Different Types of Massage Therapy 101

Not just a luxury, massages come in handy when the body aches. Learn about six different types



Considered a luxury by some and a necessity by others, massages range from long, flowing strokes applied over the entire body by the hand to hot, smooth stones. An ever-increasing lineup of choices, however, can make choosing tough. Here, Ani Kaiser, head massage therapist at Haven Spa in Rhinebeck, offers a crash course in all things massage.

Swedish The most common type offered features light to medium pressure delivered in long, relaxing, flowing strokes over the entire body and both in the front and back — from the neck down to the feet.

Deep Tissue A good option for those with an ache, pain, sore back, or sore neck. Strokes are long and relaxing, cover the entire body, and are given with pressure applied from the thumbs, other fingertips, and elbows to reach muscles deep down and any knots or spasms. Those with osteoporosis might be wise to avoid them since they may damage bone, even though that possibility is rare, Kaiser says.

Shiatsu Based on an Eastern massage philosophy that each organ in the body regulates a different function — physical, psychological, and emotional — this treatment is applied with finger pressure. It is good for those who prefer to remain clothed and don’t like the idea of oil applied to their skin, but want a relaxing experience.

Hot Stone A Swedish-style massage, this therapy uses smooth, heavy, heated stones on all parts of the body to accelerate the detoxification process and relax muscles faster. “It offers more bang for your buck,” says Kaiser. Not appropriate for those with unregulated high blood pressure, and pregnant women should also avoid it. Anyone with an acute inflammatory condition such as a sprained ankle shouldn’t have the hot stones used on that area, Kaiser says.

Pregnancy or Prenatal A special pillow helps users relax on their sides; the massage focuses on areas with aches and pains such as extra painful back muscles or very puffy ankles. Pregnant women should wait until they’re past their first trimester to have this type of massage, says Kaiser.

Reflexology In 30- and 60-minute sessions, feet are massaged with each part corresponding to a different organ or system on the body map. The big toes represent the head, for instance; the bottom of the heels are the equivalent of the sacrum, says Kaiser. This therapy is especially good for anyone undergoing chemotherapy and needing to relax.

Before your first visit, ask the therapist the following questions:

  • What’s your level of experience? You want a massage therapist who’s been licensed, insured, and well-trained.
  • How long will the massage last? Most run 30, 60, or 90 minutes with prices varying accordingly. At Haven, a 30-minute Swedish massage, the most basic, costs $62, while a 90-minute hot-stone massage runs $140. A new 50-minute therapy that combines a massage, body scrub, and aromatherapy steam shower is $175.
  • What clothing do I need to take off? With most massages, you can undress to your level of comfort.
  • What do I do if the pressure isn’t satisfactory? Speak up, and explain you want the strokes lighter or deeper.

» Return to Ultimate Hudson Valley Health Guide 2012