Massage Styles

Massage methods from around the world


Starting a massage

Massage is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body and a broader definition may include the manipulation of a person's energy. However the manipulation of the joints is confined to osteopathy and chiropractic.

Massage is a universal treatment yet around the world people have different approaches because they have different understandings of the human body and how it works.

Massage is also instinctive because when we hurt, we rub the hurt area and we feel better. So every country has it's own massage style and popular styles have spread around the world to be offered by gifted friends and amateurs, or by trained professionals.

Acupressure massage
Acupressure (a combination of "acupuncture like pressure") is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique derived from acupuncture. With acupressure physical pressure is applied to the acupuncture points of the body by the hand, elbow, or with various devices.
This style massage can be very effective at treating acute and chronic problems, however it is not a very comfortable style of massage.

Anma massage
Anma is a traditional Japanese massage involving kneading and deep tissue work.

Ayurvedic massage
Ayurveda is a natural health care system originating in India that incorporates massage, yoga, meditation and herbal remedies. Ayurvedic massage, also known as Abhyangha is usually performed by one or two therapists using a heated blend of herbal oils based on the ayurvedic system of humors.

Balinese massage
A combination of general massage techniques as learned by word of mouth rather than prolonged training. There is a nice rice and spice massage to exfoliate the body.

Barefoot massage
An adoption for slightly built therapists to massage large people. It combines elements of many styles, however it is essentially performing the massage with one's feet and if you're on the receiving end, you really get trampled on although it can be an amazingly good massage.

Bowen therapy
Bowen technique involves a rolling movement over fascia, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. It is said not to involve deep or prolonged contact with muscle tissues as in most kinds of massage, but claims to relieve muscle tensions and strains and to restore normal lymphatic flow. Because this technique is so gentle, Bowen Therapy can be suitable for newborn baby to elderly. It is based on practices developed by Australian Tom Bowen and the practitioners are all over the world.

Breast massage
A general therapeutic massage of the breasts to maintain breast health as well as the shape and tone of the breast tissues.

Breema massage
Breema bodywork is performed on the floor with the recipient fully clothed. It consists of rhythmical and gentle leans and stretches.

Champissage massage
Champissage is a massage technique focusing on the head, neck and face that is believed to balance the chakras.

Deep tissue massage
A strong massage aimed at releasing chronic pain by forcing it from the body with focuses on the deeper lying muscles. Deep tissue massage is often recommended for individuals who experience consistent pain, are involved in heavy physical activity (such as athletes), and patients who have sustained physical injury. It is not uncommon for receivers of deep tissue massage to have their pain replaced with a new muscle ache for a day or two, however bruising and other injuries from this massage are also common.

The term “deep tissue” is often misused to identify a massage that is performed with sustained deep pressure. Deep tissue massage is a separate category of massage therapy, used to treat particular muscular-skeletal disorders and complaints and employs a dedicated set of techniques and strokes to achieve a measure of relief. It should not be confused with “deep pressure” massage, which is one that is performed with sustained strong, occasionally intense pressure throughout an entire full-body session, and that is not performed to address a specific complaint. Deep tissue massage is applied to both the superficial and deep layers of muscles, fascia, and other structures. The sessions are often quite intense as a result of the deliberate, focused work. When a client asks for a massage and uses the term “deep tissue”, more often than not he or she is seeking to receive a full-body session with sustained deep pressure throughout. If a practitioner employs deep tissue techniques on the entire body in one session, it would be next to impossible to perform; it might lead to injury or localized muscle and nerve trauma, thereby rendering the session counterproductive.

Esalen massage
Developed at the Esalen Institute based on a combination of many massage and bodywork techniques, principally Lomi Lomi together with an energetic balancing of the body.

Happy ending massage
The "happy ending" massage ('rub and tug' massage) is a traditionally associated with men and represents a crossover point between massage therapy and sex. The men and women who provide this service agree that the sexual release also releases a great deal of stress and its almost a saying that any man who's had good sex does not want to fight, so maybe this is a solution to violence prevention?

