Choosing the most beneficial form of massage shouldn’t leave you feeling anxious, yet “navigating a spa menu that has too many options can be very frustrating and intimidating, especially for new spa goers,” says CG Funk, vice president of industry relations and product development for the Massage Envy chain of massage salons. To make your decision easier, Funk suggests asking for help while booking your treatment: Sharing your needs and expectations up front will help therapists tailor your service to you.
Still unsure about what the massages on typical spa menus entail and who each is for? Check out our guide to getting the best massage for whatever’s ailing you.
You’ve got: Too much stress
You need: Swedish massage. Therapists use long, gliding strokes and light-to-medium pressure during a Swedish massage, the most popular type in the United States. “One of the primary goals of a Swedish massage is to relax the entire body,” says Funk, who adds that this form is also great for promoting circulation and lymph movement.
Other options: Aromatherapy massage. The use of plant essential oils during an aromatherapy massage can ease many emotional issues, including stress.
You’ve got: Overuse injuries and muscle pain
You need: Deep tissue massage. If you’re looking to loosen scar tissue or get serious pain relief, this type of massage is for you. Deep tissue treatments target deeper layers of muscle, where chronic use injuries may originate. Your massage therapist will use slower strokes and apply pressure and friction across the grain of the muscle. FYI: You may feel sore for a day or two after a deep tissue massage, but that’s completely normal.
Other options: Hot stone massage. Water-heated, smooth stones are placed on the body to warm and loosen muscles. This is a great type of massage for someone who prefers a lighter touch, but still wants pain relief.
You’ve got: An aching athlete’s body
You need: Sports massage. Whether you’re a weekend runner, gym bunny or professional athlete, a sports massage can help reduce post-workout recovery time. “This treatment promotes flexibility to decrease risk of injury, improve endurance and offer balance to a training regimen,” says Funk. Therapists will customize your massage based on your activity and will usually combine several types of massage including Swedish and deep tissue to help loosen and stretch muscles.
Other options: Shiatsu massage. This form of Japanese bodywork incorporates localized finger pressure applied at acupuncture meridians, trigger points or areas of pain and muscle tightness. This is a relaxing type of massage and the pressure usually does not cause next-day soreness.
You’ve got: Headaches
You need: Cranial sacral massage. This modality—which focuses on the bones of the head, spinal column and sacrum—can be performed alone or added onto another type of massage. Headaches and migraines are often triggered by pain in the neck and back, so using gentle touch in these areas can help prevent and treat them.
Other options: Scalp massage. Another massage add-on, scalp massages release tension in the muscles of the head.
You’ve got: An aging or arthritic body
You need: Geriatric massage. “Geriatric massage therapy is deigned to address the specific needs of the elderly population,” according to Funk. Using light and gentle massage techniques as well as some passive stretching, this modality can help improve circulation, posture, balance and flexibility, as well as reduce arthritis pain.
Other options: Thai massage. Combining compression as well as passive stretching (it’s like yoga without the work), Thai massage can help boost energy as well as improve flexibility and range of motion.