12 Popular Massage Techniques and How They Help You

Are you new to massage therapy? Whether you’re an experienced person looking to expand your self-care horizons or a massage newbie, you’ll likely be amazed by the number of available massage therapy techniques and practices and the benefits they can bring you.

For those of you trying massage therapy for the first time, or for those looking to explore new techniques for health and wellness, here’s 12 of the most popular massage and bodywork practices and some info on how they might benefit you:

Acupressure

Acupressure therapists use the same meridian system as acupuncture practitioners, but without the needles!

For more than 5,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have developed and refined this traditional healing art. Acupressurists, as they are called, use their hands to apply pressure to trigger points throughout the body. This technique is believed to unblock “stuck” body energy and open up the pathway for healing energy to return the mind and body to a state of wellness.

Acupressure has been used to treat sexual dysfunction, stress, and for beauty purposes. Acupression, for example, may improve the skin, tone facial muscles, and help the body relieve congestions.

Aromatherapy Massage

Ancient cultures across the globe have practiced massage and aromatherapy. Chinese, Egyptian, and Indian practitioners, for example, have incorporated these modalities into many of their medicinal traditions. Ancient Greeks and Romans used these techniques not only for healing and relaxation but also for spiritual enlightenment. Massage therapists who combine massage and aromatherapy may provide clients with a deeper, more relaxing experience than a standard massage.

While you’re getting your massage, inhale your favorite scent or have your practitioner recommend one to meet your individual needs, such as lavender for stress and anxiety relief.

Chair Massage

Many people first experience the benefits of massage and bodywork in the form of chair massage. Chair massage therapists, sometimes spotted in shopping malls and airports, use special chairs that allow clients to remain fully clothed and mostly upright.

This often quick, soothing form of massage allows people to take a quick and healthful break from their busy day. Researchers have shown that even these short massage breaks reduce people’s heart rates, blood pressure, and, of course, stress and anxiety levels.

Many corporations have found that periodically offering chair massage as a benefit to their employees increases productivity, focus, and morale. In only 10-20 minutes, your staff can enjoy the stress relief, health benefits, and team-building experience of chair massage in the convenience of your workplace.

Chinese Massage

Chinese tui na massage practitioners employ rhythmic compression methods to free up and balance “qi” (body energy). These massage therapists combine energy work and meridian release elements of related practices like acupressure and acupuncture, without using any needles. Tui na also involves many of the rubbing and kneading techniques common to most Western massage styles.

Gua Sha

This ancient Chinese practice roughly translates into English as “scraping away fever.” Traditional practitioners of gua sha used bone, stone, jade, or horn implements to rub their clients’ oiled skin. Today, gua sha therapists tend to use rounded plastic tools to offer their clients a less painful and more modern hygienic experience. Gua sha practitioners use these implements to rub their clients’ backs and shoulders to increase circulation beneath the skin (often using a soothing, lubricating balm).

Medical researchers have found evidence that this simple technique encourages the body to release many powerful healing effects. As the body reabsorbs the blood from the treated areas (which often appear red and blotchy for a few days), it releases chemicals that fight infection, reduce inflammation, and protect cells.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage therapists heat special stones in a sanitary solution and place them on their clients’ backs, in their palms, and even between their toes. Like the popular Swedish style of massage, hot stone massage therapists may use oils to lubricate their clients’ surface tissues before employing deep tissue techniques.

Your hot stone massage practitioner may even rub your muscles lengthwise with the heated stones to release even more tension.

Lomi Lomi

Traditional Hawaiian healers called “kahunas” employed massage techniques in conjunction with meditation, plant-based medicine, and breath work. Also sometimes referred to as Hawaiian temple medicine, lomi lomi massage can help you activate mana (life energy) to increase well-being, increase circulation, and lower blood pressure.

Myofascial Release

Connective tissues called fascia run throughout your entire body. They surround and support your muscles, which means they can inhibit range of motion when tightened by overuse, injury, or surgical recovery.
Unlike massage therapists, who work on muscles and soft tissues, myofascial release practitioners focus on fascial lengthening and softening to reduce pain and increase mobility.

Orthopedic Massage

Orthopedic massage practitioners focus on correcting malformed bones and muscles with massage therapy techniques. These therapists help their clients manage pain, achieve better alignment and posture, and improve joint function.

Reflexology

Reflexology therapists massage their clients’ hands and feet to activate inner healing. This practice bears many similarities to acupressure and acupuncture, but, again, without using any needles. Reflexology practitioners manipulate points on their patients’ bodies that correspond with internal organs.

This healing modality can trigger your autonomous nervous system and increase hormone production.

Rolfing

Named after its founder, Ida Rolf, this massage technique involves may involved a little more discomfort than some gentler styles. Also known as structural integration, this style of massage may greatly improve your posture and range of motion.

Rolfing practitioners assist their clients in achieving moderately difficult yoga-like poses to realign their musculoskeletal systems and bear their body weight better with proper posture.

