Massage Therapy Guide

As a working parent with young kids, I’ve started feeling some body aches and twinges over the last couple of months that I’d never experienced before. My back and shoulders were holding a lot of tension, causing headaches and pain in my neck and upper back. I was told by my physician that these aches were a combination of poor posture, lifestyle and working for long periods of time at my desk. Her solution was to start regularly going to get remedial massages. I had never had a massage before so I had my hesitations but I had heard that massage was a proven way to enhance both physical and mental health, So, I went in with an open mind and took the plunge. When booking the appointment, I was asked “What type of massage would you like?; A Sports massage, Deep tissue massage, Swedish massage, Therapeutic massage or Relaxation massage”. I was so overwhelmed by the different types of massages on offer and trying to decide which massage type would be best for me. So I started to do some research.

The research that I conducted has led me to write a guide on my first hand experience of massage therapy. The following article details what I have learnt in my experience with massage to aid and assist anyone else going through the same thing as me and to demystify the practice of massage. It is intended to outline what is massage therapy and the benefits of regularly using massage. It will also outline the different types of massage, where to go for a massage and how to give a good massage at home. Alternatively, If you’re experiencing back and neck pain and want a home remedy or you want a great gift for someone, we’ve reviewed some of the best at home back massagers available on the market. Just remember to always seek medical advice before going to a massage therapist to ensure you get the right therapy for your particular needs.

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is defined as a type of physical treatment delivered from a professional called a massage therapist or masseuse that involves the manipulation of the soft tissues in your body — muscle, connective in tissue, tendons, ligaments and skin — using varying degrees of pressure and movement for either relaxation or to try and alleviate muscle tension or pain.

Most states in America impose regulations in order to work as a massage therapist to ensure the safety of all clients. Your massage therapist should have a certificate of massage or diploma at a minimum. If you’re wanting a specialised massage such as Reflexology or Shiatsu your therapist should also have an added qualification for that type of massage. All massage therapists in the USA should be authorised by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage.

Authentic Massage Therapists

As its popularity has grown. so has the increase in massage therapists that are not licensed. It’s the law in most states to have your massage license displayed in the premises that you conduct the massage so be on the lookout for these licenses before agreeing to be massaged. All massage therapists with a license would have gone through a vigorous criminal check including a fingerprint and background check to ensure the safety of the client so it’s imperative you go to a licensed professional.

With the rise in popularity of massage has also come the rise in businesses that provide massage services that will come to you; either in your home or office. This is a great service and can provide more comfort especially if you have a medical disorder that is preventing you from travelling long distances. It’s extra important with these services though to check licenses thoroughly as there can be added risks from someone entering your property.

Avoid any massage therapy that operates from a residential address as massage therapy from a clinic is generally advised.

The increase in popularity of massage

Massage therapy has been around for a long time, it has been said that massage therapy has been used for medicinal purposes from as early as 3000BC and it is now used as a preventative practice, in spas, gyms and work places all over the world. Massage therapy is widely used in many industries such as the beauty industry to increase blood flow to the facial region and to enhance skin reproduction. It is also used in the healthcare sector and hospitals for Physical Therapy and Chiropractic Therapy to treat pain and expedite the healing of injured muscles.

The popularity of massage and massage therapy is growing, with almost one-fourth of adult Americans saying that they’ve used massage therapy at least once for pain relief. The number of hospitals offering massage therapy has also increased with 30 percent of hospitals in the USA offering massage therapy to their patients. Sixty-seven percent of those USA hospitals that offer massage therapy programs also started offering massage to their staff for stress management as they saw the benefits to their patients and realised that their staff could also benefit from the therapy.

What are the benefits of Massage Therapy?

The benefits of massage and massage therapy are vast, with many industries taking on the healing properties of massage and either incorporating them into their day to day practices or encouraging and recommending their clients and patients to go to external professional masseuses.

The benefits of massage have included:

  • Stress relief
  • Improved circulation
  • Pain reduction
  • Encouraging toxin release
  • Improved flexibility
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Enhanced immunity
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Alleviate depression
  • Reduced swelling post surgery or post injury

For me the benefits have been stress reduction especially directly after the massage, I feel like I don’t have a problem in the world even if I have to drag my feet off to a meeting straight after! I’ve also noted better sleep quality on the night that I’ve had a massage therapy session and a definite increase in endorphins and those happy feelings directly after a massage, during the massage and up to a few days prior.

