An Overview of Different Massage Techniques

Swedish Massage

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A classic massage technique where the superficial muscle tissue is manipulated to promote increased blood circulation, reduced body pain and overall relaxation. The therapist applies high-quality lotion or oil directly to the client’s skin. Though the client is nude beneath the sheets, all private areas remain covered at all times. Because of its gentle nature, the Swedish Massage is a great introduction to massage therapy.

 

This is the most commonly known massage modality in America, coincidentally the only country that calls it a Swedish Massage. Even if people don’t know the practice by name, the image of a client practically asleep on a heated table comes to mind whenever the word “massage” comes up. This image would represent a Swedish Massage if you were in America (or just a classic massage if were anywhere else).

Despite popular belief, Per Henrik Ling, the founder of the Royal Central Gymnastic Institute (1813), is not the father of “Swedish” massage, a practice that is largely defined by the following strokes:

  • Effleurage—long, sweeping strokes that usually follow the grain of the muscle fibers. A great movement that helps to relax the client and prepare the tissue for massage.
  • Tapotement—rhythmic drumming on tense muscles pumps blood into stiff areas. This method can also be performed with cupped hands for a less intense sensation.
  • Petrissage—a combination of kneading, skin rolling, and compression that works to release knots in the muscles.
  • Vibration—the therapist will literally push into the muscle with a vibrating movement of the hands. It is not used nearly as often because the tactic is more difficult to master, but it can work to break down fascia, the muscle encasement that can become tough with repetitive movements, water deficiency, and loss of blood circulation.

People with the following ailments should consider receiving a Swedish, or classic, Massage:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Sore/tight muscles
  • Insomnia
  • Constant body pain
  • Constipation/indigestion

Contraindications of Swedish Massage

Swedish Massage bodywork is gentle enough for mostly everyone, but the massage therapist should always be aware of the client’s health conditions to be able to proceed with caution.

  • Pregnancy—Because of the reduced blood circulation in the legs, the client may have undetected blood clots that could possibly trigger a miscarriage. The work should be light in the hands and feet, though it is still acceptable to receive a Pregnancy Massage, a modified version of light Swedish Massage.
  • Contagious skin diseases—A massage can spread the infection to other places on the client’s body, other clients, or the massage therapist.
  • Blood clots—Massage could dislodge the clot and cause a heart attack
  • Diabetes—Because of the occasional loss of feeling to body parts, a diabetic patient may not feel work that is too deep and tissue damage may occur.
  • Swelling from injury—Massage is not recommended immediately after a severe injury. Once the injury is past the acute stage, general massage above the area is fine.
  • Infections, fevers, inflamed glands—Massage may cause too much strain on the body while the immune system is working overtime.
  • Heart conditions—The heart may not be able to tolerate the increased blood circulation.
  • Varicose Veins—Deep pressure directly on the area will worsen the condition.

 

 Deep Tissue Massage

 Deep Tissue Massage is a variation of the classical, Swedish Massage that works the deeper muscles of the body. The massage therapist warms the muscle tissue with some lighter work and begins applying more pressure to the sub-superficial layers of muscle. This is done with a small amount of oil or lotion and the massage therapist works in much slower movements than a classic massage. At times, it may seem they’re not moving at all, and too much oil doesn’t allow proper traction. Most of the deeper tissue work is done with the elbows, forearms, and the proper leverage of the therapist’s body weight. Sometimes, tools are used as well, depending upon the therapist’s style and insurance.

Assessment

A brief assessment of the client’s range of motion is a great way to begin a session. This can be done by giving the client simple movements to perform on both sides of the body to assess the difference. If one shoulder is higher, or if one arm can reach farther, then the therapist can get a basic idea about what muscles are causing discord in the body and work to loosen them with deep tissue.

For Every Agonist, There Is An Antagonist

 No matter how little the action, every piece of the body is equipped with a complex assortment of muscles that make movement possible. When the arm flexes, the Bicep moves as the agonist (the working, or contracting muscle) and the Tricep moves as the antagonist (the stretching muscle). When one muscle has worked as the agonist more frequently than other muscles, it becomes tight and sore, and causes an imbalance in posture and flexibility.

Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage

  • Breaks up and can eliminate scar tissue.
  • Dislodges toxins from the muscle tissue and helps to flush them from the body.
  • Increased blood circulation.
  • Increased muscle tone.
  • Breaks down cellulite.
  • Can correct imbalanced body posture and chronic muscular pain due to poor body mechanics.

Contraindications of Deep Tissue Massage

  • Pregnancy—Pregnant women shouldn’t really receive Deep Tissue. The work is too stressful on the body and pregnant women release a hormone that causes the ligaments to loosen more than normal to prepare for childbirth. Pregnancy Massage is a better option to avoid injury.
  • Contagious skin diseases—A massage can spread the infection to other places on the client’s body, other clients or the massage therapist.
  • Blood clots—Massage could dislodge the clot and cause a heart attack
  • Diabetes—Because of the occasional loss of feeling to body parts, a diabetic patient may not feel work that is too deep and tissue damage may occur.
  • Swelling from injury—Massage is not recommended immediately after a severe injury. Once the injury is past the acute stage, general massage above the area is fine.
  • Infections, fevers, inflamed glands—Massage may cause too much strain on the body while the immune system is working overtime.
  • Heart conditions—The heart may not be able to tolerate the increased blood circulation.
  • Varicose Veins—Deep pressure directly on the area will worsen the condition.