Russian Massage

Modern Russian massage, sometimes called Russian sports massage, was once only available to athletes, the ill, and the injured. Russian (and Soviet) physicians advanced the science and practice of massage on the battlefield and in the sports arena. Russia, a comparatively massage-friendly nation, has provided some of the world’s top massage researchers and therapists.

Russian bath houses, called banyas, still offer traditional Russian massage venik (or “twigging”) treatments which involve hitting clients (gently) with oak or birch branches. However, modern Russian massage practitioners use their hands to relieve pain and increase range of motion with kneading, percussive, and even vibration techniques.

And There’s More!

Some consider Reiki a form of massage; others view it as energy- or bodywork. Like massage therapists, Reiki practitioners place their hands on their clients’ bodies; however, they don’t rub and knead soft tissues. Simply by placing their hands on a patient (for up to 10 minutes a position), Reiki masters are believed to be able to transmit healing energy and clear out negative thoughts and emotion.

Whether you choose to find a massage therapist for an intense, relaxing, spiritual, or practical massage style, remember you can always return to this site (and this article) to explore new and different massage therapy options. You can also click the relevant links to dig deeper into these types of massage to discover their history, medical science, and modern practice—as well as what to expect from your first massage session!

References:

  1. How to apply pressure to acupressure points. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.acupressure.com/articles/Applying_pressure_to_acupressure_points.htm
  2. Ali, B., Ali, N., Shams, S., Ahamad, A., Kahn, S., & Anwar, F. (2015) Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 5(8), 601-611.
  3. Bauer, B. (n.d.) What can you tell me about myofascial release therapy as a treatment for back pain? Does it work? Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/expert-answers/myofascial-release/faq-20058136
  4. Benefits of tui na massage. (2014) Retrieved from http://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2014/12/19/benefits-tui-na-massage
  5. Beutler, J., Kelly, K., & Ladas, E. (Eds.). (2015) Aromatherapy and essential oils. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0032645/
  6. Bliss, S. (2013) Foot reflexology for simple self-healing. Retrieved from http://guardianlv.com/2013/06/foot-reflexology-for-simple-self-healing
  7. Boehm, T. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://breakingmuscle.com/health-medicine/scrape-away-the-pain-guasha
  8. Carson, C., Hammer, K., & Riley, T. (2006) Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clinical microbiological review 19(1), 50-62.
  9. Cespedes, A. (2015) Benefits of seated chair massage. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/113311-benefits-seated-chair-massage
  10. Cespedes, A. (2015) Hot stone massage side effects. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/179765-hot-stone-massage-side-effects/
  11. Davidson, A. (1999). In N. Allison (Ed.), The illustrated encyclopedia of body-mind disciplines (p. 168). New York, USA: Rosen Publishing Group.
  12. Fisher, R. (2012, September 5) Rolfing: No longer a fringe therapy. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/09/05/Rolfing-no-longer-a-fringe-therapy
  13. Ganfield, L. (n.d.) Myofascial Release Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/physical-therapy/myofascial-release-therapy
  14. Helwig, D (2005) Russian massage. In Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435100679.html
  15. Langevin, H. (2014) Retrieved from http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/article/what-role-does-fascia-play-in-rheumatic-diseases/?singlepage=1
  16. Rand, W. (n.d.) A personal healing program. Retrieved from http://www.reiki.org/reikinews/personalhealing.htm
  17. Skuban, R. (2016) Benefits of lomi lomi massage. Retrieved from http://www.amcollege.edu/benefits-of-lomilomi-massage/
  18. Smale, W. (2015) The Russian massage that’s not for the faint-hearted. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31921778
  19. What is myofascial release? (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.myofascialrelease.com/about/definition.aspx
  20. Wine, Z. (2008) A history of Russian medical massage. Massage Today 8(4). Retrieved from http://www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=13796

How to Find the Right Massage Therapist for You

A successful first massage session isn’t just luck. Look for these characteristics of a good massage therapist to help ensure a good experience.

Many years ago, a trusted friend and colleague hosted me for my first massage experience in his beautiful and calming bodywork space. This experienced and intuitive massage therapist took the time to help me understand what would happen during the session, how to handle disrobing and draping, and what to do afterward to get the most from this experience.

I enjoyed a wonderful and comfortable introduction to massage, and you deserve the same. The right person can help you communicate your needs, release tension and anxiety, and relax you into your treatment. I hope you’re as lucky as I was and find the right massage therapist for you!

References

Asking your friends about their massage experiences can provide much richer information than just Googling “massage therapist.” You can get started by browsing sites, but no one communicates the “feel” of a good massage like a trusted friend.

Think about it: you don’t just want a high-quality massage; you want one that matches your individual vibe, preferences, and goals. For example, a highly-recommended Rolfing practitioner could give one person exactly the hardcore postural alignment they crave. However, another client could leave their first session saying, “Ouch! Isn’t massage supposed to be relaxing?”

