Introduction to Massage and Bodywork Techniques and Modalities

There are a plethora of different types of massage promoted by the natural health industry. For beginners and those not familiar with the differences between the massage styles and techniques, the terminology can be confusing. This article provides a brief introduction to some of the more commonly promoted massage modalities.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage uses long flowing strokes to reduce stress, both emotional and physical and is probably the best known type of massage. Other massages techniques such as kneading and tapotment are used in addition to the long flowing effleurage style strokes to produce either a relaxing and/or invigorating response.

Swedish massage is claimed to increase the flow of oxygen in the blood, increasing the circulation without increasing the load on the heart, stimulates the skins and soothes the nervous system.

Remedial Massage

Remedial Massage is considered to be a holistic treatment and incorporates massage and other techniques to treat a specific condition. The therapy assists in treating particular muscle tension caused by stress, overuse or injury. Remedial Massage helps increasing blood flow to injured tissues to facilitate the repair process.

Remedial Massage has both long and short-term impacts and benefits to the body. However, remedial massage therapists are not qualified to diagnose conditions and it is recommended that a diagnosis for a specific condition be obtained from appropriate specialists prior to visiting a remedial massage therapist.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage focuses on addressing the deeper layers of muscles and connective tissue, realigning and breaking up areas of muscular adhesion. Deep tissue massage attempts to release the chronic patterns of tension in the body through slow strokes and deep pressure on contracted muscles and connective tissue are as and the massage strokes either follow or go across the fibres of the muscles, fascia and tendons .

Some of the same strokes are used as classic massage therapy, but the movement is slower and the pressure is deeper and concentrated on areas of tension and pain. Deep tissue massage should not necessarily be painful although some experiences may be intense.

Sports Massage

Sports massage is intended to prevent and relieve injuries, strains and issues that are related to training and competition. Often it can be quite vigorous and it is not meant to be relaxing. The intention of sports massage is relieve and reduce stresses, tightness and tensions that can build up in the muscles while exercising. Techniques are employed that are aimed at increasing endurance and performance, whilst minimising the chance of injury (or if there is an injury then the objective of sports massage is to reduce the recovery time).

Pre-event sports massage is intended to increase blood circulation to the muscles to permit muscles to be provided with oxygen and also to be flushed of metabolic products. Tight muscles may be released and joints can be moved through their entire range of motion. Particular focus can be concentrated on the muscles specifically used during the exercise to optimise performance and also lessen the likelihood of injuries.

Post event sports massage is applied to assist an athlete to recover from a particular activity or event. Techniques are applied to reduce post-exercise soreness, to re-establish a full range of joint motion and to enhance blood flow to tight and restricted muscles.

Contrary to its name, sports massage is not only used by professional athletes or people that exercise heavily. It can be of benefit to anyone that exercises, even if it is only mild exercise such as regular walking.

Pregnancy Massage

All pregnant women feel discomfort to varying extents during pregnancy. The physical, physiological, hormonal and emotional changes that take place can result in added stress on the mother-to-be. Massage during pregnancy provides numerous benefits to the mum-to-be.

These benefits include:

– Assistance in maintaining proper posture to reduce neck, back and shoulder pain.
– Preparation of muscles required in childbirth.
– Relaxation and reportedly decreased levels of insomnia.
– Lower incidence of calf cramps.
– Lower sciatic pain.

However, it should be stressed that pregnancy massage should be only be carried out by therapists with suitable training and experience.


Thai Massage is an interactive mobilisation of the body joints and muscles using passive stretching and gentle pressure applied by the hands and feet of the therapist. The movements used assist in adjusting the skeletal structure, increasing joint and muscle flexibility, relieving tension and stress and stimulating internal organs. When performed by a suitably skilled therapist the result is both relaxing as well as energising.

Thai Massage is usually carried out in serene environments that allow clients to let go of any physical and emotional limitations. Thai Massage can incorporate other natural therapy modalities such as Acupressure, Shiatsu and Yoga.

A typical Thai Massage will last one to two hours and is performed on a floor mat. Clients wear loose fitting clothing and no oils are used in this style of massage.


