Date of last update: 22-May-2010

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What are the main different types of massage and bodywork techniques (modalities)?

Choosing a Type of Massage

There are many types of massage. Sometimes some massage techniques become fashionable. Though some consumers may know a specific massage modality or technique they want, it is generally best to ask your massage therapist what massage modality will give you the results you want. Most massage therapists use a variety of massage modalities or types in a massage session to best achieve desired results.

The five most common types of massage are:

Definitions

The following web site provides a good glossary for the different types of massage and bodywork:

Massage Therapy, Glossary

MASSAGE & MASSAGE THERAPY

Massage or massage therapy are systems of structured palpation or movement of the soft tissue of the body. The massage system may include, but is not limited to, such techniques as, stroking, kneading, gliding, percussion, friction, vibration, compression, passive or active stretching within the normal anatomical range of movement; effleurage (either firm or light soothing, stroking movement, without dragging the skin, using either padded parts of fingertips or palms); petrissage (lifting or picking up muscles and rolling the folds of skin); or tapotement (striking with the side of the hand, usually with partly flexed fingers, rhythmic movements with fingers or short rapid movements of sides of the hand). These techniques may be applied with or without the aid of lubricants, salt or herbal preparations, hydromassage, thermal massage or a massage device that mimics or enhances the actions possible by human hands. The purpose of the practice of massage is to enhance the general health and well-being of the recipient. Massage does not include the diagnosis of a specific pathology, the prescription of drugs or controlled substances, spinal manipulation or those acts of physical therapy that are outside the scope of massage therapy.

Main modalities that I use

INTEGRATED/ECLECTIC MASSAGE

This practice indicates a combination of various massage, bodywork, and somatic therapy techniques utilized by a practitioner in the course of a session.

SWEDISH MASSAGE

One of the most commonly taught and well-known massage techniques, Swedish massage is a vigorous system of treatment designed to energize the body by stimulating circulation. Five basic strokes, all flowing toward the heart, are used to manipulate the soft tissues of the body. The disrobed client is covered by a sheet, with only the area being worked on exposed. Therapists use a combination of kneading, rolling, vibrational, percussive, and tapping movements, with the application of oil, to reduce friction on the skin. The many benefits of Swedish massage may include generalized relaxation, dissolution of scar tissue adhesions, and improved circulation, which may speed healing and reduce swelling from injury.

DEEP TISSUE MASSAGE

Techniques that utilize deep-tissue/deep-muscle massage are administered to affect the sub-layer of musculature and fascia. These techniques require advanced training and a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology. The muscles must be relaxed in order to effectively perform deep-tissue massage, otherwise tight surface muscles prevent the practitioner from reaching deeper musculature. It helps with chronic muscular pain and injury rehabilitation and reduces inflammation-related pain caused by arthritis and tendinitis. It is generally integrated with other massage techniques.

FASCIAL MOBILIZATION

The fascial system is one continuous, laminated, connective-tissue sheath that spreads without interruption throughout the entire body in a three-dimensional web. Fascial mobilization allows therapists to locate and address restrictions in the fascial system that are causing asymmetries, postural malalignment, abnormal tensions, and pressures that can lead to pain and dysfunction. The goal of fascial mobilization is to produce a well-balanced, symmetrical, and mobile body within the skeletal, soft-tissue, and craniosacral systems.

MYOFASCIAL RELEASE

Myofascial release is the three-dimensional application of sustained pressure and movement into the fascial system in order to eliminate fascial restrictions and facilitate the emergence of emotional patterns and belief systems that are no longer relevant or are impeding progress. First, an assessment is made by visually analyzing the human frame, followed by the palpation of the tissue texture of various fascial layers. Upon locating an area of fascial tension, gentle pressure is applied in the direction of the restriction. Myofascial release is an effective therapeutic approach in the relief of cervical pain, back pain, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, neurological dysfunction, restriction of motion, chronic pain, and headaches.

SPORTS MASSAGE

Sports massage is designed to enhance athletic performance and recovery. There are three contexts in which sports massage can be useful to an athlete: pre-event, post-event, and injury treatment. Pre-event massage is delivered at the performance site, usually with the athlete fully clothed. Fast-paced and stimulating, it helps to establish blood flow and to warm up muscles. During the massage, the athlete generally focuses on visualizing the upcoming event. Post-event massage is also delivered on site, through the clothes. The intent here is to calm the nervous system and begin the process of flushing toxins and waste products out of the body. Post-event massage can reduce recovery time, enabling an athlete to resume training much sooner than rest alone would allow. When an athlete sustains an injury, skillful massage therapy can often speed and improve the quality of healing.

Other modalities that I know

CUPPING OR NEGATIVE PRESSURE MASSAGE THERAPY

The following definition was obtained from: Cupping Therapy . Cupping Massage is the combination of massage movements and negative pressure with the use of a suction device on the skin. A cup is positioned at the area to be treated and, depending on the type of cups being used; a vacuum is created within the cup to draw the skin and underlying tissue into the cup. The produced vacuum creates a suction effect that increases blood and lymphatic circulation systemically and to the local area, relaxes muscle tissue and support, draws stagnation, pathogenic factors and toxins out of the body and releases a myriad of pain causing factors. . The intended suction can range from light to heavy. This, along with the movements performed and areas treated by the therapist will produce stimulating (toning) or sedating (draining) effects. It is very important that therapists be able to effectively assess the condition (physical, mental and emotional) of their clients, before the procedure, so they employ the proper application of the cups to produce the desired outcome.

