24 Unique Massage Therapy Specialties to Explore
Since ancient times, massage therapy has been practiced in many different cultures and settings. The field of massage therapy continues to evolve today with a wide variety of techniques and approaches available to practitioners.
Basic massage therapy—the practice of applying structured or unstructured pressure, tension, motion, or vibration to the soft tissues of the body—is the foundation on which most massage therapy specialties are built. Depending on the school and program you attend, you’ll likely be introduced to several different types of massage. Varying forms of the practice include neuromuscular massage, sports massage, Shiatsu, and others. Licensed, trained massage therapists can find a wide range of job opportunities in health and wellness centers, hospitals, clinics, and spas and resorts, as well as private practice.
As you develop your career further, you could choose to specialize in a particular area of massage or bodywork. Typically, additional certifications and continuing education opportunities are available to build these skills. Specializing is one way you can differentiate your services and appeal to a specific type of client. Some of the popular massage therapy specialties are detailed below—click on each to learn about training you’ll need—but there are countless others to explore.
Practitioners of bioenergetic therapy aim to relieve stress and tension using psychotherapeutic and bodywork techniques such as “talk therapy,” deep breathing relaxation methods, gentle movements and exercise, and massage.
This type of bodywork—nurturing touch, guided stretching, supported postures, and rhythmic movements—originated in the small Kurdish village of Breemava and focuses on balancing energy in the mind and body.
Chair massage, or seated massage, allows a client to sit comfortably and receive a neck, back, arm and shoulder massage while fully clothed. It can be done in airports, street fairs, shopping centers, or corporate office buildings.
This manual therapy—especially popular for treating headaches and jaw problems such as TMJ—uses light touch to gently manipulate the head and spine and support the body’s innate healing abilities.
Developed by Russian-born physicist Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais, this form of movement therapy, during which practitioners use gentle hand-on guidance to help people improve their flexibility, coordination, and range of motion, is designed to help “re-wire” a client’s nervous system and let go of old patterns.
Combining hands-on deep-tissue bodywork, movement education and empowering dialogue, Hellerwork helps create new levels of physical and emotional awareness and help restore the body’s natural balance and alignment and relieve tension, pain, and stress.
Lomi Lomi Massage
Rooted in the traditions of ancient healers of Hawaii, this form of massage—during which therapists use their forearms and hands to perform fluid, rhythmic motion over the client’s body (often described as a sensation of gentle waves)—emphasizes the free flow of energy throughout the body.
Employing a variety of therapeutic, corrective and restorative modalities and procedures, medical massage is anatomically precise and specific to patients who are living with diseases, pain, and injuries.
Myofascial Release Therapy
Myofascial release refers to a manual massage technique of gentle, specialized stretching that targets connective tissue layers with the goal of reducing pain and restoring mobility and enhancing the body’s natural healing capabilities.
This specialized form of manual therapy manipulates muscles, tendons, and connective tissue through specific massage techniques and utilizes flexibility stretching to reduce neuromuscular pain and restore balance to the central nervous system.
Great for relieving muscle tension and stress, this comprehensive yet gentle and non-invasive form of bodywork based on principles of osteopathy (in which students learn how to move and position the body to help facilitate a patient’s comfort) promotes the body’s natural abilities to self-balance.
Polarity therapy, which combines bodywork, nutrition, exercise, and self-awareness, seeks to address energy blockages and imbalances in the mind, body, and spirit using gentle stretching and pressure-sensitive bodywork exercises.
Prenatal massage uses techniques from deep-tissue massage, Swedish massage, Shiatsu massage, and others, using positioning recommended for pregnant women. It helps reduce pregnancy discomforts such as back pain, swelling and improves circulation and sleep.
This traditional form of Chinese massage concentrates on applying pressure to certain points on the hands, feet, and ears to stimulate self-healing and is effective in reducing stress and relieving common health problems such as chronic pain, allergies, and digestive issues.
A nearly 100-year-old Japanese healing practice, Reiki involves the placement of the hands in 10 to 20 specific positions on or near the body in order to channel and balance the flow of life force energy. Reiki is often combined with traditional massage therapy.
Through a series of gentle as well as deeper techniques in 10 distinct sessions, Rolfing works to lengthen and reposition connective tissue, or fascia, to help realign the whole body and improve posture, flexibility, and energy levels.
Designed to support athletic performance and prevent injuries, sports massage employs a variety of modalities such a deep-tissue massage for soft tissue mobilization to stretching techniques to boost function in muscles and joints.
Stone therapy uses hot (or sometimes cold) stones to work deeper into the muscles without the discomfort of regular deep tissue massage to improve circulation, reduce inflammation and relax the muscles.
The Trager approach to bodywork uses gentle rocking and rolling movements to promote flexibility and help release deep-seated physical and mental patterns that can block the body’s natural, free-flowing motion.
Trigger Point Massage
Trigger point massage practitioners apply firm pressure with a finger or an instrument for several seconds to tender muscle tissue in order to foster healing and reduce pain and stiffness; pressure is increased as the trigger point softens.
Tui Na Therapy
One of the oldest forms of bodywork with roots in Chinese medicine, Tui Na massage is a cross between acupressure and Shiatsu. It promotes balance using rhythmic compression along energy channels of the body with manipulation techniques at acupressure points.
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