Which type of massage will best relieve your aches and pains

Don’t know your Shiatsu from your Swedish? Here’s how to tell the difference between popular massage styles and find the best therapy for your condition. 

When it comes to massage, some things are certain. 

Most of us know, for example, that massage is good for helping to reduce muscle soreness, boost circulation and improve mobility, as well as relieving stress

What’s less clear, however, is what the different styles of massage are and what conditions each one is typically useful for.

Need to get some knots worked out? Don’t get rubbed the wrong way — check out our quick guide to the most common types of massage, and how each technique can help.

Remedial massage

A holistic treatment that goes much deeper than a regular massage, a remedial massage not only works on the symptoms but also goes to the root of the problem, according to women’s health physiotherapist Saila Insua Lopez. 

“Therapists in this discipline study anatomy, physiology, pathology, Swedish massage, lymphatic drainage, sports massage and more,” Saila, of Sydney’s Wonder clinic, explains. 

“In addition to mobilising muscle fibres, it includes working with the ‘fascia’ —  a thin casing of tissue that connects the whole body.”  

Often used for muscular and skeletal dysfunctions, sports injuries and headaches, the benefits of a remedial massage include pain reduction, stress alleviation, and improved blood and lymphatic flow. 

Swedish massage

According to Endeavour College massage lecturer Georgina Turelli, Swedish is considered the most soothing of massage treatments, and is aimed at relaxing the body using a combination of long, flowing strokes and soft-tissue kneading techniques.

“It’s best for someone looking to relax or enjoy a nice massage,” Georgina says.

Known to eliminate muscle tension and improve circulation, a 2017 review of Swedish massage found it was particularly useful for reducing lower back pain. 

Deep tissue massage

Combining a number of techniques to access the deeper layers of muscle tissue, your deep tissue therapist will use slower, deeper movements to penetrate the main muscle groups of your body. 

“We use it predominantly to massage muscles that cause chronic aches and pains,” Saila says. 

“This massage is one of the most effective in reducing pain and inflammation.” 

A recent clinical trial found women who’d had C-sections had significantly decreased levels of pain following a deep tissue massage. 

This style is best suited to those who engage in regular physical activity, and those who have an injury or chronic pain. 

Sports massage

Often performed before and after sport to warm up or loosen muscles, the aim of this style of massage isn’t relaxation as such but, rather, the prevention and treatment of injuries. 

“The movements used are longer strokes than in Swedish massage; and stretching is also used,” Saila explains. 

“This massage is recommended for injury rehabilitation, improving sports performance, flexibility and muscle balance.”

Thai massage

Often referred to as “yoga massage” because of the positions the therapist pulls your body into, this type of massage is all about being twisted and pulled. 

“It involves acupuncture points, applying pressure to meridian lines, passive stretches, and mobilising the body into unique positions using the therapist’s whole body to knead, push, pull and stretch,” Georgina explains. 

Renowned for improving the body’s mobility and flexibility, this technique is best for those who experience chronic headaches, as well as those experiencing fatigue. 

Shiatsu massage

A massage technique that originated in Japan, Shiatsu relies on the use of fingers, thumbs and palms to apply pressure to various areas of the body’s surface — often using a rhythm sequence. 

“This treatment improves the flow of energy and helps the body to regain psychophysical balance,” Saila says. 

Studies show shiatsu can assist with issues related to poor posture, joint issues and sleep.

One 2019 study found it can also assist with chronic lower back pain.

Myofascial release

Using a slow technique and working with the fascial system, your therapist will stretch and knead your muscles and fascia, explains Georgina.

Often combined with craniosacral therapy — a method of using light touch to manipulate joints — myofascial release can help to restore range of motion and soothe muscles, bones, tendons and nerves, Georgina says it’s beneficial for anyone seeking a gentle form of massage.

One study found it’s suitable for those with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, while another points to an improvement with patients with fibromyalgia.

For more on managing body aches and pains: 

Written by Dilvin Yasa.