Common Types of Bodywork and Massage

Types of Massage

I am often asked to help clarify what the differences are between varying types of bodywork.  Did you know that there are about 160 specializations offered in the field?  To both the novice and experienced a little guidance from the professionals can direct you to what most benefits your needs.

In spite of so many options roughly 10-15 comprise the most commonly sought massage and bodywork sessions.  They are:

  • Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Neuromuscular Therapy, Sports Massage,Hot stone Massage, Craniosacral Therapy, Lymph Massage, Thai Massage, Shiatsu, Reflexology, Reiki, Aromatherapy


Swedish, Deep Tissue, Neuromuscular, Sports, and Hot Stone Massage address the soft tissues of the body, comprising surface skin, muscles, fascia and connectors such as tendons and ligaments.

Flow of blood (capillary and peripheral) and lymph fluid is secondarily affected by these massage types.  In contrast, flow of lymph and craniosacral fluids through controlled movement of or pressure to specific body parts and tissues is the primary goal in Craniosacral Therapy and Lymph massage.  Thai, Shiatsu, Reflexology and Reiki incorporate Eastern philosophy to bodywork with emphasis upon specific points on the body or movement to the body which are identified centers of energy.

 Goals of Your Massage

Massage can relieve muscular distress, promote proper flow of bodily fluids (thus increase oxygen to tissue and release waste products from tissue), speed healing post–injury, and improve wellness.  Each type has a different approach and method toward achievement of specific of outcomes.

So…how does a person decide what type of session to choose?  First of all, do your homework. Read a bit about the different types of massage/bodywork to begin to target what service you are looking for.  Ask yourself some important questions:

  • What exactly is my goal? Relief from pain, injury, emotional stress, etc or to improve general body health and maintenance?
  • What am I expecting from a therapist? Do I want specific areas targeted or do I want the therapist to make the recommendations?
  • Am I more comfortable with traditional Western based ideas or am I open to those embracing Eastern philosophy, such as focus on energy release?
  • Am I looking for a single session or am I interested in regular sessions in the context of adding to my wellness program?  If so, how often am I willing to schedule appointments and what is affordable for me?

Also do your homework researching the provider.  Seek out a state licensed and nationally certified therapist to assure quality of care and that you receive treatment in accordance with the standards of the profession.  Make a list of questions to interview therapists which interest you and freely ask them.

Finally, approach your first session with an attitude of exploration.  You are seeking a service valuable to your needs and it is important to work with a person that feels like a good match for you.  I always encourage new clients to first experience my work and then see if it seems a good fit to continue together.  If not, that’s perfectly acceptable and I suggest other resources.

Massage/bodywork, especially added regularly to your health and wellness program, can produce amazing results in many dimensions such as pain relief, mobility and range of movement.  The following descriptions provide basic information about each of the most commonly sought therapies which can assist you in determining what might be a good fit for your own needs (see for additional information).

Massage Techniques

Swedish Massage – Massage involving the use of kneading, stroking, friction, tapping, and vibration techniques specifically designed to relax muscles by applying pressure to them, typically rubbing in the same direction as the flow of blood returning to the heart. Created at the turn of the century by Henry Peter Ling in Sweden the goal is to increase the oxygen flow in the blood, release toxins from the muscles, promote relaxation, and relieve muscular tension.  Pressure can be light or deep as requested.

Deep Tissue massageSometimes mistakenly interpreted as a ‘painful’ massage, deep tissue work employs techniques that affect the sub-layer of musculature and fascia to release tender points, trigger points and adhesions. It helps with chronic muscular pain and injury rehabilitation and reduces inflammation-related pain caused by arthritis and tendonitis. It is generally integrated with other massage techniques and when performed gradually should not be uncomfortable.

Neuromuscular Therapy – This soft-tissue manipulation balances the body’s central nervous system with the musculoskeletal system. Based on neurological laws, the goal is to help relieve pain and dysfunction by understanding and alleviating the underlying cause. It is used to locate and release spasms and – in the tissue, eliminate trigger points that cause referred pain, rebuild the strength of injured tissues, assist venous and lymphatic flow, and restore postural alignment, proper biomechanics, and flexibility to the tissues.

Sports Massage –  Designed to enhance athletic performance and recovery, therapy focuses on pre-event, post-event, and injury treatment and is often performed at the event site. Pre-event massage is fast-paced and stimulating, helping to establish blood flow and to warm up muscles. Post-event massage helps calm the nervous system and begin the process of flushing toxins and waste products out of the body. Post-event massage can reduce recovery time, enabling an athlete to resume training much sooner than rest alone would allow. Injury treatment can often speed and improve the quality of healing.

Hot Stone Massage – A type of treatment that uses warmed stones to relax muscles and induce a calming state of mind. Sanitized, warmed, smooth rocks (usually basalt, a type of volcanic rock that retains heat) are placed upon different parts of the body. Typically swedish massage techniques are used with applied pressure to direct and slide the stones.

Craniosacral Therapy – Craniosacral therapy is a gentle, noninvasive method of evaluating and enhancing the function of a physiological body arrangement called the craniosacral system. This system consists of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. It extends from the bones of the skull, face, and mouth–which make up the cranium–down to the sacrum or tailbone. The practitioner uses very light touch to assist the natural movement of fluid within the craniosacral system which enhances the body’s natural healing processes and has proven effective in treating a wide range of medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction.

Lymph Massage – Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT) involves palpitation of lymphatic fluid flow. Trained practitioners identify the rhythm, direction, and quality of flow and use light pressure to facilitate drainage. This type of massage has been associated with improvement of the immune system.

Thai Massage – Also called nuad bo rarn, Thai massage has been taught and practiced in Thailand for approximately twenty-five hundred years. Based on the theory the body is made up of seventy-two thousand sen, or energy lines, it focuses on peripheral stimulating, to produce specific internal effects. It is typically performed on a firm mat on the floor instead of on a table with the client remaining fully clothed and with the practitioner using hand and foot pressure as well as manipulation of limbs.

Shiatsu Similar to acupressure, shiatsu concentrates on unblocking the flow of life energy and restoring balance in the meridians and organs in order to promote self-healing. With the client reclining, the practitioner applies pressure with the finger, thumb, palm, elbow, or knee to specific zones on the skin located along the energy meridians. The benefits of this treatment may include pain relief and a strengthening of the body’s resistance to disease and disorder.

Reflexology – Based on ancient Chinese therapy, it involves manipulation of specific reflex areas in the foot, hands, and ears that correspond to other parts of the body. Pressure is applied to stimulate body organs and relieve areas of congestion. Similar to acupressure principles, reflexology works with the body’s energy flow to stimulate self-healing and maintain balance in physical function via reduction in pain, increased relaxation, and stimulation of circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids. It is especially useful in stress-related illness and emotional disorders.

Reiki – Reiki healing is an energy healing art. In a session the practitioner, trained to access and serve as a channel for the life force (ki or chi), places hands on or just above the client’s body in order to activate healing energy within receptive points on the body. The hands move progressively with a passive touch through twelve positions on the body, remaining in each position for three to five minutes. As the flow of energy is strengthened, within the client and practitioner, healing occurs through the return of physical, mental, and spiritual balance.

Aromatherapy – The use of essential oils (extracted from herbs, flowers, resin, woods, and roots) to aid in relaxation, improve circulation, and help the healing of wounds. Aromatherapy diffusers are utilized to fill the massage room with the scent of the oils. Specific essential oils are blended by the aromatherapist and added to a carrier oil to be used during the massage. Each oil has its own unique characteristics and benefits.

Carolina Health Innovations offers a variety of different massages that will be both pleasurable and beneficial.