Types of Massage Therapy: What You Need to Know

We are all well aware of the typical light music, candles and massage table style of massage therapy. However, you may be unaware that there are literally dozens of different types of massage therapy, sometimes even within one subset of massage.

Different massage variations and methods are called modalities. Modalities have been developed to target specific problems or areas of concerns to get tailored results. We won’t even attempt to list all the various massage modalities here, however here are ten popular massage styles which you can read about, below.

The types of massage therapy we discuss in this article, are;

    • Aromatherapy massage
    • Craniosacral therapy
    • Deep tissue massage
    • Hot stone Massage
    • Myofascial release therapy
    • Pregnancy massage
    • Reflexology
    • Shiatsu massage
    • Sports massage therapy
    • Swedish massage therapy
    • Trigger point therapy

Not every modality is made for every person, however that’s why massage therapy is fantastic; you can find something tailored to your own philosophy and needs.

Aromatherapy massage

One of the better known types of massage therapy, Aromatherapy is a massage modality that integrates various essential oils into the massage experience. The use of these essential oils dates back thousands of years. Aromatherapy massage has been found to boost immunity and reduce pain.

Blending various essential oils together creates an environment of relaxation that may invigorate or energise you, depending on the scents your therapist chooses for the session. You will find they will consult with you first to learn which kinds of essential oils you prefer.

Craniosacral therapy

Craniosacral therapy has been shown to be effective in treating neck pain. For those looking for a gentle and non-invasive experience, this type of massage therapy may be just the right fit for your needs.

If you’re shy about removing your clothes in front of your therapist, then this massage modality may be perfect for you. Craniosacral therapy sessions are typically done with the patient fully clothed, using gentle and light pressure and movement.

Unlike many traditional massage therapies which have a single venue of either massage table or specific massage chair, these therapy sessions often begin by using a chair and then through the session, they move then to a massage table.

The massage therapist will frequently check in with you during the session to ensure they are giving you the right level of touch.

Deep tissue massage

Deep tissue massage is a modality that focuses on relieving severe muscle pain and ongoing tension. It’s especially effective if you have musculoskeletal disorders, postural problems, or chronic muscle pain and tension.

If you want to pursue deep tissue massage, ask the massage therapist in advance to describe what that term means to them because it is an unregulated term. “Deep tissue massage” and “deep massage” are sometimes used interchangeably, or used with no set definition.

Researchers suggest that deep tissue massage is a specific technique, and “deep massage” is any technique used by a massage therapist intending to affect deep body tissue.

Hoping for something different when it comes to your ongoing massage therapy experience? Hot stone massage stands out from the rest. The massage therapist places hot stones on your body and often uses them to give the massage. The effect allows the therapist to go deeper while still using lighter pressure. Sometimes they incorporate cold stones as well.

The heat of a hot stone massage is a great way to loosen muscle tension and increase relaxation. Hot stone massages often don’t exclusively use stones throughout the whole session.

Myofascial release therapy

Fascia is a connective tissue that holds all your organs, arteries, bones, and muscles together. Myofascial massage is designed to manipulate that connective tissue. Healthy fascia should feel soft and flexible. During a session, a therapist will locate areas on you that feel stiff and apply manual pressure.

This helps improve restricted movement. Myofascial release therapy may also target trigger points and use stretching to help relieve pain. Although more research is needed, studies suggest that Myofascial release therapy can relieve pain.

People suffering from Myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and other chronic pain disorders are often the primary clients that seek out this type of massage.

Myofascial release therapy is also sometimes called “trigger point massage therapy” or “trigger point release therapy.” Research suggests that self-administered Myofascial release therapy is also effective in reducing pain.

Pregnancy massage

Pregnancy isn’t easy, and massage can help ease pregnancy-related aches and pains. Getting a massage during your pregnancy has many benefits such as reduced depression and anxiety, reduced leg and back pain, a lowered risk of premature labor, and shorter labour times..

It isn’t feasible for pregnant women to lie on their stomachs for a massage, especially after the first trimester. For this reason, pregnancy massage uses different positions, such as lying on one’s side, to accommodate the pregnant shape. Even though the practice is considered very safe, we recommend you find a therapist who is certified in prenatal massage.


Reflexology became popular throughout the western world during the middle of the last century. The reflexology style involves applying acupressure to the hands and feet. Studies suggest that reflexology may provide health benefits, though more research is needed.

According to reflexology fans, these various techniques stimulate neural pathways and support optimal functioning of the body. Reflexologists use techniques such as thumb and finger walking to stimulate reflex points on your feet, which they say corresponds to a related internal organ elsewhere. Reflexology massage could be a good fit for you if you enjoy foot massages.

Shiatsu massage

Shiatsu is a massage modality similar to however distinct from acupressure. This style of massage therapy integrates emotional, physiological, and spiritual well-being. For centuries, Japanese practitioners paired shiatsu with herbalism and acupuncture to help relieve the pain of their clients.

Since those early days, shiatsu has become more of a practice of its own, with about half a dozen variations. Research suggests Shiatsu massage has health benefits that help with pain, nausea, and sleep issues.

You can find therapists who specialise in barefoot shiatsu, healing shiatsu, or movement shiatsu, just to name a few. For example, barefoot shiatsu involves powerful yoga-like stretches to unwind tightness, while healing shiatsu integrates mindfulness and meditation.

Sports massage therapy

One of the better known types of massage therapy, sports massage is a constant within athlete performance and sports technology. Athletes work their bodies hard, which is why there’s an entire industry around specifically-tailored sports massage therapy. You may take advantage of a sports massage before, during, or after athletic events.

You will find that most sports massages will promote flexibility, relieve various performance-related pains, and potentially ward off future smaller physical injuries.

Massage therapists often combine massage techniques, such as deep tissue massage or acupuncture, to tailor to the athletes’ particular sports massage needs.

Swedish massage therapy

In the western world, Swedish massage therapy is generally known as the “traditional” or default massage style. If you’ve gotten a massage before, you likely experienced something similar.

A Swedish massage therapist usually applies kneading, stroking, and friction to loosen muscular tension and increase blood circulation. The therapist uses massage oil to ease the hand strokes and movements. Before you start, expect a consultation to ask about your health and lifestyle and if you have any particular tough spots or areas to avoid. Swedish massage usually takes place on a massage table and lasts between 35-60 minutes.

Trigger point therapy

Trigger point therapy has been utilised since 1940’s to help with pain and inflammation of specific parts of the body. A trigger point is a part of the body which when stimulated or irritated, generates a response in other body parts.

The aim of trigger point massage therapy is to alleviate the pressure from these trigger points to give a feeling of calm and relaxation throughout the affected muscles and connected tissues and fibres.

Learn more about trigger point therapy and what to expect in our guide.

In Summary: types of massage therapy

The above types of massage therapy are highlights of the massage world, however by no means do they cover all the various styles of massage. Those massage modalities are;

  • Aromatherapy massage
  • Craniosacral therapy
  • Deep tissue massage
  • Hot stone Massage
  • Myofascial release therapy
  • Pregnancy massage
  • Reflexology
  • Shiatsu massage
  • Sports massage therapy
  • Swedish massage therapy
  • Trigger point therapy

Not every modality is made for every person, however with all those options ranging from lymph drainage to rolling, there’s likely a modality to address your needs.

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