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Comparison of Swedish, Deep Tissue & Hot Stone Massages

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.
Comparison of Swedish, Deep Tissue & Hot Stone Massages
Hot stone massage is a luxurious treatment available at many spas. Photo Credit: Andreas Rodriguez/iStock/Getty Images

Swedish, deep tissue and hot stone massages are related massage techniques with different goals. Understanding the purpose of each type helps you choose the style of massage best suited to your needs and tastes. It will also help you avoid inappropriate techniques that may aggravate your condition.

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Swedish Massage

A swedish massage.
A swedish massage. Photo Credit: Valua Vitaly/iStock/Getty Images

Swedish massage, also known as classic massage, is an oil massage that uses a repertoire of specific massage movements. Effleurage is a long, smooth stroke using one or both hands. Petrissage is a kneading movement used to pick up and twist superficial tissues, separating layers of connective tissue to enhance blood and lymph circulation and relax and tone muscles. Percussion is drumming or tapping, used to increase local blood circulation and relax nerves. Friction is a rubbing movement used on scar tissue and trigger points. Pressure can be light, medium or heavy depending on the tightness of the muscles and the tolerance of the client.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage.
Deep tissue massage. Photo Credit: imarly/iStock/Getty Images

While Swedish massage is used to relax superficial muscles and stimulate the circulation of blood and lymph, deep tissue massage focuses on connective tissue, the microscopic fibers that connect and support all structures of the body including the skin, organs, muscles and bones. Releasing connective tissue makes muscles softer, longer and more flexible. This type of massage separates layers of muscles that have adhered to each other because of injury or overuse. Deep tissue therapists use their hands, fingers, thumbs, forearms and elbows to stretch muscles and connective tissue layer by layer.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage.
Hot stone massage. Photo Credit: XiXinXing/iStock/Getty Images

Hot stone massage is added to classic massage to enhance the effects of the massage. The hot stones help muscles relax and cause hyperemia, increased blood flow to the area where the stones are placed. Therapists place stones along the back, on the hands and even between the toes. They use larger flat stones to stroke along the length of muscles.


Swedish massage.
Swedish massage. Photo Credit: Valua Vitaly/iStock/Getty Images

Swedish massage is the most widely practiced form of massage with good reason: it has many benefits and is very relaxing and soothing. Deep tissue massage is used to treat chronic pain and limited range of motion; improve posture, balance and movement; and help athletes train. Hot stone massage is used for the same reasons you would use a heating pad.


Talk to your doctor if you are unsure about which massage to choose.
Talk to your doctor if you are unsure about which massage to choose. Photo Credit: Alexander Raths/iStock/Getty Images

There are times when massage is inappropriate due to a specific condition. Avoid hot stone massage if your skin is red, inflamed or infected or if you have a breakout of acne. Avoid deep tissue massage if you recently had an injury or surgery, are pregnant, have a fever or a contagious illness or have implants such as a stent. Avoid all forms of massage if you have a blood clot, history of blood clots, or red, hot and painful varicose veins. If you are uncertain about which type of massage to have, discuss your goals with your massage therapist. If you are concerned about the effect of massage on a particular health condition, discuss it with your physician.

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  • Tappan's Handbook of Healing Massage Techniques; Patricia J. Benjamin
  • Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage; Mark Beck
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