The Global View of Massage
Nearly every full-body massage session incorporates Swedish massage, which is a system of long flowing strokes and kneading motions. "It promotes general relaxation, improves circulation and range of motion, and relieves muscle tension," says Maureen Moon, a massage therapist and member of the American Massage Therapy Association.
"Deep tissue massage is closely related to Swedish massage," says CG Funk, Industry Relations for Massage Envy, "but addresses the deeper layers of the muscles. After warming up the muscles with Swedish massage, the massage therapist will gradually apply more pressure by using body weight and sometimes the forearms or elbows to get into the deeper layers. Deep tissue massage is particularly good for tight back and leg muscles."
Then there's sports massage, which often seems similar to Swedish and deep tissue massage. But the difference comes in the customization for each client and the sport in which he or she participates. Techniques will vary depending on whether the massage is being done before or after athletic activity.
"After the event or if the client comes to me on a regular basis," Moon adds, "I'll do more deep tissue work, along with passive and active stretching, to enhance the body's recovery process."
Other massage modalities are more focused on smaller areas-but still have an effect on the entire body.
Trigger point therapy, for example, involves applying direct pressure to knots or tender points in the muscles or near the muscle attachments. The massage therapist applies the pressure for 30 seconds and then releases it, bringing a surge of circulation and blood to the area and helping to dissipate those knots. According to Funk, the knots frequently refer pain to other parts of the body. So, for example, a trigger point in your neck sometimes can cause pain down your arm, and releasing the knot can relieve all of the pain.
Trigger point therapy can be especially beneficial for people who experience migraine headaches, carpal tunnel, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder or lower back pain.
Another focused modality is Cranial Sacral Therapy, which Moon describes as a technique for finding and correcting cerebral and spinal imbalances or blockages.
This modality involves gentle holds applied to the skull and spine to relieve stress in those areas using a very light touch. Cranial Sacral Therapy can be helpful for people with high headaches, neck or back injuries, or TMJ disorder. Plus, Funk says, it's a good option for people who have been advised against having circulatory massage, such as Swedish massage.