Basic Types of Massage


Massage therapy initially separates into two basic types: Eastern and Western. The latter form is also referred to as Chinese, Japanese or Asian. While the two formats have commonalities, there are also differences. This is not simply a question of origin. It is a matter of philosophy.

Western Massage traditionally treats the body as a physical entity. It bases its approach on western ideals and understanding of medicine. Eastern or Asian Massage looks at the body as part of a whole. It considers the physical, emotional and mental aspects of a human being as one interdependent entity.

Within the frame work of Eastern and Western Massage, you find two basic subdivisions. These are traditional and modern eclectic. Traditional massage therapy conforms to the original concepts. They remain staunchly Eastern or Western in their outlook and approach to treatment.

Modern, eclectic massage therapy diverges. It can be Western Massage techniques utilizing Eastern philosophy. It could also be Eastern techniques with a more Western approach to medical concepts. Modern eclectic massage therapy essentially offers a variation on the original theme.


The original version of Western Massage Therapy is, without a doubt, Swedish Massage. In fact in Sweden and among many practitioners, Swedish Massage is known as Classic Massage. It is a massage therapy based entirely on a physical or medical approach. It is the physical body that is of importance.

A massage therapist of this and other traditional forms of Western Massage, focus on the anatomy as defined by Western medical research. These massage therapists work within a tradition that uses the current concepts of the scientific understanding and findings on the physical entity we call the body.

Traditional forms of Western Massage include:

  • Sports Massage
  • Medical Massage and
  • Deep Tissue Massage.
  • Approaches with slight variations are:
  • Esalen Massage
  • Hellerwork
  • Myofascial Release
  • Rolfing and
  • Trigger Point Massage or Myotherapy.

The massage therapists of these types of massage focus only on the physical repair and maintenance of the body. In Rolfing, for example, a massage therapist works with the muscles and the layers of fascia (connective tissues) to reorganize or restructure or realign the body. Esalen Massage essentially draws on Swedish Massage with rocking movements and deep tissue massage strokes to help restore the functionality of the body.


The standard form of Eastern Massage Therapy is Chinese or Asian Massage Therapy. This can take many forms. The most standard is acupressure. Its approach is strictly based on the philosophical and medical concepts from the East. It perceives the healing of a body to be realized only with the involvement of the life force. This is the Chi or Qi, in Chinese, and the Ki in Japanese.

In Traditional Chinese or Japanese Massage Therapy, the practitioner works with the energy or life force to heal the body. It is all about balancing the energy within the body. It is also about creating and maintaining a physical, mental and emotional balance. In the traditional form of Asian massage therapy, the therapist is striving to restore a balance among all aspects of the body. Moreover, he or she accomplishes this using a system based on a concept of meridians or pathways.

A blockage of any of the 12 meridians or 8 channels, according to Acupressure theory, will cause many adverse effects such as disease and emotional trauma. By placing pressure on specific points, the practitioner clears the channels. This allows free flow of energy, balance is restored and health improves.

Other traditional versions of Western or Asian massage therapy include:

  • Amma (Japan)
  • Tuina or Tui Na (China) and Thai Massage.
  • All these forms of Asian massage rely on the philosophical and medical approaches of the East.
  • Tuina, for example, works with specific acupressure points to stimulate the joints and muscles.
  • Techniques are traditional Chinese brushing, kneading, rolling and pressing.


Both Asian and Western massage practitioners follow their own concept of physiology. There are, however, eclectic combinations. While some may base their origins in the past, they are revivals or recreations not the original. Falling into this mixed category are:

  • Shiatsu
  • Reiki
  • Aromatherapy Massage and
  • Reflexology.

While some, such as Shiatsu and Reiki, base their approach on traditional Oriental massage therapy or medicine, they combine more modern approaches or update the practices. Aromatherapy Massage, for example, combines the use of aromatic oils with various massage techniques.

Yet, Eastern and Western, as well as all the subdivisions, all have the same goal – a healthy, happy human. How they achieve it is different. The techniques vary. The philosophy may be radically distinctive. Yet, the goal of making a person feel and act whole again remains true for all forms of massage therapy.

On the following pages you will learn more about these distinct types of massage therapy. You will discover how they differ and how they are the same. It begins with a look at the most popular types of Massage Therapy: Swedish Massage, Trigger Point, Deep Tissue, Sports Massage and Shiatsu.

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