Massage Therapy Methods

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, there are five types of massage that are currently the most popular. These are Swedish Massage, Trigger Point, Deep Tissue, Sports Massage and Shiatsu. All but Shiatsu represent a Western tradition of massage treatments. All rely on specific techniques and intents to produce the best results possible in their clients.


Swedish Massage or Classic Massage is the oldest of the western traditions. It dates back to the early attempts by Per Henrik Ling (1176-1839) to introduce a method of massage into sports education. In doing so, he integrated a number of different existent Eastern healing techniques into a Western system of anatomy, physiology and blood circulation.

Further development by Johan Georg Mezger of Holland (1839-1909) produced the current classical or traditional system of Swedish Massage. Mezger is particularly noted for the naming of the different strokes applied in Swedish Massage. These are Effleurage, Petrissage, Friction and Tapotement.

Effluerage (touching lightly) is a smooth gliding stroke.

Petrissage (kneading) is a kneading of the flesh.

Friction (rubbing) is the deep, circular movements to the soft tissue.

Tapotement (tapping) is the application of cupped hands, the fingers or the edge of the hand in short, alternating taps on the body.

In addition to these 4 original strokes, the massage therapist can use vibration (shaking).

In theory, Swedish Massage helps the body to relax while it improves circulation and increases the range of motion or movement of the muscles and joints. A practitioner uses this type of massage therapy to help an individual recover from stress and to prevent the onset of injury and stress-related illness.

By relaxing the client, Swedish Massage reduces stress. This helps decrease stress-related illnesses. By improving the circulation, Swedish Massage decreases swelling around the injury and enhances lymphatic system production. As a result, healing speeds up and the reduction of swelling increases mobility of the affected parts.

Swedish Massage is the traditional form of Western Massage. Since its origins, and with the increase of massage in popularity, massage practitioners have created variations. These include three on the most-popular list. The offsprings of Swedish Massage include:

  • Trigger Point Massage
  • Sports Massage and
  • Deep Tissue Massage.

Trigger Point Massage is the creation of Janet Travell M.D. (1901-1997). A former White House physician, she explored and, with David Simons, is responsible for the Bible on this variation of massage therapy. “Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual” came out in 1983. It contains the basic techniques, purpose and philosophy behind Trigger Point Massage.

In essence, Trigger Point Massage believes the primary causal factor of pain and dysfunction is small, tender congested knots in the muscles. These are the “Trigger Points.” Highly localized spots, they are responsible for pain some 75% of the time.

Trigger points are responsible for a variety of pain, usually throbbing and dull aches. These include headaches, neck and jaw pain, lower back pain and joint pain. Trigger points may indicate carpal tunnel syndrome. Earaches, dizziness, nausea, heartburn, colic in babies and sinus pain or congestion can all be the result of trigger points.

The defining symptom of a trigger point is something called referred pain. The trigger point is an indication of the problem which may not, itself, originate at the trigger point. Relieving tension and stress from the trigger point will, however, start the healing process and break the cycle of pain-spasm-pain.

Trigger Point Massage Therapy recognizes three different types or regions of trigger points. There are central trigger points, satellite trigger points and attachment trigger points. You may have an active or a latent trigger point. All effect the healthy functioning of the body. Pressure on the correct trigger point will relieve the pain and hasten the healing of the body.

The method utilized by the practitioner is similar to Asian Acupressure. Deep sustained finger pressure is applied to the trigger points to release them. As with Swedish Massage, Trigger Point has also spawned variations and adaptations. Two specific versions are neuromuscular therapy and Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy.


Deep Tissue Massage Therapy is a direct descendent of Swedish Massage. In some instances, Deep Tissue Massage is a technique and not a specific type of therapy. In fact, it is utilized in various different kinds of massage therapy. In Deep Tissue Massage, a practitioner can utilize a number of techniques to free the body from pain. It specifically targets the body’s system of myofascial connective tissue. Here, the therapist may find adhesions.

Adhesions are tight, rigid, bands of tissue. They are usually present on ligaments, tendons and muscles. In doing so, the adhesions block blood and lymph circulation. This causes pain, limited movement and often inflammation. The therapist using Deep Tissue Massage, relies on slow strokes and finger pressure on these tight areas or adhesions. The approach requires depth in the pressure applied.

Like Sports Massage, Deep Massage is specific in its intent and focus. A practitioner will work to realign connective tissue and muscles at the deeper layers. In doing so, the therapist can address such health issues as low back problems, chronic pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia and restricted or limited movement of the muscles and joints.

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