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Massage Techniques for Healing and Health

Posted Mar 05 2009 5:47am

At its best, massage can do much more than feel good–it can lead to healing, increasing circulation, lifting your energy, breaking up scar tissue, and making you healthier overall.  

Before you find a therapist, research the styles they perform and decide which is right for you.  Since everyone has different levels of comfort in relation to touch and the spiritual aspects of massage, it’s important to find a therapist that matches your style.  

There was a time I wanted to study and practice massage–before I developed injuries in my arms.  For now, I’ll be content with sharing my knowledge of the different styles with you.  These are some of the varying styles of massage you’re likely to find at a local spa or studio–the list goes on, but many techniques are new, and more are constantly being developed.  

The list is organized by types, with the names of each style listed beneath:


These techniques focus on releasing tension in the muscles through rubbing, kneading, and pressing.

  • Sports Massage–Focuses on helping people stay athletic, and easing injuries.  Sports massage can be used to help any muscle injury and break up scar tissue.
  • Swedish- Swedish techniques include various types of rubbing and massage on the muscles, from light strokes to deep tissue massage, kneading, and vibrating the muscles.  It’s the foundation for many kinds of Western massage, including “deep tissue” and sports massage.  Swedish therapists usually use warm oils to aid in massage.
  • Deep Tissue– Really, this is just a variant of Swedish.

Chinese Medicine and Trigger Points

Ancient Chinese medicine and contemporary Western medicine share a similar belief in the power of trigger points in relieving pain.  The Chinese have practiced acupuncture for thousands of years; and western doctors just discovered in the mid-1900s, so expect different approaches depending whom you see.

  • Acupuncture–Acupuncturists use needles to release different trigger points throughout the body.  In ancient China, this was a technique used by the rich who could afford to pay experts.  These practitioners often also prescribe herbal or homeopathic remedies or provide other knowledge as well as practicing acupuncture.
  • Acupressure–This is the hands-on, needle-free version of acupuncture.  The therapist presses on different trigger point combinations to release the tension.  The technique was practiced in ancient China by the poorer people, who could treat themselves and their families without hiring expensive doctors.
  • Trigger Point Therapy–The Western version.  Trigger points are areas in the body where tension is pulling on and affecting other areas; that is, pain somewhere in the body is caused by a trigger point of tension somewhere else.  Trigger points are often caused by muscles that have contracted in one area, and stretched out and painful in another.  Trigger point therapists press the trigger point areas, much like in acupressure, to release the tension.
  • Reflexology- Focuses on trigger points in the hands and feet, that affect different organs and areas of the body.  
  • Active Release Technique–Also a very new discipline, one that combines trigger point therapy with active stretches.  The practitioner presses on trigger points, while directing the patient to stretch in a certain way to release the tension.  
  • Shiatsu–Like acupressure, but involving massage as well as pressure on the trigger points.

Energy Work

  • Reiki– Somewhat more mystical-seeming than the other techniques, reiki essentially attempts to perform healing from a simple “laying on of hands” approach, in which the therapist concentrates energy mentally into different areas of the body.  It’s widely accepted, though not necessarily right for the skeptic. (I say this having taken a workshop in reiki and not being sure it did anything for me.)
  • Polarity–Another energy-based approach that focuses on laying on of hands in different electromagnetic poles of energy in the body.  It claims to blend a scientific and spiritual approach.
  • Esalen Massage — This technique combines Swedish techniques with energy work, and the founders claim that the therapist and patient need a strong connection for it to be effective.


Alignment Work

  • Chiropractics–While not exactly “massage,” chiropractic work often attempts to do some of the same things as massage but with a very different paradigm–examining the skeletal alignment and twisting it back into place, rather than balancing tension in the muscles.
  • Rolfing –A very new form that involves some common massage techniques and moving the muscles back into alignment, said to be very intense and often painful.

For more detailed information, you can do a google search on any of the above or check out this list. from

Possibly related posts:

  1. Alternative Therapies for Treating RSI
  2. What is Alternative Medicine?
  3. Discount Massage at Psoas Body Work in San Francisco

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