Spa culture around the world is dominated by women and until recently, the female version of happy endings has remained a taboo subject that few women would ever admit to, however in America, women are finally getting comfortable with the idea that it's ok to feel erotic in what's already an erotic setting - warmth, soft music, nice hands rubbing your body - and the bottom line is that while they like massages, they really like orgasms, so why shouldn't the two sometimes come together?

Hilot massage
Hilot is a traditional healing technique from the Philippines that also includes massage techniques including joint manipulations to help relax stressed muscles.

Holistic Body Work
This may be a combination of massage styles aimed at relaxation and restoration of the body and the person. To perform this massage one needs to be well experienced with a good understanding of the human condition as well as the human body.
To receive this type of massage, it is a complete full body massage and not for people who are squeamish about their bodies or obsess about political correctness.

Indian Traction Massage
A therapy for intervertebral disc prolapse. This is a little like some ancient torture where the body is tied at each end and stretched. Massage techniques may be applied before, during or after the stretching process.

Lomi Lomi and the indigenous massage of Oceania
Imported from India over 5000 years ago Lomilomi became the traditional massage of Hawaii. It varies by island and by family. The word lomilomi also is used for massage in Samoa and East Futuna. In Samoa, it is also known as lolomi and milimili. In East Futuna, it is also called milimili, fakasolosolo, amoamo, lusilusi, kinikini, fai’ua. The Maori call it roromi and mirimiri. In Tonga massage is fotofota, tolotolo, and amoamo. In Tahiti it is rumirumi. On Nanumea in Tuvalu, massage is known as popo, pressure application is kukumi, and heat application is tutu.
This is a complete full body massage that really leaves no parts untouched and the recipient completely naked although many places this massage has been sanitised. It's performed with the therapist using their hands, forearms and elbows in a manner that serves to disconnect habitual thought processes and engender a deep relaxation.

Lymphatic drainage
Massage technique used to gently work and stimulate the lymphatic system, to assist in reduction of localised swelling as in oedema of the ankles. In fact almost any massage affects lymphatic drainage.

Medical massage
Medical Massage is a controversial term in the massage profession.It is a general category of massage including almost any massage aimed at improving health.

Meso-American massage
In Meso-America as in other areas of the world an indigenous form of soft tissue and structural massage has developed. Today this art survives thanks to the many Sobadoras/es or Hueseros/as that have handed-down these techniques via oral tradition.

Mobile massage / Chair massage
Given some of the main benefits of massage, many people prefer to have a therapist come to them to perform the treatment as opposed to visiting the therapist. Amongst other things, this type of treatment has the benefits of allowing the recipient to remain in their own environment with which they are likely most comfortable, to avoid the pre and post stresses of travelling to the therapist to receive their massage and of course to retire directly to a place of rest immediately following their massage. Therapists can bring a dedicated table with them on which to perform the massage or perform the treatment on the floor or the client's own bed. Mobile (or outcall) massages are particularly popular in big cities around the world where life can be more hectic than elsewhere and there are many operators of such services in places like London and New York.

Myofascial release
Myofascial release refers to the manual massage technique for stretching the fascia and releasing bonds between fascia, integument, and muscles with the goal of eliminating pain, increasing range of motion and equilibrioception. Myofascial release usually involves applying shear compression or tension in various directions, or by skin rolling.

An integration of techniques including basic Swedish massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, shiatsu, energy balancing, and craniosacral therapy along with other modalities in conjunction with instruction in nutrition, meditation and yoga. The term Myomassology was coined by Irene Gauthier to describe her combined work of Swedish massage, craniosacral therapy, reflexology and body mechanics.

Nuru massage
Arather exotic Asian delicacy because this is where the massage originates. In some ways it is an extension of the world famous 'rub and tug' massage, but there is more to it than that.

Postural integration
Postural Integration (PI) is a process-oriented bodywork combining deep tissue massage with breathwork, body movement and awareness.

Reflexology is based on the principle that there are reflexes in the hands and feet that relate to every organ, gland, and system of the body.

Remedial massage
Massage techniques such as sports massage, trigger point therapy and PNF stretching combined for an overall curative approach.

Remedial massage
Massage techniques such as sports massage, trigger point therapy and PNF stretching combined for an overall curative approach.