The two main reasons practitioners prescribe massage are for pain management like from an old recurring sports injury or physical ailment such as a pulled muscle or for a more intangible reason such as stress management, relaxation and or anxiety relief.

Pain Management/Healing

Massage is a great tool for pain management as it relieves an area that has been injured or strained in the past. Statistics show that 43%* of Americans receiving massage therapy reported they did so for health conditions such as pain management, injury rehabilitation, migraine control, or overall wellness. Massage has been proven to relieve pain and stress disorders such as anxiety, digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia, soft tissue strains or injuries, sports injuries and joint pain.

Massage is also a great tool for healing and can help ease any pain by reducing inflammation and muscle soreness and help people stay more active. Massage also can help with recovery from injury or surgery, and its relaxing qualities are a surefire way to reduce stress and tension.


Massage is a great way to relax and that is the main reason why it’s offered on a lot of hotel itineraries at vacation destinations. Luxury destinations and a relaxing massage go together harmoniously as when you’re relaxed you enjoy yourself and what better time to enjoy yourself than vacation time.

Relaxation massages are ideal for stress reduction and most importantly relaxing. The idea for relaxation massages is not to massage as deep or as vigorously as a therapeutic massage as the sole aim is to relax the client, not to work out a muscle kink or pain point. With a relaxation massage, relaxing you is the only aim and for this reason, it is one of the most complete and indulgent massages you can have.

A relaxation massage is usually a full-body treatment involving soft music, soft lighting and aromatherapy oils. You will have a long, luxurious massage which will use all kinds of techniques including long strokes, gentle kneading and rolling of skin and muscle, and perhaps some rhythmic rocking from side to side. It’s a great choice if you’re feeling overworked, tired or stressed. You can just lay back and let your worries disappear!

Therapeutic massage vs Relaxation massage

Like I said in the introduction there’s a lot of different choices when it comes to massage and it can be hard to choose which one is best for you. I’ve outlined the main differences below and placed a table underneath as a quick guide to help you choose which type of massage is best suited for your needs.

There are generally two broad types of massage; Therapeutic and Relaxing massage and various different types of massage can fall under these categories. In general, though Therapeutic massage has a specific goal of assisting in the healing of an injury or medical issue whereas Relaxation massage has the one main goal of relaxation.

Therapeutic massage

Therapeutic massage is the umbrella term for any massage therapy that can assist in the healing of an ailment such as RSI, Migraines, joint pain, Tendonitis or Frozen Shoulder. It’s generally quite firm in nature as the massage needs to go deeper into the muscles that are affected. In general therapeutic massage is the best massage for medical issues and pain relief from injuries.


Relaxation massage

Relaxation massage is the term given to any whole-body massage therapy that has the main goal and aim of relaxing the client. Most massage treatments will relax you to some degree but with a relaxation massage, the only aim is relaxation. It is good for some medical issues such as stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression and some mental health disorders. Studies have shown that massage can lower the stress hormone cortisol by up to 30% after just one session, lowering cortisol levels can lead to lowered anxiety, better sleep and in general a more positive mood and outlook on life.

Vex diagram illustrating the different forms of massage and how they fit into Massage Therapy.
Vex diagram illustrating the different forms of massage and how they fit into Massage Therapy.

Different types of Massage

Sports Massage

Sports massage as in its name is designed and developed to help soften and strengthen muscles used for a particular sport. Sports massage uses a variety of massage techniques and approaches to help athletes in training and regular gym goers before, during, or after sports events. You might use it to promote flexibility and help prevent injuries or, it may help muscle strains, aiding healing after a sports injury. It is beneficial for preventing lactic acid build up, which can buildup due to exercise and cause discomfort along with the prevention of other injuries and strains. Massage guns are a great alternative for athletes who want a sports massage in the comfort of their own home, there are a number of great options in the market at the moment, you can read our full review here.

