What’s the Difference, and What’s Best for Me?
If you’ve ever complained about back pain, sore muscles or even just the aches and pains of day-to-day life, you’ve probably been told: “You need a massage!” Maybe you just need to relax and unwind, or you may even need targeted relief from tension and stiffness after a stressful week.
Massage therapy is no longer a luxury reserved for fancy spas, health clubs and cruise ships. Living in an age of texting, hunching, sitting and other repetitive activities, they’ve become a necessity. With so many different options out there, you may be having difficulty choosing which type of massage is right for you.
When considering an appointment with a registered massage therapist (RMT), it’s important to understand exactly what you’re looking for. Two of the most popular forms of massage therapy are deep tissue and relaxation massage. Familiarizing yourself with the differences between each type of massage will allow you to optimize your comfort, relaxation, and healing.
Relaxation Massage: What it is and what to expect
If you’re looking for a gentle, soothing experience that leaves you feeling pampered, you should consider a relaxation massage. The main goal here is to leave you feeling – you guessed it – relaxed. During a relaxation massage, your RMT will typically use long, light strokes toward the heart that create a nice overall flow for the body. If you need it, they can also use kneading or gentle chopping motions to target specific trigger points.
Relaxation massage prompts a physiological relaxation response in your body, which causes your heart and breathing rate to slow, your blood pressure to decrease, your muscles to relax, and the production of stress hormones to decrease. Massage even stimulates your body’s production of serotonin, a chemical that causes general feelings of well-being and happiness
Not only will a relaxation massage leave you feeling loose and relaxed, but there are other health benefits as well. Massages are scientifically proven to improve your circulation, which has a host of additional benefits, including increased flexibility and healthier skin. Massage therapy also enhances your concentration and productivity, lowers your blood pressure and even provides a small immunity boost.
Relaxation Massage is best for relieving everyday stress and loosening general tension in the muscles. They are not ideal for targeting specific conditions like chronic neck pain, back pain, wrist pain from typing, sports injuries or other injuries, or limited range of motion in any part of the body. These issues are more likely caused by tension that is buried deeper in the soft tissue.
Deep Tissue (Therapeutic) Massage: What it is and what to expect
If you have a specific problem that needs attention like a sports injury, an old car accident injury or a condition that causes chronic pain, inflammation or limited range of motion like fibromyalgia, it’s better to go with a deep tissue or sports massage. This is also known as a therapeutic massage.
A deep tissue massage uses firm pressure strokes to reach deep into your muscles and soft tissue, targeting specific muscle groups. It is also used to break up scar tissue, muscle knots or adhesions (bands of painful, rigid tissue) that can disrupt your blood circulation.
A deep tissue massage can be full-body or focused on one area. When you book your consultation, you will discuss your problem areas with your RMT and work together to design a treatment plan that suits your needs. They may recommend a single session, or even recurring appointments depending on the severity of your problem.
Unlike a relaxation massage, with a deep tissue massage, you may experience some discomfort. Throughout your massage, your RMT will check in with you regularly to make sure they are using only as much pressure as is needed. Therapeutic massage should never cause intolerable or excruciating pain.
Deep tissue massage (or any massage that involves heavy pressure) is not ideal for pregnant women. Instead, consider a prenatal massage, which accommodates the pregnant body while helping promote muscle and ligament relaxation. It also eases the common symptoms of pregnancy like sore spots, back pain, mobility and even anxiety.
Drinking lots of water before and immediately after your massage will give you a more comfortable experience both during and after your massage. You may also experience some discomfort post-massage, but that normally clears up after approximately 24 hours. If the pain persists, contact your RMT. The pain may be indicative of an area that needs more attention.
You may want to consider a deep tissue massage if:
- You experience chronic pain in a particular muscle group
- You exercise or engage in physical activity frequently
- You have a job that involves sitting/standing all day, or repetitive motions
- You have a lingering injury
Swedish and deep tissue massages may be similar, but they accomplish different goals. The main difference is the amount of pressure involved. Feel free to ask as many questions as you need before and during your appointment. Be open about your comfort level, your goals and your expectations. If you’re looking for relaxation and relief from tense, tight muscles, relaxation massage is probably right for you. If you have a specific issue, deep tissue massage can be a helpful part of your treatment plan.
Whatever route you decide to take, you’re sure to come out of it happier and stress-free.