Swedish Massage vs. Deep Tissue Massage

The various massage styles - including Swedish and Deep Tissue – are confusing when you're not a professional. To know what type of massage will work best for your particular case, you need to first understand their differences and similarities.

Individually, each one is a proven and often used massage technique, but they work best when combined. Massage therapists mostly use both techniques when they're trying to to help clients fix compensation patterns and movement dysfunctions.

Swedish Massage

This is one of the most common massages, and it's the one that therapists offer more often to their clients for overall relaxation. With firm pressure, the muscles are stroked and kneaded with long strokes. The massage technician may use essential oils for smooth movements. The oil will greatly reduce friction between the therapist's hands and client's skin and make the massage more pleasant and effective. Not only that, essential oils provide aromatherapy benefits, too.

Swedish massage is best for increasing blood circulation and oxygen levels in the muscles, which in turn relieves tension and improves flexibility. This is why it's great for athletes, and everyone else who has a vigorous workout routine. Increased blood flow and oxygen levels will help to flush out toxins (lactic and uric acids as well as metabolic waste) that were accumulated in the body tissues. With the toxins out of the system, the muscles will recover much faster.

Improved blood circulation and muscle relief from the Swedish massage soothes the nervous system, which has a positive impact on the person's overall well-being (1). It relieves physical and mental stress as well as tension.

Swedish massage consists out of five main strokes – they are petrissage, effluerage, friction, vibration, and tapotement.

  • Petrissage is a kneading and squeezing stroke that lifts and presses the tissue to help the process of removing toxins from massaged area.
  • Effleurage strokes are used to to spread the oil on the body and for the massage therapist to get a better feel for the muscle tone. 
  • Friction is used to generate heat with short movements. That heat brings blood flow to the muscles and loosens them.
  • Vibration strokes will start gently moving the entire body, but it has to be done correctly for the patient to experience maximum relaxation.
  • Tapotement is applied by doing karate-like chops on the entire body. The main purpose of this move is to relax the muscles.

The Swedish massage is best for: relieving stress, relaxing the entire body, loosening up tense and sore muscles.

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Here's an infographic with an in-depth explanation of the basic techniques.

Swedish Massage How-To - Infographics

Infographic by ​Body Work  Massage

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage is used to to target deeper tissue structure of the muscles. That means it's best suited for targeting fascia, which is a connective tissue beneath the skin, and it's prefect for relieving chronic issues, as well as small muscle injuries.

This style of massage also helps with sports injuries, whiplash, muscle spasms, and misalignments to the posture. The therapist will focus on a series of strokes and penetrative moves that concentrate on the release of the chronic tension, adhesion or knots in the muscles.

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The size of the muscle and the pain involved will dictate the strokes the therapist will employ on the muscle. They will knead, push, or dig into the muscle as it lets them. They won't force a huge amount of painful pressure into the muscle. When the muscle pushes back, the therapist will move along the muscle. While it might feel tense and a bit unpleasant, it should never cause too much pain.  It is also not uncommon to feel a little sore after a deep tissue massage, but that should not last longer than a day.

Deep Tissue massage is best for: painful spots like the shoulders or back where there are stiff knots of tension.

The infographic below lists the many benefits of a deep tissue massage.

Deep Tissue Massage Benefits - Infographics

Infographic by Kinetic Massage Works

As can be seen in this video, the two massages work well together. One is a surface massage to relax the body while the deep tissue massage concentrates on the muscle. The therapist might even use other methods and tools to get deep aside from the hands. 

How Do You Know What Massage to Get?

You may be wondering if you should get a Swedish  or Deep Tissue massage.

A Swedish massage is perfect if you are:

  • Stressed about work or something in your personal life and looking for comfort and relaxation.
  • Seeking a general sense of relaxation.
  • Unable to handle Deep Tissue massage.
  • In need of increased circulation on a general level. (it helps with better thinking, better sleep, better overall mood)

A Deep Tissue massage is right if you are:

  • Experiencing pain in a certain muscle or muscle group.
  • Always involved in heavy work activities like lifting and moving things.
  • Dealing with chronic pain from an accident or injury.
  • Searching for relief from pain and tension in an area of the body.

If you're not sure what type of massage you want, speak honestly to the massage therapist. He or she will be able to steer you in the right direction based on what you're experiencing as well as what you hope to gain from the massage session.

Elena Curtis
 

Elena graduated from the Chicago School of Massage Therapy Clinic, and since her graduation in 2008, she's honed her style that consists of Eastern and Western massage techniques. When she's not working with patients, Elena spends her time reading and enjoying nature.

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