July 21, 2021

Wellness Read: 4 Types of Massage and their Benefits

by Sara Snow

When your body and mind tell you that it is time for a massage, it is important to think through your individual needs.  Dozens of modalities of massage therapy exist, often with subsets and crossover between methods.  This adaptable style of treatment can easily be tailored to your areas of concern, with skilled therapists capable of mixing techniques to reach desired outcomes. Before booking your massage, it is important to understand frequency, duration, and pressure. In other words: How often should I get a massage? How long of a session should I book? and How can I best communicate my desired level of pressure? 

Frequency of massage is dependent upon activity level, stress, and injury. As a general guideline massage is recommended once per month for healthy individuals and up to once per week for treatment plans addressing chronic issues. 

Duration of sessions offered will vary based on location.  Shorter, 30-minute spot treatments are excellent for quick bursts of targeted rehab.  Longer, 60–90-minute sessions are best for targeting multiple areas or full body work. 

Pressure is often best understood using the sliding scale below, but communication with your therapist is imperative to finding the right level. Therapists are trained to adapt pressure and modality to an individual’s needs, all while reading tissue responsiveness and adhering to an individual’s requests.

Light/Meditative -> Heavy/Invigorating -> Deep/Trigger Point

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is the most prevalent category of soft tissue work, commonly available at clinics, spas, and health centers.  This form of treatment uses 5 basic strokes to treat sore muscles and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces relaxation.  During a Swedish massage, you can expect a combination of the following techniques:

  1. Effleurage. Long, smooth strokes using an open hand or broad surfaces of the arm.
  2. Petrissage. Kneading, rolling, lifting, or squeezing of soft tissues.
  3. Friction. Forward and backward motions, including wringing, using the fingertips to apply pressure across muscle fibers.
  4. Tapotement. Percussive tapping, knocking, or drumming.
  5. Vibration. Gentle, shaking movements.

Swedish massage is most frequently recommended for beginners and those looking to relax—anticipate stress melting away, with the potential of entering a deep meditative state, or even falling asleep. This effective, mellow modality ranges from light/meditative to heavy/invigorating on the pressure scale.

Deep Tissue

Deep tissue uses many of the same techniques as Swedish massage, with the primary differences being firmer pressure, slower strokes, and attention to trigger points. Trigger points, also known as adhesions or “knots,” are areas of focal and sensitive muscle tissue with small palpable nodules.  These nodules typically form from overuse or trauma, with other factors such as dehydration and stress exacerbating problem(s).  During a deep tissue massage, you can expect pressure to fall at least at the heavy/invigorating level, with mild to moderate “hurts so good” pain throughout.  It is important to remember that pain should quantitatively never exceed a 7/10 during deep tissue or trigger point work.  Deep tissue massage is an excellent resource for those looking to reduce stiffness, treat muscle pain, break up scar tissue, and advance healing of injuries.


Sports massage is designed to boost preparation and recovery for athletes of all abilities.  The focus of a sports massage aligns closely with the muscle groups most frequently used during an athletic activity or competition; a tennis pro will profit from extra attention to elbows and shoulders, where a marathon runner may gain the most benefit from lower body tissue manipulation and joint mobilization.  During this type of session, you can expect varying techniques and pressures to be used.  Prevention and treatment of injuries related to competition make sports massage an outstanding option for athletes at any level looking to perform at their best. 

Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is aimed at treating areas of the body with limited muscular fascia.   According to Johns Hopkins, fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber, and muscle in place.  Facia provides our bodies with internal scaffolding and contains nerves that make it sensitive to stress.  This connective tissue also reduces friction between internal structures to enhance functional movement. During this type of session, you can expect your therapist to address fascial restrictions using gentle to moderate pressure and sustained holds.  Pressure is frequently applied in opposite directions to encourage length and strokes are repeatedly slow and controlled. Passive stretching follows to facilitate full range of motion.

While the four listed types of massage therapy are the most prevalent, there are countless subsections and tactics that exist in manual treatment.  The physical and mental benefits of massage can immediately be felt after just one session, with routine appointments capable of making sustainable change. An experienced, attentive therapist should look ultimately to meld techniques and fluctuate pressure based on the area at hand and palpable concerns. 

Please reach out to Sara at sara.snow@shiftlife.com with any questions regarding types of massage therapy or to discuss the best fit for you.  Our physicians are also happy to discuss massage therapy as a non-invasive and alternative approach in many treatment plans for a variety of conditions.

In Real Health,
Sara Snow and the SHIFT Recovery Team


Deep Tissue, Massage, Myofascial Release, Sports Massage, Swedish Massage

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