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Top 10 Massage Modalities



What’s more relaxing than a great massage? That’s a common rhetorical question, but it doesn’t account for all the variety and nuance contained in the world of body massage therapy. Did you know, for example, that the American Massage Therapy Association lists more than 65 different types of massage and bodywork modalities?

Just as there are all different kinds of massages to choose from, there are all different reasons for consumers to seek a massage. For example, 30% of consumers who received a massage in 2020 said that the work was part of a treatment plan laid out by a doctor or other medical provider, according to the AMTA. Meanwhile, other consumers sought massages for pain relief or pain management, for pampering, or for relaxation and stress reduction. For consumers, the best massage therapy option might depend on their ultimate goals for undergoing bodywork. Because so many different types of massage exist, it can be difficult to understand the differences in massage therapy practices without having a full overview: What are the different types of massages? What is Shiatsu massage vs. Swedish massage vs. deep tissue massage, for example? Some modalities are more popular in the United States than others; below, we list the top 10 different massages you may encounter as a consumer or want to learn in massage therapy school: 1. Shiatsu massage — Also called finger pressure massage, Shiatsu massage is a form of acupressure bodywork from Japan. This form of massage therapy has the masseuse using their thumbs, fingers, and palms to apply pressure to points of the body that will promote energy flow and the body’s efforts to heal itself. Shiatsu massage can help recipients relieve stress, manage pain, and feel a heightened sense of overall well-being.


2. Swedish massage — Sometimes called a classic massage, Swedish massage is probably the most common type of massage. The goal of Swedish massage is to release muscle tension in order to promote relaxation and stress relief. It’s a gentler modality than deep tissue massage, focusing on soft, kneading strokes and light, rhythmic tapping on the upper layers of muscles. These stroke techniques are combined with moving the client’s joints to relieve muscle tension. The ultimate effect is both relaxation and reinvigoration.


3. Deep tissue massage — Employing this massage modality, the massage therapist applies slow, firm pressure to the deepest layers of the muscles and connective tissues in order to release muscle tension. Compared with Swedish massage, this is a more forceful technique. Benefits of deep tissue massage include stress relief, pain reduction, improved heart health, muscle injury rehabilitation, and more.

4. Hot stone massage — Hot stone massage is just as it sounds: A form of massage therapy that uses placing heated stones (typically basalt river rocks) on the body so that the stones’ heat and weight will help to warm and relax the body’s muscles. This allows the massage therapist to provide a deeper-pressure massage without causing discomfort. The benefits of this form of massage include relaxation and pain management.


5. Aromatherapy massage — Aromatherapy massage is Swedish massage therapy that incorporates massage oil or lotion containing essential oils. During this type of massage, the recipient inhales the molecules of these highly concentrated plant oils said to bring enhanced relaxation and psychological well-being.

6. Acupressure massage — An ancient Chinese technique that inspired modalities such as Shiatsu, acupressure massage is considered similar to acupuncture without the needles. Acupressure massage practitioners use their palms, fingers, elbows, and feet to apply pressure to pressure points along the body’s energy meridians. This massage is often used to treat depression, anxiety, arthritis, back pain, and more.


7. Thai massage — Thai massage combines gentle pressure and stretching techniques in order to reduce stress and increase energy. Unlike many Western massage techniques that require recipients to lay passively on a table, Thai massage has clients lie on the floor and participate more actively in assuming assisted yoga postures and stretching. The benefits associated with Thai massage include reduced joint stiffness and pain, headache relief, and more.


8. Sports massage — Similar to deep tissue massage, this massage modality applies firmer pressure and targets the muscles and deep connective tissue in the body. Unlike deep tissue massage, the massage therapist may incorporate stretching in order to help athletes recover from injury, increase their flexibility, and prevent future injury.


9. Reflexology — Also known as zone therapy, reflexology involves applying pressure to certain points of the hands and feet that are believed to be linked to various organs and systems of the body. Good for nerve stimulation, blood flow, and pain management, this modality helps to relieve stress and promote relaxation.


10. Prenatal massage — Also called pregnancy massage, this form of therapeutic bodywork caters to the needs of mothers-to-be. In response to the body’s changes during pregnancy, this form of massage aims to improve the function of muscles and joints, improve circulation, and combat fatigue.


As you can see, these massage methods of treatment target a variety of ailments and issues afflicting people in all stages of life. As a massage therapist, you could have a hand in clients’ improved wellness, energy, and mood. Ready to learn more about becoming a licensed massage therapist? Contact us today to learn more information about how our massage therapy programs can set you apart.