The Different Types of Massage

If you have any pain a massage is very beneficial form of treatment. But with so many different types of massage available which is the best for you? Sports Massage? Swedish Massage? Deep Tissue Massage? We have broken this down to explain exactly what each type of massage does and where it came from to help you choose. Let us Explain…

The History of Massage and Evolution of Swedish Massage


Massage may be the oldest and simplest form of medical care.  There are record as far back as Egyptian tomb paintings which show people being massaged. In Eastern cultures, massage has been practiced continually since ancient times.

A Chinese book from 2,700 B.C., The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, recommends ‘breathing exercises, massage of skin and flesh, and exercises of hands and feet” as the appropriate treatment for complete paralysis, chills, and fever.”

Massage was one of the principal methods of relieving pain for Greek and Roman physicians. Julius Caesar who suffered with neuralgia was said to have been given a daily massage to treat his symptoms. “The Physician Must Be Experienced In Many Things,” wrote Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, in the 5th century B. C.

Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, places great emphasis on the therapeutic benefits of massage with aromatic oils and spices. It is practiced very widely in India.

Doctors such as Ambroise Pare, a 16th-century physician to the French court, praised massage as a treatment for various ailments such as back pain. Swedish massage, the method most familiar to Westerners, was developed in the 19th century by a Swedish doctor and educator named Per Henrik Ling.

His system was based on a study of gymnastics and physiology, and on techniques borrowed from China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Physiotherapy, originally based on Ling’s methods, was established with the foundation in 1894 of the Society of Trained Masseurs. During World War I patients suffering from nerve injury or shell shock were treated with massage.

St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, had a department of massage until 1934. However, later breakthroughs in medical technology and pharmacology eclipsed massage as physiotherapists began increasingly to favour electrical instruments over manual methods of stimulating the tissues.

Massage services are now used in intensive care units, for children, elderly people, babies in incubators, and patients with cancer, AIDS, heart attacks, or strokes. Most hospices have some kind of bodywork therapy available, and it is frequently offered in health centres, drug treatment clinics, and pain clinics.

A variety of massage techniques have also been incorporated into several other complementary therapies, such as Aromatherapy, Reflexology, Sports Therapy, and Osteopathy.

Thai Massage


In present day Thailand the healing art known as Nuad Boran (ancient massage) began to evolve over two thousand years ago.

This is now referred to as Thai Massage or Thai Yoga Massage is an ancient healing system combining acupressure and energy balancing techniques, assisted yoga postures and Indian Ayurvedic principles.

The founding of Thai massage is an Ayurvedic doctor named Jivaka Kumar Bhacca, who is revered to this day as the Father of Medicine throughout Thailand.

Born in India during the time of the Buddha, he is mentioned in a variety of ancient documents for his extraordinary medical skills, for his knowledge of herbal medicine, and for having treated important people, including the Buddha himself.

The theoretical basis for traditional Thai healing is rooted in the belief that all forms of life are sustained by a vital force (lom) that is carried along invisible pathways (sen) that run through our bodies, much like the Chinese meridian theories.

This force is extracted from food, water and air, and it is believed that dysfunction and disease arise when blockages occur along the pathways.

Thai Massage’s intent is to stimulate the natural flow of life-force, free this trapped energy, and maintain a general balance of wellness.

Through assisted yoga, the body is able to move in ways that can be difficult to attain through individual practice and normal exercise. Relaxed, deep breathing helps to bring about proper balance and a peaceful state of mind. The practice of Thai Massage is also a spiritual discipline since it incorporates the Buddhist principles of mindfulness (breath awareness) and loving kindness (focused compassion).

The benefits of all these techniques, when shared by client and practitioner help to bring the treatment session to a focused and profound level. The result of a full-body Thai session can be a powerful mind/body experience, bringing both the client and the practitioner to greater states of physical and mental well-being.

Over the past two decades, traditional Thai massage has begun to spread  into the West. In many cases it has been represented based on Thai tradition, with intention and techniques befitting traditional Thai healing. In other cases in recent years, it has been fused with other types of massage therapies, primarily from the West.

Deep Tissue Massage


Experts believe that the ancient Egyptians were the first to use Deep Tissue Massage. However, its modern history can be followed back to Canada in the mid-19th century. Physicians at that time employed this modality to deal with different medical conditions, for example, back pain and whiplash.

In the late 1800s, it was not until Therese Phimmer established rules for this technique in her book called “Muscles:Your Invisible Bonds in 1949 that deep tissue massage became popular. Since then, Deep Tissue Massage has been used by Sports Therapists, Physiotherapists, Osteopaths and Massage Therapists for soft tissue injuries and chronic pain” (Ury, 2009).

What Is Deep Tissue Massage?