Source: Cortisol Decreases and Serotonin and Dopamine Increase Following Massage Therapy

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage therapy includes deep pressure in the massage which is beneficial in releasing chronic muscle tension. The focus is on the deepest layers of muscle tissue, tendons and fascia (the protective layer surrounding muscles, bones and joints). Deep tissue massage is beneficial for chronic aches and pains and contracted areas such as stiff neck and upper back, low back pain, leg muscle tightness, and sore shoulders.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage therapy is the most well-known and widely practiced type of therapeutic massage and for good reason. This type of massage focuses on muscle relaxation, targeting superficial muscles (rather than the connective tissues targeted in deep-tissue massage) and increasing blood circulation. It is beneficial for pain management, increasing blood flow, rehabilitation for muscle injuries, increased flexibility, reduced stress and improved immune system. One other great benefit of reducing your stress with a Swedish massage is that the lower cortisol levels allow your immune system to grow stronger, meaning that you’re less likely to get sick and can spend more time doing the things you enjoy.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage is best for people who have muscle pain and tension or who simply want to relax. This type of therapeutic massage is similar to a Swedish massage, only the massage therapist uses heated stones in lieu of or in addition to their hands. It eases muscle tension, improves blood flow, and relieves pain by using heated stones. During a hot stone massage, heated stones are placed on different areas around your whole body. Your therapist may hold a stone as they massage different parts of your body using Swedish massage techniques using gentle pressure.

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy massages combine soft, gentle pressure with the use of essential oils. During the massage, you’ll be given a full-body massage while inhaling essential oils through a diffuser and absorbing them through your skin. The different types of oils used are known to assist different types of ailments for example Lavender can help promote sleep and peppermint oil can relieve headaches. See our review on our top 10 favourite massage oils to choose the best oils for your particular needs.

Therapist pouring massage oil at spa

Trigger Point Massage

Trigger point massages are best suited for people who have injuries, chronic pain, or a specific issue or condition. Sometimes areas of tightness in the muscle tissues, known as trigger points, can cause pain in other parts of the body and by focusing on relieving these trigger points, can reduce pain in other parts of the body. Check out our review on “The best Trigger Point massagers” if you decide Trigger Point Massagers as for you, as you can do it in the comfort of your own home!

Reflexology Massage

Reflexology is best for people who are looking to relax or restore their natural energy levels. Reflexology uses gentle to firm pressure on different pressure points of the feet, hands, and ears. It’s based on the Chinese theory that these parts of the body are connected to certain organs and body systems and applying firm pressure onto these regions can release tension and stress and restore your natural Qi (natural energy flow).

example of reflexology massage, feet massage with flowers surrounding the feet

Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu massage is a Japanese style massage that works the whole body, it involves applying pressure to specific points on the body, moving from one point to another in a rhythmic sequence. During the massage, your therapist will use their hands, palms, and thumbs to massage certain points of your body. It is typically done on a low massage table or on a mat on the floor.

Thai Massage

Thai massage works the entire body using a sequence of movements that are similar to yoga stretches. Your therapist will use their palms and fingers to apply firm pressure to your body while manipulating you into certain positions that will aid in releasing the tension that your body is holding.

Table: Comparison of the different types of massage

Massage nameBasic
Points of
Best forHas shown to
have benefits in
Ideal length
of massage
Sports MassageSports massage is a therapeutic massage that’s designed to help strengthen muscles used for a particular sport to prevent injury or alleviate common repetitive strains in a particular sport.

  • Heavily sports related

  • Very intense pressure to access the deep muscle tissue that regular sports uses

Athletes, professional sportsmen and women, regular gym attendees and ironmen

  • Reducing lactic acid buildup

  • Reducing the likelihood of repetitive strain injury in athletes

  • Preventing injury and strain from a particular sport

60-90 minutes

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage therapy includes deep pressure in the massage which is beneficial in releasing chronic muscle tension.

  • Massage that includes heavy pressure and intense movements that penetrate deep into the muscle tissue

People with a lot of muscle tension or chronic pain

  • Relieving back pain, chronic tension and muscle stiffness

  • Promoting faster healing by increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation

60-90 minutes

Swedish Massage

Focuses on muscle relaxation, targeting superficial muscles.

