The different types of Massage
There are several types of Massage Modalities, and the more this industry evolves, the more these different styles keep growing. It can be confusing and overwhelming to choose what kind of service you need. Especially when it comes to "Deep Tissue." This term has taken on a life of it's own in the massage world, and can vary drastically depending on the practitioner. This is a commonly miscommunicated and misused term that can refer to the pressure spectrum used and/or the style of technique implemented to achieve a desired result. Therefore the result is a conundrum between the depth of pressure used in ANY technique, as well as the multitude of modalities that can fall under the umbrella of techniques that could qualify as "deep tissue." So to help clarify and hopefully educate the consumer, I have provided a list of modalities and what they can help with.
What is Massage Therapy:
Before I define the different types and styles of Therapeutic Massage, I want to clarify the difference between a "Masseuse" and a qualified Massage Therapist. Most people are unaware that the former term is actually a derogatory and outdated title, whereas the latter is a professional tile that someone who has undergone extensive Medical training in order to achieve. The term Masseuse used to be a fancy, ethnic word to describe a massage practitioner, but now it only implies someone who is active in the sex industry. So you can see why the legitimate, medically oriented Massage industry has diligently strived to set ourselves apart from the "happy ending" stigma and other disrespectful connotations.
This is an important distinction to make, because if you are really needing relief you don't want to find yourself in a Massage Parlor. A professional treatment center is NOT a parlor, and is usually defined as a Clinic, Spa, Office, or Studio that employs qualified, adequately trained professionals. It is also important to understand that each state has it's own regulations for Massage Therapy, but there are National Certifications that each state recognizes. The nationally recognized and appropriate title for a qualified Massage practitioner is a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT). Some practitioners still title themselves as "Certified" (CMT) or "Registered," (RMT) and this would indicate that they are properly trained, however this is an outdated practice and it is possible that they may have a very limited or archaic education. Therefore as an educated consumer, it is important for your own health and safety to be aware of what to look for in an establishment and qualified practitioner.
The different Massage Modalities:
When you find a professional establishment, most Spas and Studios will organize their menus according to the amount of effort a practitioner uses in each service. For example, a Swedish massage vs. a Deep Tissue, and charging extra for specialty services such as Hot Stone that requires more work. I personally do not agree with this tactic as a Massage Therapist myself, I use the same amount of manual labor in each service and regardless of what it is called, I will still customize my treatment plan according to my client's needs. But you as the consumer should know the difference so you know what to expect.
Everything that has an asterisk (*) next to it is a Modality that I am personally certified in.
*Ashiatsu Massage: uses the practitioner's bare feet to apply the massage techniques. Overhead bars are usually used for the therapist to climb onto the table and keep their balance, however there is a new style called Sarga that uses an aerial silk attached to the table for the same purpose. This is another ancient modality that has roots in ancient India and Ayurvedic Medicine. To learn more about this style, please click here.
*Ayurvedic Massage: Ayurveda is the oldest medical science in the world, and is known as "the science of life." It is the sister science to Yoga, and was originally developed to provide and increase longevity. Now it used to repair and rejuvenate the body, but the ancient wisdom remains because it is so effective. These treatments are designed according to your Dosha (or constitution), and implemented in precise protocols. Please see our Services page for more details.
*Cranio Sacral Therapy: (CST) is a form of bodywork or alternative therapy using gentle touch to palpate the bones of the cranium (skull). A practitioner of cranial-sacral therapy may also apply light touches to a client's sacrum at the bottom of the spine and pelvic bones. Practitioners believe that this palpation regulates the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and aids in unwinding old trauma patterns and resetting bone alignment. .Craniosacral therapy was developed by John Upledger, D.O. in the 1970s, as an offshoot osteopathy in the cranial field, or cranial osteopathy, which was developed in the 1930s by William Garner Sutherland
*Deep Tissue: as I mentioned earlier, this is a widely misused and very broad term that indicates a deeper pressure spectrum, but can also refer to more therapeutic massage techniques. This umbrella term may include other styles such as Sports Massage, Myofascial Release, and Neuromuscular techniques, depending on what your practitioner is trained in. Most establishments usually charge more for this service because they justify the price increase with an increase of effort on the practitioner's part.