MYOFASCIAL TRIGGER POINT THERAPY

There is a causal relationship between chronic pain and its source, myofascial trigger point therapy is used to relieve muscular pain and dysfunction through applied pressure to trigger points of referred pain and through stretching exercises. These points are defined as localized areas in which the muscle and connective tissue are highly sensitive to pain when compressed. Pressure on these points can send referred pain to other specific parts of the body.

NEUROMUSCULAR THERAPY

This comprehensive program of soft-tissue manipulation balances the body’s central nervous system with the musculoskeletal system. Based on neurological laws that explain how the central nervous system initiates and maintains pain, the goal is to help relieve the pain and dysfunction by understanding and alleviating the underlying cause. Neuromuscular therapy can help individuals who experience distortion and biomechanical dysfunction, which is often a symptom of a deeper problem. It is also used to locate and release spasms and hypercontraction in the tissue, eliminate trigger points that cause referred pain, rebuild the strength of injured tissues, assist venous and lymphatic flow, and restore postural alignment, proper biomechanics, and flexibility to the tissues.

ACUPRESSURE

Acupressure is an ancient healing art that uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body’s natural self-curative abilities. When these points are pressed, they release muscular tension and promote the circulation of blood and the body’s life force (sometimes known as qi or chi) to aid healing. Acupuncture and acupressure use the same points, but acupuncture employs needles, while acupressure uses the gentle, but firm pressure of hands and feet. Acupressure, continues to be the most effective method for self-treatment of tension-related ailments by using the power and sensitivity of the human hand. Acupressure can be effective in helping relieve headaches, eye strain, sinus problems, neck pain, backaches, arthritis, muscle aches, tension due to stress, ulcer pain, menstrual cramps, lower backaches, constipation, and indigestion. Self-acupressure can also be used to relieve anxiety and improve sleep. There are also great advantages to using acupressure as a way to balance the body and maintain good health. The healing touch of acupressure reduces tension, increases circulation, and enables the body to relax deeply. By relieving stress, acupressure strengthens resistance to disease and promotes wellness. In acupressure, local symptoms are considered an expression of the condition of the body as a whole. A tension headache, for instance, may be rooted in the shoulder and neck area. Thus, acupressure focuses on relieving pain and discomfort, as well as responding to tension, before it develops into a disease—before the constrictions and imbalances can do further damage.

REFLEXOLOGY

Reflexology involves manipulation of specific reflex areas in the foot, hands, and ears that correspond to other parts of the body. Sometimes referred to as zone therapy, this bodywork involves application of pressure to these reflex zones to stimulate body organs and relieve areas of congestion. Similar to acupressure principles, reflexology works with the body’s energy flow to stimulate self-healing and maintain balance in physical function. This technique is used to reduce pain, increase relaxation, and stimulate circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids. It is especially useful in stress-related illness and emotional disorders. Reflexology is also convenient in cases where an area of the body is traumatized or diseased to the extent that direct manipulation is not appropriate.

MANUAL LYMPH DRAINAGE

The strokes applied in manual lymph drainage are intended to stimulate the movement of the lymphatic fluids in order to assist the body in cleansing. This is a gentle, rhythmical technique that cleanses the connective tissue of inflammatory materials and toxins, enhances the activity of the immune system, reduces pain, and lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.

CHAIR MASSAGE

Known as seated massage, chair massage, or on-site massage, this technique involves the use of a specially designed massage chair in which the client sits comfortably. Seated massage includes bodywork and somatic techniques, such as shiatsu, amma, and Swedish massage, provided to the fully clothed client in a variety of settings.

CRANIOSACRAL THERAPY

Craniosacral therapy is a gentle, noninvasive method of evaluating and enhancing the function of a physiological body arrangement called the craniosacral system. This manual therapy enhances the body’s natural healing processes and has proven effective in treating a wide range of medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction. The craniosacral system consists of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. It extends from the bones of the skull, face, and mouth--which make up the cranium--down to the sacrum or tailbone. Since this system influences the development and function of the brain and spinal cord, any imbalance or dysfunction in the craniosacral system could cause sensory, motor, or neurological disabilities. These problems may include chronic pain, eye difficulties, scoliosis, motor-coordination impairments, learning disabilities, and other dysfunctions of the central nervous system. Craniosacral therapy encourages the body’s natural healing mechanisms to improve the functioning of the central nervous system, dissipate the negative effects of stress, and enhance health and resistance to disease. The craniosacral therapy practitioner uses a light touch to assist the natural movement of fluid within the craniosacral system. Therapists generally use only a slight pressure to test for restrictions in various parts of the craniosacral system. It’s often possible for the evaluation alone to remove the restriction and allow the system to correct itself.

ONCOLOGY MASSAGE

Oncology massage refers to massage tailored to the needs of individuals with cancer. This specialized practice requires therapists to be fully educated in and pay close attention to the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of clients in all stages of cancer: diagnosis, treatment, recovery, survivor, or terminal. Training in oncology massage covers appropriate bodywork modalities for cancer clients, includes precautions for radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery, and covers physiology and pathology.

BREAST MASSAGE

This technique entails specific kneading, rubbing, and/or squeezing strokes applied to the soft tissue of the breast to increase lymph and blood flow. As poor circulation to this area can produce uncomfortable symptoms, and breast scarring caused by surgery and/or trauma can cause painful syndromes and obstruct blood and lymph flow, breast wellness becomes increasingly important. The practice of breast massage should be in conjunction with (and not a substitute for) regular self-breast exams. If a lump is found in the breast, the area should not be massaged until a physician is consulted.

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