Deep Tissue Massage aims to break up knots / adhesions and enhance overall flexibility by manipulating the muscles and connective tissue which is called fascia.  The movements used in Deep Tissue Massage are like those used in traditional Swedish Massage. However, the pressure used in Deep Tissue Massage is “more focused and intense” and the movement is at a slower pace (Wong, 2012) than in a traditional massage.

Note: Adhesions (or “knots”) refer to “bands of painful, hard tissue in muscles, ligaments and tendons. They can decrease circulation, limit movement and cause inflammation which can result in pain. (Wong, 2012).

The Health Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage

Deep Tissue Massage helps relieve stiffness and pain, which can be associated with muscle spasms, repetitive strain injuries, whiplash and impact injuries, Arthritis, fibromyalgia, sports injuries and stress. It is also effective at improving the circulation system in the body and releasing toxins from the tissues.

Sports Massage


Like all the above mentioned types of massage, Sports Massage has been around for thousands of years. The Romans and Greeks were clear on the benefits of massage on their athletes. The well-known Roman physician, Galen (AD 30-200), prescribed massage for the gladiators both before and after exercising. Sports Massage followed a similar history to Swedish Massage. In the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, Sports Massage became more specific, training taking place for the practitioner to be able to address the specific needs of athletes whose bodies are experiencing intense physical stress and exertion.

What is Sports Massage?

Sports Massage is a form of bodywork that uses Swedish Massage and Deep Tissue techniques specifically adapted to deal with the effects of intense physical exertion on the body. Its primary purpose is to ease stiffness and pain in both muscles and joints, increase mobility in muscles and joints, warm muscle and connective tissue prior to exercise and help in removing toxins and lactic acid after a workout.

This modality is used before, during and after many athletic events. It has been found to enhance athletic performance by keeping muscles at their peak of flexibility and strength, while warding off injury. Massage after great exertion reduces ones level of stiffness and muscle soreness.

For some athletes a massage helps keep anxiety at a minimum before competition. The Sports Massage practitioner can use certain techniques to increase body stimulation previous to an event, which increases mental alertness. Regular sports massage sessions have been shown to improve an athlete’s speed, strength, endurance and flexibility, as well as shorten recovery time between events.

The Key Principles of Massage


While there are a wide variety of forms of massage and bodywork, all with their own theoretical or philosophical perspectives, there are certain basic principles they all tend to hold in common.

Circulation of Blood.

Improved blood circulation is beneficial for virtually all health conditions. Tension in the muscles and other soft tissues can impair circulation, resulting in a deficient supply of nutrients and inadequate removal of wastes or toxins from the tissues of the body. This in turn can lead to illness, structural and functional problems, or slower healing. Recognition of the importance of blood circulation is implicit in all forms of massage and bodywork.

Movement of Lymphatic Fluid.

The circulation of lymphatic fluid plays a key role in ridding the body of wastes, toxins, and pathogens. The lymph system also benefits from massage, particularly in conditions where lymphatic flow is impaired by injury or surgery.  The process has been described as one of breaking up the scarring that had occurred in muscles and connective tissue or fascia between the muscles, vertebra, and ribs, all of which had become stuck together. Blood flow through the area can be restored and the depression that had been palpable in the spine and joints gradually begins to diminish. The full range of motion of the spine and joints can return.

Release of Toxins

Chronic tension or trauma to the soft tissues of the body can result in the build-up of toxic by-products of normal metabolism. Hands-on techniques help move the toxins through the body’s normal pathways of release and elimination.

Release of Tension

Chronic muscular tension as a result of high stress lifestyles, trauma, or injury can accumulate and impair the body’s structure and function. Psychological well-being is also affected. Release of tension allows greater relaxation, which has important physiological and psychological benefits.

Structure and Function Are Interdependent

The musculoskeletal structure of the body affects function and function affects structure. Both can be adversely altered by stress or trauma. Massage Services and bodywork can help restore healthy structure and function, thereby allowing better circulation, greater ease of movement, wider range of movement, more flexibility, and the release of chronic patterns of tension.

Enhancement of All Bodily Systems

All bodily systems are affected by better circulation and more harmonious functioning of the soft tissue and musculature. Internal organ systems as well as the nervous system, the immune system, and other systems can benefit. There can be an overall improvement in the quality of life and physical health.

Mind/Body Integration

Mind and body have a reciprocal relationship. Soma (body) affects psyche (mind) and vice versa. Hence there can be somatopsychic effects, in which the conditions of the body affect the mind and emotions, and there can be psychosomatic effects, in which psychological or emotional conditions affect the body. Change in one domain may cause change in the other. A habit or fixed pattern in one may also impede change in the other and require special attention. Often psychotherapy and massage services or bodywork complement one another.

Reduction of Stress

Stress is increasingly believed to induce illness, and perhaps 80 to 90 percent of all disease is stress induced. Massage therapy is an effective non-drug method for reducing stress and promoting relaxation.

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