Massage has been practiced for thousands of years. Today, if you need or want a massage, you can choose from among 80 massage therapy styles with a wide variety of pressures, movements, and techniques. These all involve pressing, rubbing, or manipulating muscles and other soft tissues with hands and fingers. Sometimes even forearms, elbows, or feet are used.
According to a 2007 American Massage Therapy Association survey, almost a quarter of all adult Americans had at least one massage in the previous year. And, they have a wide range of reasons for doing so. More and more people -- especially baby boomers -- recognize the health benefits of massage. They choose from among many massage styles to get relief from symptoms or to heal injuries, to help with certain health conditions, and to promote overall wellness.
Here is information you can use to help you decide what types of massage will work best for you.
Which Massage Styles Are Best?
You may have noticed that different massage styles are popular at different times. And you may have wondered whether each was just part of a passing fad or the latest, greatest massage technique? Even more important is how can you tell whether the latest style will actually help you?
Styles used in massage therapy range from long, smooth strokes to short, percussive strokes. Some massage therapists use oils and lotions; others do not. Most massage therapists have clients unclothe for a massage, but some do not. A massage can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours.
Before you can decide which massage style is best for you, you need to ask yourself a question. Do you simply want a massage for relaxation and stress control? Or do you need symptom relief or help with a certain health condition? Before booking a massage, let the therapist know what you're looking for and ask which style the therapist uses. Many use more than one style. Or the therapist may customize your massage, depending on your age, condition, or any special needs or goals you have.
What follows is a list of some of the more popular massage therapy styles. The first four are especially popular.
The most common type of massage is Swedish massage therapy. It involves soft, long, kneading strokes, as well as light, rhythmic, tapping strokes, on topmost layers of muscles. This is also combined with movement of the joints. By relieving muscle tension, Swedish therapy can be both relaxing and energizing. And it may even help after an injury.
The four common strokes of Swedish massage are:
Effleurage: a smooth, gliding stroke used to relax soft tissue
Petrissage: the squeezing, rolling, or kneading that follows effleurage
Friction: deep, circular movements that cause layers of tissue to rub against each other, helping to increase blood flow and break down scar tissue
Tapotement: a short, alternating tap done with cupped hands, fingers, or the edge of the hand