Swedish vs. Deep-Tissue Massage: Finding the Right Way to Relax
Swedish and deep-tissue massage are two bodywork approaches that render very different benefits. Read our guide to choose the best option for you.
The relationship between deep-tissue and Swedish massage is much like that between DayQuil and NyQuil. Both are designed to help you feel better, but the one that makes the most sense depends on your individual needs. Here's what to expect from each of the two modalities:
Swedish massage combines four distinct motions—effleurage, petrissage, friction, and tapotement—to help relieve muscle tension and stimulate blood flow, thereby energizing the body and soothing the mind during a single relaxing session. The four phases are easy enough to distinguish. Effleurage refers to the smooth, gliding strokes that help relax soft tissues at the beginning of the treatment, followed by the squeezing, rolling, or kneading gestures of petrissage. Deep, circular motions make up the friction phase, in which layers of tissue rub against one another to boost circulation. Therapists conclude the massage with tapotement, a rapid cadence of percussive taps performed with cupped hands, fingers, or the edge of the hand.
Whereas Swedish massage focuses on relieving mental and physical tension, deep-tissue massage has more specific concerns. Due to stress and other factors, the layer of connective tissue that covers and interpenetrates the body's muscles and bones—the fascia—often tenses up, resulting in muscle knots and a painful buildup of lactic acid. Deep-tissue massage aims to warm up the fascia and release the accumulated toxins. To achieve this, the therapist’s fingers, thumbs, and elbows move along the body in slow, deliberate strokes, applying pressure to penetrate beyond superficial muscle layers. Although the intensity can produce some discomfort, deep-tissue massage should still be relaxing; the goal, after all, is to relieve the tension between muscles and their weird roommate, the skeleton.
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