  • Most popular relaxing massage

Someone looking to be relaxed and soothed

  • Lowering blood pressure

  • Improves circulation

  • Improving skin tone and appearance

  • Reducing muscle tension

  • Relieving any stress-related symptoms

About 90 minutes

Hot Stone Massage

A Swedish massage that includes heated stones.

  • Hot stones are placed on muscles for extra relaxation

Anyone who is experiencing muscle tension and pain, insomnia, or stress

  • Reducing muscle strain

  • Increasing better quality sleep

  • Increasing positive moods

60 and 90 minutes

Aromatherapy Massage

A Swedish massage that includes Aromatherapy oils.

  • The use of Aromatherapy oils to increase relaxation

Someone looking to be relaxed and soothed

  • Lowering blood pressure

  • Improving circulation

  • Any stress-related issues

90 minutes

Trigger Point Massage

Focuses on the areas of tightness in the muscle tissues, known as trigger points.

  • Focuses on Trigger Points only as its foundation believes trigger points can hold tension which in turn can cause pain in other areas

Someone who wants to fully relax the mind and body

  • Someone with headaches or other ailments that might be caused by holding tension in other areas of their body

30 minutes


Involves applying different amounts of pressure to the feet, hands, and ears.

  • Based on the theory that feet, hands and ears are connected to certain organs and applying pressure to these parts offers a range of health benefits

Helpful for reducing pain and psychological symptoms, such as stress and anxiety, and enhance relaxation and sleep

  • Benefits in pain reduction

  • Stress reduction and reduced anxiety

30-60 minutes

Shiatsu Massage

Involves firm pressure and muscle manipulation techniques using not only fingers, but also elbows, knees, and feet. This pressure is placed along with specific points of your body, called meridians, to release tension.

  • Based on the same principles as acupuncture and acupressure where pressure is placed on the meridian lines of the body

Perfect for someone who’s looking for a deeper and more active massage rather than something that’s luxurious and relaxing,/p>

  • Increase circulation

  • Detoxify your body

  • Reduce blood pressure

  • Relieve pain from tense muscles

30-50 minutes

Thai Massage

Thai massage or Thai yoga massage is a traditional healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures.

  • Thai massages take place upon a floor mat

  • Stretches and poses are used to assist muscle release.

Anyone experiencing stress, bad circulation, headaches and a lack of energy.

  • Increase energy

  • Improved circulation

  • Reduce blood pressure

  • Lowered levels of stress

30 minutes

How to Give a Good Massage at Home?

Ideally, a massage should be given by a professional masseuse that has been trained in the type of massage that you’re after. But if you want to give someone you like a massage or you want them to give you one here are some tips to give or get a good massage in your own home. Firstly, create a scene that’s relaxing by turning off or down the lights so it’s slightly dark but not too dark (you want to see what you’re doing!). You might also want to burn some incense or play soft music to set the mood. Turn off phones and anything distracting you or your massage partner and hire a babysitter if you have kids!

The person you’re massaging should be lying face down on a supportive surface if you don’t have a massage table a firm mattress is a good alternative. We’ve reviewed a few massage tables for you in our guide to choosing an appropriate massage table if you’re looking to purchase something for this activity. Then stand over the other person so that you can use your body weight to add pressure, start by putting a dime-sized drop of massage oil in the palm of your hand and warming it by rubbing your hands together. Then, massage the back using long, fluid motions. This will spread the oil and warm up the muscles. Start at the neck and continue to knead, down the back and through the back area and end the massage with some of the same long, light strokes you began with.

What Massage Has Done For Me

Although regular massage hasn’t turned back the clock, it has certainly relieved the regular body aches that I was experiencing. This has in turn has made me feel a lot better and therefore has made a real positive impact on my general well-being and outlook. This positive impact has also had an impact on other areas of my life too. I’m exercising more, I’m more active with my children and I’m doing more activities that I enjoy because I’m no longer tense and in pain. Regular massages have become a part of my self-care routine and I’ve really felt the difference, I recommend anyone who’s feeling a bit sore, or stiff to give regular massages a try.


When I talk to people about massage, they have so many questions, so I’ve up together a list of Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ to address the common questions people ask me: