Acupressure stimulates the same points as acupuncture, but using fingers and hands instead of needles.
Aromatherapy uses concentrated essential oils from flowers, herbs, and other plants to treat a variety of diseases and ailments. The roots of aromatherapy trace back to ancient tradition of herbal medicine that was practiced thousands of years ago from Egypt to India. Aromatherapy is now commonly administered by massaging extracted oils of aromatic plants into the skin.
Current research examining the effectiveness of aromatherapy massage for health conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to symptom relief for individuals with cancer to dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain—see also) suggests some of the beneficial health outcomes of aromatherapy massage.
Ayurveda is an eastern Indian system of holistic therapies and herbal medicines that integrates the body, mind and spirit to promote healing as a way of life. Ayurvedic health care is based on the principle that body, mind, and soul must be in harmony for health and happiness. As an Indian spiritual science developed approximately 3,000 years ago in Central Asia, Ayurvedic body work aims to promote health by achieving balance between body, mind, and spirit.
Ayurvedic practices include but are not limited to massage. Ayurvedic body work may include sweat therapy, the use of purifying and medicinal oils, and acupressure on vital points. The primary purposes for giving an Ayurvedic massage are: to eliminate excess stress, toxins, and chemicals in order to purify the body and achieve balance; to strengthen and rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit; and to maintain strength.
Chair massage is a style of seated massage typically focusing on the head, back, shoulders, neck, arms, and hands and frequently may be provided in 15-20 minutes. Chair massage is performed while clothed and does not require massage oil.
A chair massage is administered in a special chair with arms supported and face resting in a cradle. The back and neck are completely relaxed while a therapist relieves muscle tension using Swedish massage techniques such as kneading and compression. The procedure frequently includes long broach strokes with moderate pressure. Chair massage may be administered in public venues, including the workplace, airports, and spas/resorts/hotels.
Chi Nei Tsang
Chi Nei Tsang (CNT) is a holistic approach to the healing touch modality of ancient Taoist Chinese origin that aims to integrate the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of being by addressing the origins of health problems.
CNT aims to address conditions, as well as psychosomatic responses, by detoxifying, restructuring, and strengthening the body, as well as by enabling clients to promote emotional well-being by imparting self-help techniques through breathing, meditation, and by personalizing diet and health-related lifestyle matters. CNT manipulations detoxify the body by simulating lymphatic and circulatory systems in order to improve immune responses. CNT restructures the body by correcting the postural problems resulting from visceral imbalances to release deep-seated tensions and to restore vitality. This aspect of CNT has been helpful with chronic pains such as back, neck and shoulder pains and problems related to misalignment of the feet, legs and pelvis.
CNT practitioners provide tools to patients for better dealing with their emotional lives; by linking poor emotional digestion to ill health, CNT practitioners facilitate a clearer understanding of emotional life in order to grow and evolve in the direction of a better self. Lastly, CNT teaches patients to improve health and healing from within by improving techniques of breathing, and by providing personalized and relevant visualization and meditation practices to enhance the effect of manual treatments.
CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle modality that focuses on releasing any blockages in the cerebrospinal fluid due to physical, mental, or emotional trauma. Subtle and powerful are two words used frequently to describe this very light, hands-on treatment. CranioSacral Therapy can be a stand-alone treatment, or your practitioner may incorporate CranioSacral work into a massage. If done independent of a massage, the client remains fully clothed on a massage table.
Not to be confused with deep pressure, a deep-tissue massage is a very focused, results-oriented treatment suited for people who are experiencing consistent pain and/or have an injured themselves physically. Your therapist will warm up the muscle tissue with Swedish massage strokes, and then work more specifically on any area of discomfort using their elbow, fingers, fists, and hands. Most therapists have some training in deep, specific techniques and can employ these skills within any type of Western massage treatment. However, in consultation with the client, a therapist may also devote an entire treatment to addressing the injured area, as opposed to giving a full-body treatment. It is very common to experience some tenderness in the worked area for up to 48 hours after your massage.
It is important to remember that everyone has a different tolerance for deep work, so communication with your therapist throughout your treatment regarding your comfort is essential. If your body is resisting the pressure applied to it, then the treatment is too deep, and you need to tell your therapist.
Energy therapy refers to various hands-off and hands-on techniques that aim to channel, balance, or restore energy in the body of the recipient. These include Reiki, Healing Touch, and CranioSacral Therapy and may describe aspects of other modalities.
Healing Touch is a gentle and noninvasive energy therapy that aims to restore balance to the flow of energy in and around the client’s body using light or near-touch. Healing Touch may be administered as a biofield therapy, which may facilitate a deep sense of calm and relaxation in the body, mind, and spirit of the client. Treatments are typically administered on a massage table with the client fully clothed.
Hot Stone Therapy
Hot stone therapy is an effective treatment for relieving sore muscles. Your therapist will place hot (and sometimes cold) stones on key points on the body. Your therapist may also hold the stones and use them to massage certain areas and at times will use only their hands, without the stones. Oil is the lubricant used for hot stone therapy, so please discuss any allergies with your therapist.