Self massage
Various techniques that are practised on oneself, such as stroking the temples with strong pressure from front to back, rubbing the bottoms of the feet with one's knuckles or a wooden massage tool, and circular movement with thumb on palm of hand.

Sensual massage
In contrast, this massage seeks to entice pain and discomfort from the body and to provide a more pleasurable touch. Consequent euphoria and arousal has given this massage a bad reputation as a sexual massage. However all massage is by definition sensual and it's only the recipients attitude that makes it naughty.
Reflexology is based on the principle that there are reflexes in the hands and feet that relate to every organ, gland, and system of the body.

Shiatsu is a Japanese style that uses pressure applied with thumbs, fingers and palms to the same energy meridians as acupressure and incorporates stretching. It also uses techniques such as rolling, brushing, vibrating, grasping and, in one particular technique developed by Suzuki Yamamoto, pressure is applied with the feet on the person's back, legs and feet.

Hot stone massage
This massage uses water-heated stones to apply pressure and heat to the body. Stones coated in oil can also be used by the therapist delivering various massaging strokes. The hot stones used are commonly Basalt stones (or lava rocks) which over time have become extremely polished and smooth. As the stones are placed along the recipient's back, they help to retain heat which then deeply penetrates into the muscles, releasing tension.

Structural integration
As postural integration above.
Structural integration's aim is to unwind the strain patterns residing in the body's myofascial system, restoring it to its natural balance, alignment, length, and ease. This is accomplished by deep, slow, fascial and myofascial manipulation, coupled with movement re-education. Various brands of Structural Integration are Kinesis Myofascial Integration and Rolfing.

Swedish massage
A general term for almost any undefined massage or rubbing the body. Swedish named the basic strokes; effleurage (sliding or gliding), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (rhythmic tapping), friction (cross fiber) and vibration/shaking. The term "Swedish" massage is actually only recognized in English, Québécois or Dutch speaking countries. Elsewhere the style is referred to as "classic massage".

Tantra Massage
A restorative massage style which incorporates the genitals and sexual energy as a part of a whole body massage making it good to help recover from emotional abuse and trauma.

Thai Massage
Meaning "ancient/traditional massage", Traditional Thai massage (Nuad Boran) is generally based on a combination of Indian and Chinese traditions of medicine. It is a unique form of Buddhist physiotherapy that blends yoga, acupressure and reflexology.

Traditional Chinese massage
Two types of traditional Chinese massage exist - Tui na which focuses on pushing, stretching and kneading the muscle and Zhi Ya which focuses on pinching and pressing at acupressure points. Both are based on principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Though in the Western countries Tui Na is viewed as massage, it is not. Massage of Chinese Medicine is known as Anmo, which is the foundation of Japan's Anma.

Tui Na is Chinese Medicine's Physio-Therapy. Utilized for medical purposes instead of relaxation, Tui Na works to correct the patient's problems, from musculoskeletal conditions, to diseases, cancers and even minor and major headaches.  Within the foundation of Tui Na, Traditional Chinese Medicine principles are followed, from Meridian Applications to Herbal Formulas, Qigong Therapy and heated herbal application (Moxa). Technique applications such as friction and vibration are used as well.

Trager approach
The Trager approach combines movement and touch to educate the body/mind, often a strong massage.

Trigger point therapy
Sometimes confused with pressure point massage, this involves deactivating trigger points that may cause local pain or refer pain and other sensations, such as headaches, in other parts of the body. Manual pressure, vibration, injection, or other treatment is applied to these points to relieve myofascial pain. Trigger points were first discovered and mapped by Janet G. Travell (president Kennedy's physician) and David Simons. Trigger points have been photomicrographed and measured electrically.


Watsu is the combination of hydrotherapy and shiatsu developed by Harold Dull and is done in skin temperature water.


2 comments to Massage Styles

  • Gaynor

    Hey here’s another if you call it massage. Some spas in Russia, Japan, and the U.K. have taken facials to a new level. Snails are put on your face where they slide around leaving behind their slime on your face which they claim helps damaged skin.

  • Ed Fedele

    Hi, thanks for that as these differences have been so confusing till now

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