Different Massage Styles: What Is Right For You?

What are the different massage styles? We'll explain. Read about what exactly Swedish, hot stone, Thai, chair, and other massage styles are.

Massage Styles: What Is the Best Style for You?

Massage can mean a lot more than just a simple back rub. Today’s massage therapists are proficient in a variety of different massage styles, each one meant to address different needs with the most effective therapies. How do you know which method will work best for you? It’s important to tell your massage therapist what it is you are hoping to achieve through the massage, and a good massage therapist will know how best to achieve the optimal results for you.

What are the most Popular and Effective Massage Methods?

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is possibly the most popular and most recognizable form of massage therapy. It is a good choice for a first massage, or for bodywork aimed at relaxing the entire body. The method primarily uses long gliding strokes along the muscles in the direction of blood returning to the heart. Also used are kneading and circular motions with mild pressure, vibration, and tapping. Swedish massage is known to increase oxygen levels in the blood, ease tension, decrease muscle toxins and improve flexibility.

According to a study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, after 45 minutes of Swedish Massage, subjects showed significant drops in cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Subjects also showed increased levels of lymphocytes, the white blood cells that are critical to the immune system.

Neuromuscular Massage Therapy

Neuromuscular massage therapy is a highly specialized, medically oriented therapy meant to address trigger points, or tender muscle tissue, through soft-tissue manipulation. The therapist uses fingers, elbows, and knuckles to apply concentrated pressure to specific areas.

Neuromuscular therapy is used to treat underlying causes of chronic pain and to return normal function to injured tissue. Neuromuscular massage is helpful for treating upper and lower back pain, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, calf pain, and other areas of muscular distress.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage is a massage therapy using smooth heated stones (often basalt river rocks) on specific body points. The combined weight and heat of the stones allow deep muscle relaxation which then allows the therapist to apply deep pressure without causing pain. Hot stone massage also encourages better blood circulation. The heat of the stones induces a mild sedative effect to promote deep relaxation and relieve chronic pain. It is beneficial for those suffering from fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome. It decreases pain and muscle spasms and increases joint flexibility.


Reflexology is another popular massage method. A reflexology session doesn’t involve disrobing of the client. Reflexology uses gentle or firm pressure primarily on the hands, feet, and ears, utilizing pressure points to promote positive change in other parts of the body. The theory is that these points are connected through energy channels to organs and other body parts. Reflexology is beneficial for many conditions such as migraines, digestive disorders, arthritis, insomnia, sports injuries, and hormonal imbalances. According to a review in Integrated Cancer Therapies, reflexology was found to be effective for relief of cancer pain and post-op pain.

Thai Massage

Thai massage is a type of bodywork that is not done on a massage table or chair. During a Thai massage, a client may be on a padded floor mat. In a Thai massage session, the muscles are gently worked through pulling, stretching or rocking, rather than being kneaded and rubbed.

Thai massage encourages flexibility and range of motion. The massage therapist will manipulate the client’s body into yoga-like positions while applying gentle pressure for deep muscle compression and improved joint mobilization.

Chair Massage

Chair massage is another form of massage which is growing in popularity, partly because chair massages are often conveniently offered at various venues and events. For a chair massage, the client remains fully clothed and is seated in a specially-built chair. The chairs are made for the client to easily straddle, with arms and legs supported as they lean into a forward position. The face is supported in a built-in head cradle.

During a chair massage, the therapist primarily works the muscles in the client’s neck and back, using kneading motions and gentle pressure through the client’s clothes without the use of oils or lotions.

Chair massage is generally for a shorter duration, possibly as little as 15 minutes, vs. an hour or more for other types of massage. Even with the shorter sessions, a client can expect many benefits from a chair massage. Some benefits are reduced muscle tension and pain, headache and stress relief, and even increased focus, attention, and concentration.

Which type of massage is best?

No matter which type of massage you choose, you are likely to benefit greatly from this non-invasive, medication-free therapy.

Resources— Healthline, WebMD, Natural Healers