Most massage therapists are trained in many of the treatment modalities described on our treatment descriptions, and they are not always separated into different treatments, but more commonly are used in combination within a single treatment, as warranted. A massage should be very fluid, and the therapist should be adept at addressing the needs of the body with whatever technique is called for. This is called integrated massage, and it is extremely common among bodywork practitioners.
This is a very gentle type of Massage that is used to encourage the natural circulation of lymph in the body. Stress, excess fluid from infection, illness, and blockages or injury to lymphatic vessels can impair lymphatic function. Your therapist will use light, rhythmic, circular movements to stimulate lymph flow in the body.
Medical message (or clinical/treatment massage) refers to massage therapy practice involving more extensive use of assessment, specific focused techniques, and applications with the intention of achieving clinical treatment outcomes. Medical massage may be prescribed to specifically address conditions that have been diagnosed by a physician. The therapist may use a variety of modalities or procedures during the treatment but will focus the Medical Massage treatment on areas of the body related to the diagnosis and prescription.
This is a technique that aims to relieve pain and stiffness specifically by applying sustained manual pressure to the fascia, or connective tissue surrounding the muscles. It is unique in that, traditionally, it is done without lubricant, and is very slow, deep, and elongating. Done properly, this technique can be very effective in relaxing contracted muscles and stimulating the stretch reflex of the fascia. It is generally incorporated into a massage treatment, but it may also constitute an entire treatment on its own.
Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT) uses static pressure on specific points on the body to relieve pain and restore balance to the nervous system. NMT addresses five causes of pain: poor posture and body habits, trigger points, nerve compression, and ischemia (lack of blood supply to tissues). Typically practiced as a stand-alone treatment, it is a very specific and focused modality that can nevertheless be very therapeutic and restorative. Talk to your neuromuscular therapist to see if this is the right treatment for you.
Oncology massage is the adaptation of massage techniques to safely nurture the body of someone affected by cancer, as well as its treatments. An oncology trained massage therapist has completed comprehensive training in general massage therapy and has received additional, specialized training to address the side effects of cancer and various treatments.
Orthopedic Massage focuses on treating painful conditions affecting the soft tissues of the body, and the therapist focuses on problems with the client’s musculoskeletal system by integrating diverse techniques adapted to the client’s conditions. The therapist may release tight muscles, stretch shortened muscles and tendons, and decompress joints. The goal is to normalize the body’s soft tissues in order to treat specific conditions and to improve overall health and well-being. Because orthopedic massage is designed to treat medical conditions, it requires extensive training and may be recommended by a physician.
Reflexology, sometimes known as zone therapy, is based on the theory that pressure applied to specific areas of the feet, hands, and ears can produce beneficial results in corresponding parts of the body.
Your therapist, called a reflexologist, will use his or her hands, thumbs, and fingers on these areas (feet, hands, ears) without oil or lotion. Reflexology is often incorporated into a massage treatment, but it is commonly performed as a stand-alone treatment. Benefits include relaxation, relief of pain and stress, and improved circulation.
Reiki is a vibrational, or subtle energy, therapy commonly facilitated by lightly touch, which is believed to balance the body’s biofield and strengthen the body’s ability to heal itself. Reiki is based on an Eastern belief in an energy that supports the body’s innate or natural healing abilities.
As an energy therapy, Reiki focuses on restoring energetic balance to the body while also aligning the chakras, or energy centers, of the body. During the healing practice, clients remained clothed while practitioners place their hands lightly on or just above the person, with the goal of facilitating the person’s own healing response.
Shiatsu is an Eastern form of bodywork performed on a mat on the floor, with the client dressed in loose-fitting clothes. Shiatsu treatments are designed to work along the energy pathways, or meridians, posited by traditional Chinese medicine to release energy blockages and allow Qi (pronounced “chi,” meaning “life force energy”) to flow optimally. But one need not ascribe to traditional Chinese medicine to enjoy the significant physical, mental, and emotional benefits of a Shiatsu treatment. Your therapist may use finger and palm pressure, gentle stretches and joint mobilization during your treatment. A Shiatsu treatment can be very effective in relieving pain, restoring energy, and inducing a deep sense of calm and relaxation.
Senior’s Massage (Geriatric Massage)
Senior’s Massage (also called Geriatric Massage) is administered sensitive to the needs of aging bodies. While similar therapeutic massage techniques are used, the therapist will frequently take care to first properly position the client at the start of a treatment. When mobility is an issue, the client will not be asked to reposition. Further, the therapist may make adjustments in pressure to accommodate needs.
Senior’s Massage may increase circulation, reduce muscle stiffness, aid inflammation in the joints, alleviate pain, and improve respiration. Senior’s Massage may also improve psychological well-being and overall quality of life, often times as a factor of the developing bond between client and therapist.
Sports massage refers to any treatment focused on preparing the body for or helping the body recuperate from sports, exercise, or a similarly strenuous activity. Treatments can focus on relaxing muscles, increasing or restoring muscle suppleness and range of motion in the limbs, or pain relief. Your sports massage therapist may use Swedish massage, cross-fiber friction, compression, trigger point therapy, lymphatic massage, and/or heat/ice therapy during the course of your treatment. You may find an improvement in your range of motion and flexibility and a decrease in pain and stiffness.
Swedish Massage is the foundation of every Western-style massage modality. It is what most people think of when they think of massage. Aspects of Swedish massage are used in almost every massage treatment, no matter the goal, as it is a great way to warm up the muscle tissue and cover broad areas. It improves circulation and helps relax the client and relieve general tension. After your interview with your massage therapist, you will be left to undress to your level of comfort and lie on the massage table, covered by a sheet. The therapist will then return to the room and begin the treatment. Using hands, forearms, and fists, your therapist will address the identified areas of tension; most often, the limbs, torso, hips, hands, feet, head and neck will all be massaged. Swedish strokes are long, flowing, and “milking” movements.
Thai Yoga Massage
Thai yoga massage is a beautiful, therapeutic ancient art for contemporary stressors. Emerging over 2,500 years ago, it embodies ancient Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and yoga. Thai yoga massage is an active expression of Metta, or loving kindness. The intentional essence of Metta sets forth the healing processes and practices of Thai Bodywork.
The guiding principle for the practice of Thai yoga massage is compassion: for both oneself and others. Techniques include a combination of deep acupressure, compression, joint decompression, passive stretching, traction, and energy work along “Sen Lines” (the channels of the vital flows of life energy) to yield a holistic, well-balanced therapeutic massage. Manual manipulations and energetic flows awaken stagnant energy to remove negative “blocked” energy from the Sen Lines. While Thai yoga massage is a very physical modality, its primary focus is to impart balance and harmony to the ‘energetic’ body and mind of the recipient.
Therapeutic massage involves the manipulation of both superficial and deep layers of connective tissue and muscle using different massage techniques in order to manage acute or chronic health conditions; to facilitate healing, rehabilitation, or recovery; and/or to improve overall well-being. Therapeutic massage may also be sought to improve functioning in daily activities (e.g., sleep, movement, range of motion, or flexibility) or to maintain/enhance physical or athletic performance (e.g., sports massage).
Therapeutic massage may be sought as an adjunct to other allopathic medical treatments, often and increasingly involving a recommendation from a physician. Further, therapeutic massage, even when sought for medical reasons, may also simultaneously be sought to promote relaxation and/or as a recreational activity.
Therapeutic massage is a broad term that may include a range of different types of massage therapy treatments or styles (called “modalities”). These diverse modalities range from Western-informed types such as Swedish massage or deep tissue massage to other Eastern-based techniques, such as Thai Yoga massage or Ayurvedic bodywork. Similarly, therapeutic massage involves ranging amounts of pressure, including light and even no-touch massage modalities (such as Reiki, Healing Touch, or other Energy Therapies), as well as those with firm pressure. Practitioners of therapeutic massage are therefore quite diverse, as are the philosophies that form the basis of ascribing therapeutic effects. For example, while some energy therapies may ascribe therapeutic effects as deriving from biofields, flow, or chakras, other forms of bodywork focus on more measurable physiological changes (e.g., hormones or reported pain levels).
Therapeutic massage may incorporate essential oils, such as in aromatherapy massage or heat/cold therapy, such as in hot stone therapy. Further, massage therapists may receive additional training in order to work with specific health conditions, as is the case with oncology massage, medical massage, or prenatal massage. Massage therapists may also receive specific training in order to work with age-specific groups, as is the case with geriatric massage and infant or pediatric massage.
Many massage therapists also offer a style of massage therapy that incorporates several different techniques. This type of therapeutic massage is most commonly referred to as an integrative massage.
The health benefits of massage therapy continue to be researched in a growing scientific literature (see our “Conditions” section to review the literature on a specific health condition). Existing literature suggests the health benefits of massage therapy for affective conditions (including anxiety and depression), specific types of pain (e.g., neck pain, Osteoarthritis of the knee), as well as for promoting reported levels of relaxation and improved overall well-being. Further, research has suggested that both energy therapies and hands-on forms of bodywork may be effective at promoting therapeutic outcomes for some individuals depending on the specific health issue.
Trigger Point Release
Trigger point release is a very common technique in Western massage. A trigger point is a hypersensitive area of the muscle that can cause pain, burning, tingling, restricted range of motion, and weakness. A myofascial trigger point usually, but not always, produces referred pain in a predictable pattern, both in the originating pain area and in another part of the body. Trigger point release can be very effective for ongoing muscle pain due to overuse, injury, repetitive motion, sports, and disease. Most massage therapists incorporate trigger point release in traditional massage as needed.
Watsu, or “water Shiatsu” is a relatively new type of bodywork, developed in 1980, performed in a pool of warm water. A very nurturing treatment, it applies the principles and some techniques found in Shiatsu. Many people find that the support of water relieves pain or pressure on the vertebrae and allows them to move more freely as their practitioner gently moves, twists, and pulls them as needed through the treatment.
For more information, please explore our Conditions page or consult this helpful glossary at ABMP. Or, if you want to read more of the research, check out Best Research Resources for Massage Therapists.