6 Different Types Of Massage & Their Health Benefits

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Massages are a great example of a healthy self-care measure you always want and rarely get, because they're luxurious and kind of expensive. While splurging on a massage might feel self-indulgent, there are some legit physical and mental health benefits that may make it easier to justify.
Regular massage sessions can help your physiological function, mental acuity, restfulness, and perspective on life, says Eva Carey, national massage therapist director for Zeel, an on-demand massage service. Many people use massage to help manage medical conditions, like migraines, sinusitis, and fibromyalgia, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. And some studies suggest that massage can have a positive effect on your mental health, and even help with depression. For these reasons, some health insurance plans will cover the cost of massage when it's prescribed by your doctor.
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Ultimately, it's important to remember that massage isn't a magical cure-all, and it can't replace traditional medicine, but it can be a smart supplement to your healthy lifestyle. Before you book, it's helpful to understand the different types of massages to figure out which one might suit your needs. Ahead are the most common types and their health benefits.
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Swedish massage

Swedish Massage

What it's like: A massage therapist will use long strokes, circular movements, and tapping to increase blood flow to muscles and ease tension, according to the Mayo Clinic. A small 2010 study of 53 people found that participants who received just one Swedish massage had lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). Swedish massages tend to be the most popular, because they're gentle and soothing, Carey says. As the name suggests, this massage technique was created by a Swedish man in 1858.

Best for: Relaxation.
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sports massage

Sports Massage

What it's like: Sports massages typically involve stretching, isolating tender areas, and improving mobility and flexibility, Carey says. Despite the name, sports massages aren't just for athletes. "A sports massage will concentrate on either facilitating healing of a previous activity-caused injury, preventing an injury, or enhancing performance and endurance," she says. If you're a runner, you might benefit from a sports massage that focuses on your legs and knee joints, for example.

Sports massages can be great for casual exercisers who want to relax their muscles, flush lactic acid out of their body, and/or speed up the recovery process after an intense workout, says Michelle Ebbin, a certified massage therapist and spokesperson for Soothe, an on-demand massage service. "It can also reduce the initial inflammation that leads to injury and help anyone's muscles, tendons, and joints stay in optimum shape," Ebbin says.

Best for: Anyone who wants to improve flexibility, decrease muscle tension, and increase their range of motion.
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deep tissue massage

Deep Tissue Massage

What it's like: There's a lot of confusion about the difference between a deep tissue massage and a sports massage, according to Carey. Like a sports massage, a deep tissue massage is targeted to address muscular issues. "Therapists performing a deep tissue massage or a sports massage will stretch the tissue covering muscles, as well as knead and press the muscle itself, aiming to release tight areas and relieve stress," she says. In a deep tissue massage, the massage therapist will aim to stretch your fascia, which is the web of connective tissue that surrounds a muscle, Ebbin says. The goal of this intense prodding is to "produce changes in movement and posture," she says.

Both deep tissue and sports massages are great for treating muscle discomfort, but a deep tissue massage may be best for precise muscle pains, Carey says. For example, if you sit at a desk all day and have back pain, a deep tissue massage could address it.

Best for: Specific muscle pains, like shoulder tension, stiff neck, and forearm tightness.
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prenatal massage

Prenatal Massage

What it's like: Studies suggest that massages during pregnancy can reduce anxiety, improve mood and sleep, plus help treat back pain and other bodily aches. For example, many pregnant people experience intense swelling in their feet and ankles, and massage can help redistribute fluid that pools in the lower body. If you are pregnant, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor before getting a massage, and make sure that your massage therapist knows you're pregnant and understands how to handle pregnant bodies.

Best for: Easing the discomfort of pregnancy.
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Trigger point massage

Trigger Point Massage

What it's like: Trigger point massage targets areas of tight muscle fibres that form with overuse or injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic. Massage therapists will apply pressure to these points repeatedly until they relax, which can be uncomfortable or even painful for some individuals. Often a trigger point massage requires deep breathing to manage the intense sensations.

Best for: When you need to work through a "knot" in your muscles.
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Sleep massage

Sleep Massage

What it's like: A few massage companies offer sleep massages that are designed to prepare you for a restful night's sleep. At Zeel, they offer a sleep massage that incorporates full-body relaxation, foot reflexology, and a calming scalp massage, Carey explains. Unsurprisingly, massage has been shown to help sleep, because it lowers stress and eases pain. (Fun fact: Baby massage is a thing, because experiencing touch increases melatonin, which helps babies sleep.) And if you're someone with stress-related insomnia, then regular massage may help you sleep better over time, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Best for: Getting a good night's sleep.
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