There are lots of different kinds of massage, and sometimes the same massage goes by different names. Find out more about these common types of massage, and which one is best for you.
Swedish massage is the most common type of massage and a great place to start if it's your first massage or if you're afraid a massage might be painful. During Swedish massage, massage therapists use massage oils to facilitate smooth, gliding strokes over your body. You are usually nude under sheets, but only the part that is being massaged is exposed so modesty is always respected.
While a relaxation massage has health benefits, the massage therapist will probably go slower and avoid deeper work that could be at all uncomfortable. A relaxation massage is good if you're a beginner or sensitive to pain, or if you had a lot of deep work done the day before at a spa that offers daily massage.
Deep tissue massage uses many of the same movements and techniques as Swedish massage, but the therapist will work the deeper tissue structures of the muscle and fascia (connective tissue). It is also a more focused type of massage, as the therapist works to release chronic muscle tension or knots called adhesions. Many people expect deep tissue massage to be an hour of intense pressure and pain, but this is counterproductive.
This is just another way to say that the massage is meant to have therapeutic purposes and health benefits. Therapeutic massage is a way to distinguish it from "massage parlor" massage, which was the image that massage had with most Americans back in the 1960s. Therapeutic massage also might indicate that the massage will be a little deeper -- not just a pure relaxation massage.
Most massages are full-body massage, meaning that the therapist will massage your back, legs, arms, and neck. If it's a half-hour massage, you are better off having the therapist concentrate on a specific area that is giving you trouble. Or a therapist might take a full hour to concentrate on a specific area because of injury or chronic pain. Sometimes signs for "full-body massage" are used by "spas" that function more like the old massage parlor.
Aromatherapy massage is usually a Swedish or deep tissue massage where the massage oil has been blended with essential oils such as lavender, peppermint or geranium to affect your mood and alleviate pain. Aromatherapy massage is at its best when the therapist uses high quality, therapeutic essential oils blended to address your specific need. This can be hard to find in a commercial spa setting. You are probably better off with a private practitioner specifically trained in aromatherapy massage.
Hot stone massage is a very popular massage that uses smooth, rounded stones that have been heated in water. The therapist uses the stones as an extension of his/her hand and may also place them on your belly, hands or back. When done well hot stone massage is great because the heat helps warm up your muscles and is very relaxing. But hot stone massage requires a lot of skill, so quality can vary widely.
Sports massage was developed for athletes who need to keep their bodies in great condition and quickly work out any stress or injuries. Sports massage can be used to get an athlete ready to compete, support their bodies while they compete, or help it recover after an event. But sports massage is good for anyone with chronic pain, injury or range-of-motion issues. The therapist generally concentrates on a specific problem area which may be related to sports, like golf or tennis.
Couples massage is where two people are massaged in the same room, at the same time, by two different therapists. It can be a husband and wife, girlfriend and boyfriend, same-sex partners, or even moms and daughters sometimes or best friends. The setting can range from a simple room big enough for two tables to an elaborate spa suite. You can talk or keep quiet during couples massage -- it's up to you.
Pregnancy massage, also known as prenatal massage, promotes relaxation, soothes nerves, and relieves strained back and leg muscles in expectant mothers. Pregnancy massage is especially beneficial in the second and third trimesters when the extra weight in your belly puts a strain on your back. Before you get a pre-natal massage, make sure the therapist has been specially trained.