Massage Therapy 101: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

Massage. Your friends go. Your mom goes. You hear all about the benefits of massage therapy and all the different types of massage, but you just haven’t made the leap. You have so many questions.

What are the benefits of massage? Who do I go to? What type of massage do I need? How often do I go? What do I wear, or not wear?

Read on, because this article provides you the comprehensive overview of the different types of massage therapies to choose from, what to expect during your first massage, and other important details to know.

What Type of Massage Is Right for You? Here’s a Closer Look at 6 Different Types of Massage Therapy:

The choices might seem a bit overwhelming. But, each style of massage offers unique benefits. Try a few and see what the best fit is, or weave different therapies into your regular routine.

1. Swedish Massage

This is your general feel-good massage and what you will often receive in a spa setting. Soothing for the nervous system with long, relaxing strokes, Swedish massage is wonderful for stress reduction.

Swedish massage is a great starting place for those new to massage therapy. Your therapist can address your whole body or tailor your treatment to specific trouble areas that you have.

2. Deep Tissue Massage

Often used for chronic issues, deep tissue massage usually focuses more intensely on certain areas of the body. Deeper, specific massage can be intense but should not be painful. This work is beneficial for correcting postural and muscular imbalances.


3. Ashiatsu

Originally a Japanese technique, ashiatsu is performed with bare feet. Holding onto overhead bars for support and pressure control, your therapist uses the pressure of their feet instead of their hands.

Great for delivering a broad, deep pressure, ashiatsu elongates muscles and helps to free up your nerves, especially along the spine.

Curious about other types of massage too? Here’s an Introduction to Thai Massage + 3 Techniques You Can Try at Home


4. Reflexology

Dedicated solely to the feet, reflexology works with specific acupressure points on your feet and ankles. Reflexology theory states that there is a corresponding point on the feet for every area of your body.

Headache? Rub the spot in between your big toe and second toe for relief.


5. Sports Massage

Used pre-, post-, and in-between sporting events, this type of massage is tailored to the specific athlete. Designed to improve performance, prevent injury, and reduce recovery time, sports massage is beneficial for any stage of training.

6. Myofascial Release

Fascia. From foam rolling to Yin Yoga, there are many new therapies that address this connective tissue. Fascia weaves in and around each muscle fiber. It also creates a sheet covering larger sections of muscle tissue and organs.

Myofascial massage is a type of massage that uses a sustained pressure to release places in the fascia that have become “stuck.” This binding of the tissue can result in limited range of motion or postural misalignment.

Not sure where to start with foam rolling? How to Use a Foam Roller to Relieve Low Back Pain (Video)


What Happens Before the Massage?

Please refer to your massage therapist as a therapist, not a masseuse. What they do is indeed therapy. And unfortunately, the old connotations of the word “masseuse” still apply. Honor the treatment you are getting and the person that is providing it.

Before the massage, give your therapist your complete health history. No, you don’t need to include the appendicitis you had when you were 10. But list all recent, relevant medical concerns. Most therapists will have you complete a detailed intake form, providing you the opportunity to do this.

The body is a fascinating web of interconnectedness.

The body is a fascinating web of interconnectedness. Did you know tight hamstrings can cause headaches? Or that wrist pain might result from tight shoulders? The point is, your therapist may be able to make some connections that you might not think are relevant.

It’s perfectly acceptable to get undressed completely. Or not. You will be covered with a sheet or blanket throughout the session, with each body part getting undraped as your therapist works different areas of your body. Do what is most comfortable for you so you can relax and enjoy your treatment.

What Should You Expect During the Massage?

Be sure to communicate with your therapist during the treatment. Do you need more or less pressure? Is an area sensitive or ticklish? While therapists are trained to read the body with their hands, they are not mind readers. Open communication helps to establish a trusting relationship between you and your therapist.

And know that after the initial conversation, it’s okay to zone out and get quiet. It’s a great time to turn in, breathe, and just listen to your body. Many of us don’t get enough of that in our daily lives.

Take deep breaths. The power of your breath is amazing. It can move you from the stress response to the relaxation response. Needless to say, it’s highly beneficial for your treatment.

How Often Should You Get Massages?

As a therapist I am frequently asked, “How often do I need to go?” And of course, that depends.

As part of your wellness routine, once a month is great for preventative care. For more chronic issues, you may want to try every week or two. Notice how long the relief lasts and, at least initially, schedule when you need it.

And remember, that tightness in your shoulders or lower back has been building for years . . . or even decades. It will likely take longer than one session to find consistent relief. If you spend your day hunched over a computer, it takes time to reverse the habits and muscle memory you have developed over time.

The Takeaway on Massage Therapy

Just like any health care practitioner, each massage therapist will have a unique style. If the first try is not a good match, don’t be afraid to go somewhere else. Just because your friends rave about them, doesn’t mean that they are a good fit for you.

When you find the right therapist, it could be a relationship you have for years. They will learn the styles and pressures that are just right for you. And your body and mind will learn to melt with their touch.

Regular massage therapy can be part of a lifelong wellness routine. Take the time to find the right style, therapist, and frequency. Both your body and your mind will thank you. So, when will you book your first appointment?

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Amy Hardwick

Amy Hardwick is a passionate wellness warrior and freelance writer. As a yoga teacher, reiki master, massage therapist, nutritional therapist, and Ayurveda enthusiast, she weaves these pieces together to guide students and clients on their path to wellness. A mountain girl, she lives and plays in the Colorado high country with her husband and her dog Tashi.


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