Reflexology is based upon the philosophy that tension in any part of the foot mirrors tension in a corresponding part of the body. These parts are referred to as reflex points and are also found on the hands and other body parts. However, by far the most commonly treated area in a reflexology session is the feet.

It is claimed that reflexology has numerous beneficial and lasting effects. Whilst some sessions are gentle in nature, aiming to restore the body’s homeostasis, others are more specific and are aimed at addressing a specific issue or complaint. It is generally a healing process that can be safely applied when it is contraindicated to treat other body parts. As a non-intrusive technique, it is claimed that reflexology heals indirectly.

A foot reflexology session typically lasts about an hour. There is no need to get undressed as it is required that only shoes and socks are removed (although good foot hygiene is considered to be appropriate).

Bowen Therapy

Bowen Therapy is a holistic approach to healing and pain relief based on the recognition by Tom Bowen that the underlying source of musculoskeletal, neurological, neuromuscular and other health conditions may be found in the soft tissue or fascia.

The Bowen Technique is a non-intrusive cross fibre muscle release technique that attempt to balance and stimulate energy flows, which can result in a sense of deep relaxation. A treatment normally consists of the client to lie on a treatment couch for between 30 minutes and an hour. There are frequent pauses between the gentle moves to enable the body itself to correct dysfunctions and restore homeostasis on a holistic level.

A Bowen Therapy session can be performed through light clothing. It is usually recommended to have two to three sessions of the Bowen Technique with a break of five to ten days between each session.

Craniosacral Therapy

The origins of Craniosacral began when an osteopath William Sutherland he noticed that the cranial sutures of the temporal bones of the skull were “bevelled like the gills of a fish”.

Craniosacral therapy consists of assessing the movement of cerebrospinal fluid. Practitioners apply subtle movement to the spinal and cranial bones to attempt to restore balance to the central nervous system. It is considered by practitioners that the cerebrospinal fluid can be restricted by injury to the body and by gently moving the spine and the cranial sutures, restrictions of nerves can be eased to facilitate the movement of the cerebrospinal fluid through the spinal cord. This therapy is believed to be particularly useful for back and neck conditions, migraines, TMJ Syndrome, and even for chronic nervous conditions such as fibromyalgia.


Shiatsu has been developed over the last hundred years and is considered to be a traditional Japanese healing massage therapy. Taken literally, Shiatsu means finger pressure and relates to one part of the therapy for which natural body weight (be it from the fingers, thumbs, forearms, feet or elbows) is used to apply pressure to particular points on the clients body, referred to as meridians. When combined with stretching, rotation of joint and manipulation of joints then the result is an all-encompassing treatment, which is aimed at treating the client holistically.

A typical Shiatsu session last about an hour and is carried out fully clothed with the client lying on a futon mat on the floor. It commences with the practitioner using pulses, tongue, face and spinal column examinations to determine which treatments to use.


Rolfing® refers to a system of Structural Integration and manual therapy developed by Dr Ida Rolf. It is claimed to be an original and scientifically proven system of body restructuring and movement education, which can release the body from lifelong patterns of tension and stresses whilst permitting the force of gravity to realign the segments of the body.

A Rolfing series is designed to uncover structural ease and balance that is specific to each client. Rolfing is a process of education in which a Rolfer assists in helping a client realise efficient way of using their body, given the uniqueness of the individual.

A Rolfing session consists of a variety of techniques which are incorporated to initiate concepts of improved posture and functionality of the body. Through hands on techniques a Rolfer slowly stretches and realigns the body’s fascia, restoring natural length and elasticity to the body. The techniques will be performed either with the client lying on the table while the therapist guides the movements with his/her hands or off the table with the client standing or sitting.

Sessions are progressive so each session shall follow on with certain themes that were introduced in the previous session. This allows for an evolving body to always move forward and upwards. Typically a Rolfer will expect that a client will attend 10 sessions for a complete treatment.

Richard Lane is a qualified remedial and sports massage therapist. He operates a remedial massage directory for Melbourne Remedial Massage Therapists, including listing for Massage Camberwell.