*Soak in a warm Epson salt bath post Deep Tissue Massage

Sports Massage

You may notice a tent of massage therapists at sporting events, because Sports Massage is a modality used briefly before, during and after athletic events. It is also used during rehabilitation and training for optimal muscle recovery.

A Sports Massage Therapist will use many of the same strokes used during a Swedish Massage, along with more localized stretches with the client’s injury or problem area in mind. The tone of a pre-performance Sports Massage is energetic—more pumping of the muscles, and fast movements to get the blood flowing.

The benefits and contraindications of a Sports Massage are similar to that of a Swedish Massage, but the added benefit would be the flushing of exercise waste created by the muscles during performance—the lactic acid. Flushing the lactic acid from the body post-performance lessens the soreness of muscles in the days to follow the event.

Shiatsu

Shiatsu is an Eastern modality of massage, meaning “finger pressure” in Japanese. The session is performed on the floor for a fully clothed client and the therapist works along the energy meridians, applying pressure with the fingers. It is comparable to acupuncture without needles in the belief of how the energy flows throughout the body. The therapist will tap, rub, rock, squeeze and apply pressure to enable energy to move properly.

Benefits of Shiatsu

  • Decreases stress and anxiety
  • Can eliminate nausea
  • Assists to rid the body of muscle pain
  • Balances Ki, or “life force”
  • Releases toxicity from the muscles
  • Improves blood pressure and circulation
  • Increases body awareness
  • Cleanses body and assists with digestive tract problems

Contraindications of Shiatsu

Many points charted on the body that the therapist uses are believed to purge. For that reason, certain disorders are contraindicated for Shiatsu.

  • Serious Organ Diseases
  • Acute Inflammation
  • Malignant tumors
  • Ulcers
  • Tuberculosis
  • Venereal Disease

Hot Stone Massage

A Hot Stone Massage is another variation of classic massage using oil and stones heated in hot water. While the therapist kneads into the client’s muscle with one or two stones, other hot stones rest on the client’s back, creating a perpetual feeling of warmth.

The Hot Stone Massage was originally a Native American remedy for aching muscles. Mary Nelson, a Native of Arizona, is accredited with resurrecting the practice and branding her style under the LaStone Therapy trademark. Massage therapists trained with LaStone Therapy are usually better Hot Stone massage therapists because the modality variation can be difficult to master.

You should get a Hot Stone massage if you

  • Are stressed
  • Suffer from depression and need a break
  • Want to soothe some sore or tight muscles
  • Need to increase blood circulation to tight areas
  • Are feeling imbalanced and cranky
  • Need a great idea for your spouse’s birthday!

Contraindications of Hot Stone Massage

  • Contagious skin diseases—A massage can spread the infection to other places on the client’s body, other clients or the massage therapist.
  • Blood clots—Massage could dislodge the clot and cause a heart attack
  • Diabetes—Because of the occasional loss of feeling to body parts, a diabetic patient may not feel work that is too deep and tissue damage may occur.
  • Swelling from injury—Massage is not recommended immediately after a severe injury. Once the injury is past the acute stage, general massage above the area is fine.
  • Infections, fevers, inflamed glands—Massage may cause too much strain on the body while the immune system is working overtime.
  • Heart conditions—The heart may not be able to tolerate the increased blood circulation.
  • Varicose Veins—Deep pressure directly on the area will worsen the condition.
  • Cancer—unlike other modalities that assist in pain relief for cancer patients, Hot Stone is not recommended for those receiving chemotherapy.
  • Inflamed skin—the heat of the stones may further irritate swollen or burned skin tissue.
  • Pregnancy

Myofascial Release Massage

This practice is commonly known for its “skin rolling” technique. The therapist will literally clutch and roll the skin, grasping the fascia—the supportive tissue encasing the muscles and organs—to break away toxins and work to correct restricted motion. Other techniques include kneading with the elbows, knuckles or tools, all with the purpose of creating elasticity in the body.

Tissue Release Tactics

On some level, the fascia is stretched or palpated during all massages, but the actual movement of Myofascial Release Therapy—the sinking and dragging of the tissue with the fingers—is more specialized.

  • Make contact with the skin with tool, hand or forearm.
  • Gently sink into the tissue, pulling down (away from the heart) to create slack in the skin.
  • When the slack skin is released, pressure is applied along the muscle grain toward the heart.

The first treatment can be quite painful, especially if the client suffers from stiff muscles and lack of flexibility. But with time, the procedure will encourage muscle tone, increased blood circulation, flexible muscle tissue and reduced pain due to tightness.

Contraindications of Myofascial Release Massage

Many of the contraindications are the same as a Swedish Massage, as Myofascial work is often times part of a Swedish Massage session. But because of the pulling/releasing nature of this style, certain skin problems need to be taken into consideration before any work is performed. Avoid Myofascial work in the areas with:

  • Sutures
  • Healing fracture
  • Hypersensitive skin
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Celiulitis—a common skin irritation caused by bacteria

 

The Western and Eastern modalities differ largely on philosophies and technique, but they both have the same goal in mind: mental and physical health. Take the time to see a massage therapist once a week and the time will always be well spent.

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