This is a comprehensive guide to understanding the many different types of massage therapy specialties. Depending on the massage school you attend, you will most likely be introduced to many of the below techniques and types of massage programs. From there, you can specialize and master certain areas of massage and techniques that you identify with most closely.
Learn more about the different branches of massage by reading about each massage specialty below:
Basic massage therapy is the most common, and the foundation, of all the massage therapy specialties. Massage therapy is the practice of applying structured or unstructured pressure, tension, motion or vibration—manually or with mechanical aids—to the soft tissues of the body. Varying forms of massage therapy include holistic bodywork, healing touch, Swedish massage, deep tissue massage and Shiatsu. Licensed graduates of a massage training school find a wide range of job opportunities in health and wellness centers and spas and resorts.
Chair massage is becoming one of the more popular massage therapy specialties as it's a very mobile profession.Chair massage, also known as corporate massage, is an acupressure-based field of massage therapy and is more brief, mobile and versatile than traditional table massage. Chair massages are also advantageous because chair massage practitioners frequently make work or house calls. Chair massage can also be done in hotels, airports and convention centers.
Becoming a certified hypnotherapist can help therapists take a different approach to treating a client. Natural hypnotherapy courses teach practitioners to treat clients by means of their subconscious and focused relaxation techniques. Some practitioners have their own private practices, while others use hypnotherapy in their already existing acupuncture, massage, psychotherapy or nursing careers.
Infant massage is a specialized type of massage taught to deliver services to childbearing women and their infants. Because of the delicate nature of infant massage, massage therapists need to be specially trained and certified in this type of massage.
Medical massage is becoming one of the more popular massage therapy specialties as the benefits are being more widely communicated to health care professionals. Unlike general massage which uses broad techniques for relaxation, medical massage is anatomically precise and patient specific. Medical massage can be defined as therapeutic, corrective and restorative specific to patients' ailments.
Myofascial Release Therapy
Myofascial release refers to the manual massage technique for stretching the fascia* and releasing bonds between fascia and integument, muscles and bones, with the goal of eliminating pain, increasing range of motion and balancing the body. Myofascial release frees fascial restrictions and allows the muscles to move efficiently.
*Fascia is the connective tissue layer which surrounds muscles, bones and joints, providing support, protection and giving structure to the body.
Prenatal massage helps reduce swelling, back and neck pain and improves circulation in pregnant women. Prenatal massage is becoming increasing popular among expectant women and is also known as pregnancy massage. Massage therapists need to be specially trained and certified in order to practice this type of massage.
Reflexology is taught at most massage therapy schools and is a traditional form of Chinese massage which concentrates on applying pressure to certain points on the hands and feet that correspond to organs and tissues in the body.
Reiki massage is a Japanese healing practice that helps people feel more connected to life. It is an ancient healing technique involving the placement of hands onto the body in order to channel energy. Reiki allows the massage therapist to tap into an unlimited supply of “life force energy” to improve health and enhance the quality of life.
The art of Shiatsu is a form of Japanese massage that uses thumb pressure and works along the energy meridians in the body. Shiatsu is a type of massage that is performed while on a mat on the floor and with the client fully clothed. Many schools teach shiatsu in conjunction with massage therapy.
Spa therapy programs train students in aromatherapy, nutrition, massage or other natural healing techniques. Spa therapists typically work in beauty or day spas in such places as hotels, salons or cruise ships. Spa therapy is becoming increasing popular, and there is a high demand for spa therapists.
Sports Massage and Sports Therapy
Sports massage is one of the fastest growing forms of treatment for athletes to help prevent injuries and to enhance performance. The sports therapist applies a range of techniques including therapeutic soft tissue massage, gentle mobilization and stretching techniques to restore function to muscles and joints before, during and following sporting participation. Sports therapy is founded upon an intimate understanding of the structure and biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system. This is also known as sports therapy or therapeutic massage and is becoming increasing popular as more and more people are turning to natural healing.
Stone therapy is the use of smooth hot or cold stones, usually basalt or marble, during massages. When heated stones are used, muscles relax allowing the massage therapist to work deeper into the muscle without the discomfort of regular deep tissue massage. Many times massage therapists will use cold stones placed on sinuses to help a client with sinus congestion.
Thai bodywork is the combination of passive yoga stretching, acupressure, reflexology, energy work and meditation. Thai bodywork places emphasis on stretching and loosening the body. The massage recipient wears loose, comfortable clothes and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. Thai massage may include rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body. This may include pulling fingers, toes and ears; cracking the knuckles; walking on the recipient's back; and arching the recipient's back in a rolling action.
Trigger Point Programs
Trigger point massage utilizes ischemic compression of individual areas of hypersensitivity in muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia. A trigger point is an area within soft tissue structures that is characterized by local tenderness and/or referred phenomena which can include pain, tingling, numbness burning or itching. Students learn to apply firm pressure to these points which helps to clear the trigger point by repeatedly flushing the blood and accumulated toxins out of the trigger point. This creates conditions that foster healing.