wanting help with numbness and tingling in your hands and fingers.
You may have more than one treatment goal, and that's just fine! Which issue is the most important? That's the place to start.
Benefits of Common Types of Massage
Once you've identified your treatment goal, you'll be able to figure out which kind of massage would be most helpful to you. Here's some information on the most common reasons people get massage.
In our country, the number one reason people get massage is usually relaxation. This usually looks like a "typical massage" meaning a full-body, flowing massage. This would be a Swedish or Classic Massage.
This type of massage has so many health benefits! It's also much easier to find than any other kind of massage, because all massage therapists must learn this style and be able to perform this kind of massage from very early in their massage education.
You can receive really good Swedish massage nearly anywhere, depending on the therapist. When looking for a therapist, find someone that is licensed, highly reviewed or recommended by someone you know, and who appears professional in their online photos.
This is usually the second most common reason people seek massage, though it can be the number one reason depending on the survey. It can also be much more difficult to find relief because the type of pain you're having or the reason for the pain can make a difference in which style of massage will help you the most.
Medical massage, sports massage, myofascial release, and neuromuscular therapy are all modalities that are generally the most useful in treating pain issues.
If your pain is from a known injury, a surgery, or a physical health problem, I highly recommend finding a medical massage therapist or an injury rehabilitation specialist. That can be difficult, but that would be the best option. If you can't find one, someone who has advanced training and experience in myofascial release or neuromuscular therapy would be a good way to go.
If your pain is from exercise or training or a physical job or activity, an experienced sports massage therapist would be a really good option.
For other kinds of pain, such as headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia, overuse injuries, or unknown injuries, a medical massage therapist would also be the first choice. However, myofascial release and neuromuscular therapy performed by a knowledgeable and experienced therapist would also be a good choice.
Massage therapy can be used strategically to help manage blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep and mood irregularities, symptoms from cancer and cancer treatment, and many other health issues. Not all issues are safe for massage at any given time, so you'll need to speak with a knowledgeable therapist and your doctor for specific recommendations, but massage therapy is always a good therapy to put in place when you have any kind of health issue.
For this kind of support, you will need to find a medical massage therapist. Because these issues can be very complicated and nuanced, you absolutely need a therapist with a great deal of knowledge and experience. Not only do you want to maximize the benefits of your massage therapy, but you want to avoid making any of your symptoms or conditions worse. You must have a therapist who knows what he or she is doing.
A medical massage therapist can be hard to find, and hard to vet. Sometimes you can find them in hospitals or medical clinics, sometimes you can find a good one in a chiropractic office, and other times you may have to hit up social media for a good word-of-mouth recommendation.
Many people don't know that hands-on therapies have a wonderful and often profound impact on mood and can be utilized strategically to support mood.
Often people turn to energy works for these benefits. As I mentioned above, I don't advocate for the use of energy works. However, I very highly recommend craniosacral therapy, as well as other hands-on therapies.
If you're struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, physical or emotional trauma, sleep problems, learning problems, or anything else related to these issues, know that there are hands-on therapies that can bring you relief, and many of them help from the very first treatment.
For more on craniosacral therapy, check out this short video.
As you can see, there is a lot more to massage therapy than just rubbing lotion onto someone's skin. And there are far more types of massage than just the typical "massage" we all think about.
It can be hard to figure out what kind of massage is right for you on your own, but this article might help get you started. Ultimately, you need a therapist that can give you information and guidance.
Talk to your therapist about your issue and your goals for treatment. If your therapist can't answer your questions or provide you any guidance, find a new one. You're time, money, and health are way too valuable to waste on someone who either can't help you, or doesn't care about helping you.
Catherine Nelson, LMT, CST, CKTS, is a long-time massage therapist with a long and varied background in Western medicine. She specializes in CranioSacral Therapy for PTSD and anxiety, medical massage therapy for injury rehabilitation, and sports massage therapy for all phases of training and competition. She can be reached directly at Catherine@DelSolCommunityWellness.com.
2008 Blue Mesa Ct., Loveland, CO 80538 | (970) 218-7179 | www.DelSolCommunityWellness.com[Text Wrapping Break]