What Massage Is Best for Me?

Swedish? Sports? Read on and find out

by Rob Zukowski

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Over time we have talked about the different kinds of massage and the assorted benefits of massage. It’s all well and good to know that massage is good for you, but one of the most frequent questions that I get is: “What type of massage is best for me?” We need to address that.

There are a lot of different massage modalities available to you. Each will have its own set of benefits depending on your specific needs. I would like to address the four most common types of massage.

Swedish massage is typically known for its relaxation benefits, but we should not forget the proven physiological benefits of this modality. A combination of massage strokes, alternating pressure and passive muscle stretches are used to ease tension, relieve moderate pain, and improve overall mobility. But another benefit of this type of session is to affect the autonomic nervous system and bring the client into a parasympathetic state (better known as “rest and digest”) where the body can heal itself and move towards homeostatic balance. Seek out this modality for moderate muscle pain and tension, anxiety, stress and a need for rest, improved sleep and overall relaxation.

Deep tissue work is best suited for chronic, long-standing muscle tension, pain and limits to range of motion. The pressure and techniques used to reach your goals will vary according to the client, but, by and large, this is much deeper and firmer work, often using elbows, forearms and a soft fist to manipulate deep muscle and connective tissue. Deep tissue work is a matter of moving through upper level, superficial tissue with greater pressure in order to access muscle tissues and fibers living deeper within the body.

Typically, the tissue is warmed and prepared with a variety of moderate strokes before beginning deeper work. Depending upon your needs and preferences, techniques such as deep compression, friction, muscle stripping and myofascial release can be used throughout the entire treatment, and more precise work can be performed on specific muscle groups or individual muscles.

The overall goal of deep tissue work is to access and reform muscle and connective tissue and break up deep, underlying knots, and adhesions. This modality is best for people who have long-term, deep chronic, muscle tension, and pain and a restriction to range of motion.

Medical massage is a very broad term, and while there is certification in medical massage, most therapists will have specialties. For example, one of my specialties includes multi-therapeutic approaches to massage for oncology patients.

Medical massage can be a helpful therapeutic option for issues including arthritis, neuropathies, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia, myofascial pain syndrome, paresthesia, and nerve pain, soft tissue strains or injuries, recovery from assorted traumatic injuries, temporomandibular joint pain, and an assortment of other illnesses and injuries. Be sure to talk to you practitioner about your specific medical conditions before having a session and scrutinize their experience and education.
Sports massage is another broad term used to describe services that focus on the individual therapeutic needs and goals of an athlete. The muscle groups targeted in sports massage will vary based on the sport or the ongoing physical activity.

There are three areas of sports massage: Maintenance (Inter-event) Massage, Pre-Event Massage, and Post-Event Massage.

Maintenance (Inter-event) Massage: Whether you are training for a specific event or participate in some form of athletics or repetitive activity on a regular basis, maintenance massage is designed to focus on the specific muscle groups being targeted along your athletic journey. Targeting specific muscles and/or specific muscle groups frequently in use as a part of your training regimen helps to decrease pain, improve performance and lessen the likelihood of training related injuries—helping you to perform at your best. Studies have shown that massage therapy within ninety minutes of an intense workout or training can reduce residual muscle stiffness and pain by fifty percent.

Pre-Event Massage: Pre-event massage typically occurs within ninety minutes of the start of an event. Prior to any athletic undertaking, it is important for the athlete to be in peak form. Pre-event massage is a series of strokes performed at an upbeat tempo to increase circulation, range of motion and flexibility, decrease pain, stiffness and nervous tension and allow the athlete to focus on the event with an enhanced sense of physical wellbeing.

Post-Event Massage: Post-event massage focuses on bringing the athlete back to neutral and dealing with aftercare. The pace of this massage is slower and calming and includes dealing with pain and cramping.

While massage in general is important to your wellbeing, it is equally important to ensure the type of massage you are getting is right for you.


Rob Zukowski is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition, he has advanced training in Sports Massage and sports-related injuries, various relaxation therapies, and massage for oncology. His experience includes working in medical facilities, corporate health environments, wellness centers, and spas. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer, manages a wellness center, arranges corporate wellness events, works in private practice and lectures in the field of therapeutic massage therapy. You can contact him directly at [email protected].