We live in a world of ever-increasing choices, and massage is no exception. Depending on what type of spa or massage clinic you visit, there might be a long list of options on the menu. Typical massage offerings include Swedish, deep tissue, sports massage, hot oil massage, shiatsu, hot stone therapy, Thai massage, myofascial release, and so on. You’ll also find many places that combine different types of massage, sometimes incorporating aromatherapy for a deeper sense of relaxation.

Patients and massage therapy students alike might be asking themselves which among these different types of massage is the most popular. If you’re working independently as a massage therapist – or if you’re visiting a massage therapy center and want to make sure you get the most out of your experience – it helps to know what the most popular options actually are.

While there are no “hard and fast” statistics on what type of massage therapy is most commonly chosen by patients, Swedish massage is usually the answer that people will give. It’s often seen as the “standard” massage technique, and is very often administered in spas and clinics, as well as gyms and “wellness salons.”

So what exactly is Swedish massage and why is it so popular?

Swedish massage is formulated on more of a Western understanding of the body, which means that rhythmic kneading and stoking techniques are used to loosen and relax the muscles – often using oil or massage lotion in order to facilitate deeper release of muscular tension. Many other types of massage, such as shiatsu or Thai massage, are of course based on Eastern understandings of physiology, which incorporate a more “energy-based” perspective.

In Swedish massage, the practitioner generally begins with long strokes on the back, arms, legs and neck. The next stage is to use shorter, deeper strokes to release muscular tension in specific areas of the body.

People who are in training to become massage therapists will learn that there are five different “strokes” used in Swedish massage. Long and smooth movements are known as effleurage. Movements that use kneading and rolling are commonly known as petrissage. Smaller motions that are often circular are known as friction. Tapping or “drumming” movements are called tapotement. Movements that involve shaking, or rocking back and forth, are known as vibration movements.

Terminology is one thing, and it’s important for students to learn these categorizations backwards and forwards if they are to become reputable professionals. But it really comes down to results, and the experience of the patient.

Is it advantageous for practitioners to learn more than just Swedish massage?

The answer is clearly yes – today’s massage therapy industry is more multi-dimensional and multi-disciplined than ever. It’s important for new massage therapy students to be well-versed in all of the popular types of massage: including Swedish, hot stone, neuromuscular, Thai, reflexology, deep tissue, and others – including specific massage techniques for pregnant women, and for individuals with other specific medical conditions. Students who enter the industry with a full set of skills from a reputable institution are much more likely to succeed long-term in the world of professional therapeutic massage.

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