*Integrative: this is a relatively new term to describe a customized treatment that may include a combination of several techniques, depending on what your practitioner has in their bag of tricks. Because larger establishments employ several Massage Therapist that all have different training backgrounds, this is a great way to explain a service that leaves it open to be defined by the practitioner.
*Intuitive: this is another emerging term that typically implies that the practitioner is spiritually intuitive and/or allows their intuition to guide the session. This style of service may or may not include other more eclectic modalities such as Energy Healing like Reiki, Crystal Healing, or Sound Healing.
Lymphatic Drainage: is a type of massage based on preliminary evidence which is hypothesized to encourage the natural drainage of the lymph, which carries waste products away from the tissues back toward the heart. The lymph system depends on intrinsic contractions of the smooth muscle cells in the walls of lymph vessels (peristalsis) and the movement of skeletal muscles to propel lymph through the vessels to lymph nodes and then to the lymph ducts which return lymph to the cardiovascular system. Manual lymph drainage uses a specific amount of pressure (less than 9 ounces per square inch) and rhythmic circular movements to stimulate lymphatic flow.
Meridian Massage: Acupressure & Meridian Massage is based on the traditional Eastern healing method to restore the free flow of qi, which is the vital life force in the body, by applying the pressure on the specific acupressure points and on the energy lines called meridians located throughout the different parts of body.
*Myofascial Release: targets the fascia of the body. Fascia is a thin, tough, elastic type of connective tissue that wraps most structures within the human body, including muscle. Fascia supports and protects these structures. Osteopathic theory proposes that this soft tissue can become restricted due to psychogenic disease, overuse, trauma, infectious agents, or inactivity, often resulting in pain, muscle tension, and corresponding diminished blood flow.
*Neuromuscular Therapy: (NMT) is a precise, thorough examination and treatment of the body’s soft tissues using regionally oriented protocols that are taught in a step-by-step process. This technique is also used to release Trigger Points and other restrictions in the muscles that also effect the nerves.
*Swedish Massage: this style refers to a more relaxing treatment that combines specific techniques such as effleurage (long, sweeping strokes) and tapotement (tapping), and typically implies lighter pressure. This is a popular service in a Spa setting, but not as common in a medical or clinical setting.
*Shiatsu: is a form of Japanese bodywork based on ideas in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Shiatsu derives from a Japanese massage modality called anma which was itself adapted from tui na. Tui na is a Chinese bodywork system that arrived in Japan by at least the Nara period (710–793). IT priamrily uses acupressure along the Meridians developed by TCM.
*Thai Massage: this is an ancient Eastern modality that is performed fully clothed (as opposed to the client getting undressed and being covered by draping) on a mat on the floor. It involves passive stretching, joint mobilization, and Acupressure along the energetic anatomy according to Thai theory. The Thai have their own unique ancient medical system, and a traditional Thai Massage does not involve any other modalities. Hot Herbal Compresses may be used throughout the treatment.
Please note: that technically the term Thai Yoga Massage is another politically incorrect title for this style of massage. It was developed by practitioners (such as Yoga Teachers) who have no professional Massage Training, in order to legally practice this type of treatment. The Thai Massage industry does not have the same kind of government regulation as Massage Therapy, primarily because clients stay clothed during treatments. The term was also influenced by the way this style is described as "Lazy Man's Yoga" because of the passive stretching techniques. Essentially they are the same thing, but one is more true to the traditional practice and the other is a more evolved practice that is primarily about the bodywork and typically does not focus on the energetic anatomy.
*Trigger Point Therapy: this is a term that commonly gets filed under "Deep Tissue" and involves the release of trigger points in the soft tissue. A trigger point is a fibrous mass or adhesion that is usually referred to as a "knot" in the muscle belly. When a tender point (an area that is tender to the touch) becomes more fibrous (aka hardened) by repetitive stress or scar tissue, it develops into a trigger point that not only causes discomfort at the site of touch, but also refers sensation to another area of the body in specific patterns. The intention of the Massage Therapist is to apply direct, isometric pressure over the trigger point until it releases and dissolves.
Zero Balancing: a type of manual therapy devised by Frederick "Fritz" Smith in the 1970s. Smith proposed that a kind of energy field within the human body could be affected by bodily manipulations, resulting in many health benefits. The practice teaches that currents of energy are stored within the human skeleton, and that these affect both physical and mental wellbeing.
Katrina Shreve, LMT, HP, CYT