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The 11 Types of Massage: A Complete Guide

BY: EDITORIAL TEAM | 7.12.2017 |

Your body's pretty good at letting you know it needs a massage—if only it could also tell you what type of massage it would most benefit from. If you're new to massage or have never ventured past your normal Swedish session, it might be confusing to navigate all the different types of massage out there. Luckily, we're here to help you decipher the many different styles and benefits of massage so you can book the one that's best for you.

Types of massage

1. Swedish massage

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This relaxation-focused form of massage is what most people think of first when they think about massage. Therapists use a sequence of long, gliding strokes, kneads, and circular motions to help ease shallow tension in the muscles.

Benefit: Besides helping to relax the muscles and ease superficial tension, Swedish massage may also help boost circulation throughout the body.

Try it if: you're new to massage or you're looking to relieve light to moderate tension in your back and shoulders.

Read our comprehensive guide to Swedish massage.

2. Deep-tissue massage.

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As it's name suggests, deep-tissue massage aims to relieve tension in the deeper layers of muscle tissue and fascia. As such, it uses more intense kneading techniques than Swedish.

Benefits: Deep-tissue massage is ideal for releasing chronic tension and may also help improve range of motion.

Try it if: you suffer from chronic aches and pains or want more pressure than classic Swedish massage offers.

3. Hot stone massage

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Rather than relying solely on their hands to work out stubborn knots, the massage therapist places heated basalt stones on the back to help melt tight areas.

Benefits: Besides helping to relieve tense areas, the heat from the stones can help improve blood flow.

Try it if: you suffer from hard-to-loosen trouble spots and like the therapeutic heat.

Read our guide to hot stone massage.

4. Sports massage

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Specifically designed with athletes in mind, sports massage is a variation on Swedish massage that aims to address aches caused by repetitive motion and help active people make a quicker recovery from stress and injury.

Benefits: Quicker workout recovery times, better range of motion, and improved performance are just a few of the benefits reported by those who receive regular sports massages.

Try it if: you play sports or frequently work out and want to keep your body in top condition.

Read our guide to sports massage. 

5. Shiatsu massage

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A Japanese style of massage rooted in Chinese medicine, shiatsu massage aims to eliminate blockages that keep the body's energy force, or Qi, from flowing freely. Therapists use many different techniques, often employing their elbows, knees, and even their feet, as they work out tension from the back, joints, and limbs.

Benefits: Shiatsu massage is regarded as an excellent form of stress release as it promotes good circulation and the production of oxytocin.

Try it if: you need to seriously de-stress and relax. Or, if you're curious about Eastern types of massage and need a good introduction.

Read our guide to shiatsu massage.

6. Trigger point massage

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Like deep-tissue massage, trigger point massage aims to dispel chronic tension located deep in the muscles. But while deep-tissue is ideal for tension spread out over a large area, trigger point is better for pain that radiates from a very specific spot (or spots).

Benefits: Eases pain caused by sciatica, rotator cuff issues, stiff joints, plantar fasciatis, and other specific issues.

Try it if: you suffer from any of the above ailments AND you can handle some tough love (trigger point massage has a reputation for being a little painful).

7. Couples massage

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Massage therapists knead two clients side-by-side in the same room. Swedish massage is the typical modality used, but you may also be welcome to request other types of massages such as deep-tissue or hot stone.

Benefits: Though it often has a romantic context, a couples massage is also a great way to reconnect with a close friend, sister, mother, daughter, or anyone you don't mind being semi-undressed around.

Try it if: you're looking to reconnect with a romantic partner or you can't bear to be parted from your spa buddy for an hour.

Read our guide to planning the perfect couples spa day.

8. Prenatal massage

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This massage style aims to relieve pregnancy pains for expecting mothers. Instead of lying on her back, the client will either recline on her side or use a massage table with a hole cut in it that allows her to recline on her stomach.

Benefits: Reduces pain brought on by pregnancy, and also may help with depression, insomnia, and anxiety.

Try it if: your pregnancy is causing you significant lower back pain (just make sure to check with your doctor first).

Read our guide to prenatal massage and other ways to beat pregnancy pains.

9. Reflexology

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Reflexology is a specialized form of foot massage, during which, practitioners stimulate precise points on the feet that are believed to correlate to other organs and bodily systems.

Benefits: Traditionally, reflexology is believed to help correct imbalances throughout the body. But like any foot massage, it's also great for relieving tension brought on by wearing high heels or being on your feet all day.

Try it if: you're curious as to how reflexology can reveal other issues with your health OR if you just need an excuse to put your feet up for a while.

Read our guide to reflexology.

10. Thai massage

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Also known as "yoga massage", Thai massage typically sees the practitioner performing a series of intense stretches on a fully-clothed client.

Benefits: Improved flexibility, greater range of motion, and temporary relief from pain are just a few of the reported benefits of Thai massage.

Try it if: you want help achieving deeper stretches and like the idea of remaining totally clothed during a massage.

11. Foot massage

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Just what it sounds like: a relaxing massage for the feet.

Benefits: Unlike reflexology, which specifically aims to target other areas of the body, a traditional foot massage simply aims to provide relaxation to over-worked feet.

Try it if: you have a job that requires you to stay on your feet all day.

Read our guide to the best at-home foot massagers.

Interested in learning even more about massage? Check out our Guide to Massage Etiquette.