Always check with your doctor before starting massage therapy (or exploring a more intensive style). People with some conditions (such as deep-vein thrombosis) should avoid massage. Others may need to carefully select a particular massage type and practitioner with the guidance of a trusted family physician. Many doctors (and cancer centers) provide lists of recommended massage therapists. These practitioners may even have special training in using massage as a complimentary treatment to certain types of medical care.

Professionalism

Your gut may tell you right away if your massage therapist doesn’t have their act together. As you get to know them, pay attention to the way they handle scheduling, payment, and other details. If your practitioner takes the time to fully answer all of your questions, helps you understand what to expect from your first session, and seems genuinely interested in your care, they’re likely a solid, professional massage therapist.

Experience

In the massage therapy field, nothing trumps “hands-on” experience. Ask practitioners how many hours of massage they’ve put in to get their certification and how much massage they’ve done since entering the market. They should be proud to relate their experiences and any continuing education courses they’ve taken.

State-certified massage therapists must have 500-750 hours of education (it varies from state-to-state) from accredited massage schools. These practitioners may be required to get first aid/CPR training and take continuing education courses on a regular basis.

Certification

Knowing your state’s regulations, educational requirements, and licensing structures can dramatically increase your chances of a successful session. Be sure to ask your massage therapist about their level of experience and certification in the specific style of massage you prefer.

Beyond simple state licensing, some practitioners achieve a greater level of certification. For example, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) board-certified massage therapists have over 750 hours of education and 250 hours of practical experience, maintain CPR certification, and undergo a national background check.

Cleanliness

You should feel comfortable when you enter a massage therapy space. Of course, clients differ. Some prefer white-walled medical environments and others enjoy dreamy and exotic sights, smells, and textures. However, if your therapist doesn’t provide a space that meets your needs (and appears safe and sanitary), consider searching for another practitioner that better suits you.

If you want to ensure a potential therapist is right for you, visit them in their workspace. Soak in their environment, see if you like their attitude, and determine their level of professionalism. If everything feels right, go ahead and book your session!

Pre-Massage Consultation

The best massage therapists conduct thorough intake evaluations with new clients. They should ask you about your personal and family health history and what your personal and health goals might be for this session.

Your practitioner can help you understand what to expect from your first session and what progress to watch for over time. Together, you can set targets for a course of treatment and determine a safe and well-paced plan of action.

Communication

Before, during, and after your massage session, your therapist should listen carefully to your questions and concerns and respond appropriately to your needs. If you want to feel more comfortable and at home during your massage, feel free to request a change of music and scents (or bring your own music and essential oils).

Massage therapy involves a high level of trust. Your massage therapist should take care to help you understand all of your “draping” options (covering your body with sheets or towels, for example). The right massage therapist will work to understand your unique personal needs and make suggestions to improve your comfort level.

During your massage, be sure to tell your practitioner how much pressure you require. Every therapist has a different touch; each client has their own balance point between too much and too little discomfort. Just like a healthy stretch in yoga class, a little discomfort (but not pain) can bring many healing benefits. However, if your practitioner has a very different idea of what you can take than you do (as in the Rolfing example above), you may be in for a difficult experience. The right therapist for you will listen to your verbal and non-verbal signals and find the right balance for you.

Post-Massage Care

After your session, your massage therapist should give you proper time, space, and attention. If you’ve followed your gut and choose a practitioner with whom you feel a good connection, their intuition in these vulnerable moments can greatly increase the healing benefits you take home with you.

Depending on what you’ve shared with your practitioner before and during your massage, they may have a number of suggestions for self-care after your session. From hydration to meditation to salt baths, there are many ways to extend and increase your physical and emotional healing. The right massage therapist will suggest home care techniques and products (without a sales pitch) and leave you smiling. Hopefully you leave with a wonderful new feeling, eager to return!

References:

  1. After care/self care. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://lamkincottage.massagetherapy.com/after-care–self-care
  2. Bassanese, P. (2012) You know you are getting a good massage when… Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paola-bassanese/massage-you-know-you-are-getting-_b_1341090.html.
  3. Board certification. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.ncbtmb.com/board-certification
  4. Burgan, B. (n.d.) How can i find the right massage therapist? Retrieved from http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/massage-therapy/how-can-i-find-right-massage-therapist
  5. Riggs, A. (2011) Draping Dilemmas. Massage and Bodywork Magazine for the Visually Impaired. Retrieved from https://www.abmp.com/textonlymags/article.php?article=137
  6. Education. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/education/index.html
  7. Employers. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.abmp.com/employers
  8. Massage therapy. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.angieslist.com/research/massage-therapy/
  9. Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.) Massage therapy: overview. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/massage-therapy/home/ovc-20170282
  10. State regulations. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/regulation/stateRegulations.html
  11. Varney, S. (2010) Rolfing back in vogue, but with shaky evidence. Morning edition. San Francisco, CA: KQED.