A Guide To Different Types Of Massage Therapy


If you’re thinking of pursuing a career as a massage therapist, one of the first things you’ll need to do is decide which type of massage you want to specialise in.

Working in massage is a more skilled occupation than many people realise. It’s important, no matter which specialisations you choose, to ensure you get the best training and understanding of the appropriate techniques.

Choose a massage specialisation that feels appropriate for you, and then be attentive throughout your training. Being excellent at massage means never having to worry about unemployment.

Sports massage

This massage style is, as the name clearly suggests, normally applied to athletes who compete in sports or subject their body to extreme physical stress on a regular basis. They may have minor stress-related injuries, or simply muscle soreness from lactic acid build-up.  The massage style is usually applied quite vigorously, which helps to ensure good response and to quicken healing. Of course, this also makes it demanding on you, so you’ll certainly be keeping fit if you have a busy sports massage practise.

Swedish massage

In this case, the massage is more aimed at stress relief rather than physical treatment for painful conditions, so it’s generally performed with less intensity than sports massage, but for a longer duration per session. As a result, it doesn’t feel as much like a workout for you, although because you’re working continuously, it can still be tiring. In this style, you apply lighter pressure, and generally massage the whole body. As it is the most common type of massage, almost everyone will have at least some familiarity with it. Strangely enough, even though it is called Swedish massage, all of the techniques have French names.

The main techniques in Swedish massage are effleurage (long, smooth strokes to relax muscles), petrissage (kneading, to penetrate deeper into the muscle fibres), friction (pressing firmly onto the surface in a circular motion to achieve even greater relaxation of the muscles), and tapotement (strategically placed taps with cupped hands to complete the massage process).

Deep Tissue massage

This is even more extreme than sports massage, which is really saying something.  When you apply this massage technique, you’re trying to apply very focussed pressure into a specific area and fix whatever problems are thought to be in that area. It is a very intense, probing, and definitely uncomfortable style of massage for both the patient and the practitioner. Even so, it can be very effective in treating deep tissue problems that other styles of massage would either not reach at all, or would require much more time to be devoted before an effect was achieved.

Remedial massage

As suggested by the name, remedial massage is applied as a remedy. It’s similar to sports massage and not as intense as deep tissue massage. The idea behind remedial massage is to aid the healing of an existing injury. Unlike sports massage and deep tissue massage, when applying remedial massage, you apply only as much therapy as you feel is needed. You also wouldn’t work any more or less rapidly than is appropriate for the treatment of the patient’s condition. Remedial massage is a very in-demand service with great employment prospects, whether you decide to start your own practise or work in somebody else’s.

Thai massage

If you are feeling relaxed and comfortable while receiving a Thai massage, that is probably a sign that the practitioner is not skilled. Thai massage is not supposed to feel especially good while you’re receiving it – in fact, many people are surprised at the intense physicality of it, and that it can even involve a mild amount of painful pressure at times – the good feeling is experienced some time after the completion of the massage.

It helps to remember that Thailand is a deeply Buddhist country, and in Buddhist terms, unless you have suffered, how would you know when you are not suffering? So it follows that when pressure is applied to your body, you may not necessarily feel relief at that moment, but when the pressure is removed, you will feel relieved.

Thai massage works by applying pressure along the body’s energy pathways and chakras to ‘unblock them’. Stretching techniques are also employed to help improve energy, improve circulation, and de-stress muscles. Thai massage is completed with tapotement, in a similar manner to Swedish massage, although the tapotement is normally applied only to the upper body.

Very skilled practitioners of Thai massage may also apply deep tissue massage techniques to fix specific muscle and tendon problems. Anybody can learn Thai massage, but learning to do it well enough for it to be considered therapy will set you apart from the average practitioner.

Choosing which is right for you

Choosing which massage technique is right for you will depend on what kind of clients you want to have, your own physical fitness and skills, and whether you have more of a passion for intense massage for athletes, or the relaxing and soothing side of massage. Whichever you choose, gaining the right qualifications and training is vital to ensuring a successful career in the massage industry. The International Career Institute offers a Certificate of Massage Therapy that you can complete online in as little as 24 weeks. Contact us today to get started with your rewarding career in massage therapy.

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Gladys Mae


Gladys Mae serves as the General Manager and Head of Student Services at the International Career Institute. Gladys holds a degree in Mass Communication - Broadcast Media from the University of San Jose-Recoletos. She joined ICI in 2010 and has over the past 12 years been instrumental in providing leadership and guidance to staff and students alike. Prior to joining ICI Gladys led a multifaceted career with key roles in the banking and business process outsourcing industries.