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The Difference Between Swedish Massage & Deep Tissue Massage

by
author image Ramona French
Ramona French owned a massage school and taught massage for 28 years. In that time she wrote textbooks on Swedish, acupressure, deep tissue and lymph drainage massage. She is the author of "Introduction to Lymph Drainage Massage" and "Milady's Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage." Her book, "The Complete Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage," published by Milady, was released in October 2011.
The Difference Between Swedish Massage & Deep Tissue Massage
A relaxed woman on a table receiving a massage. Photo Credit ColorBlind Images/Blend Images/Getty Images

Although there are many different kinds of massage, with various names, massage can be divided into three basic types. Acupressure refers to massages from Asia that focus on pressure points and the movement of energy through the body. Swedish massage focuses on improving circulation of blood and lymph and relaxing superficial muscles. Deep tissue massage focuses on connective tissue, and the goal is to produce changes in movement and posture.

About Swedish Massage

According to Robert Noah Calvert, founder of Massage Magazine, Swedish massage didn't really originate in Sweden. In Europe, it is generally referred to as classic massage, which was originally organized and described by Dutch practitioner Johan Georg Mezger. Swedish massage consists of a specific set of massage movements: effleurage, or sliding movements; petrissage, or kneading movements; friction, or rubbing; vibration and percussion. It traditionally also includes passive and active joint movements, stretching and bending joints with the assistance of the massage therapist. Swedish massage offshoots include medical massage, manual lymphatic drainage, spa treatments such as aromatherapy, hydrotherapy and body wraps, sports massage, Esalen massage, chair massage, pregnancy massage, massage for infants and children, and geriatric massage.

Deep Tissue Massage Defined

Deep tissue massage focuses on stretching fascia, a three-dimensional web of connective tissue that surrounds, supports and penetrates all of the muscles, bones, nerves and organs. Deep tissue massage works layer by layer through connective tissue and muscles down to the deepest accessible layers to change posture and create freedom of movement by releasing fascial adhesions and chronic muscle contracture. Adhesions and scar tissue form in muscles because of injury, chronic poor posture, chronic or acute inflammation and repetitive motions. Deep tissue massage therapists use their fingers, thumbs, fists, forearms and elbows to stretch each muscle and fascia layer.

How Massage Affects the Body

Swedish massage increases the circulation of blood and lymph, which has the result of cleaning and nourishing soft tissues--the skin and muscle. It lengthens and relaxes the superficial muscles and stimulates peristalsis in the intestines. Deep tissue work creates micro-tears in the fascia, which fill with elastin and collagen in about three days, creating muscles that are more flexible, supple and have greater range of motion. For the most success, the client must be willing to stretch regularly between sessions to retrain muscles and prevent recurrence of muscle contracture.

Weighing the Benefits

Choose Swedish massage for relaxation to increase circulation of blood and lymph, for relief of pain, improved mood, improved sleep and sharper thinking. Choose deep tissue massage for chronic pain that is muscular in origin, to improve posture and range of motion. To improve athletic performance, use deep tissue massage off-season as it produces changes in movement to which you need to become accustomed before competing.

Misconceptions and Considerations

Swedish massage is sometimes considered to be more soothing than therapeutic, but research by the Touch Therapy Institute in Florida shows that Swedish or classic massage has many therapeutic benefits. Deep tissue massage shouldn't be painful; well-trained deep tissue massage therapists work very slowly, within the client's tolerance, to stretch muscle layers without causing pain or damage. It often results in a little soreness afterwards, but you should feel better, not worse, after your massage.

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