A Massage Sampler


The benefits of massage are numerous: improved circulation, stress reduction, greater range of motion, prevention of muscle injury… and best of all it feels good. But how do you know which type of massage is right for you? Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (www.abmp.com), a national massage organization, estimates there are over 200 different massage techniques practiced today. As a massage therapist with over 15 years experience, I’ve taken a look at some of the most popular massage styles to find out what people in Santa Barbara are asking for.

Swedish,The Basic.

Swedish, a basic technique that most people are familiar with, is light work involving long strokes, kneading and percussion. This is usually done for relaxation and to increase circulation and is a style that is very popular amongst therapists. Similar to Swedish, Lomilomi or traditional Hawaiian massage uses a lot of circular movements and forearms. Lomilomi literally means “to knead or fold”.

Lymphatic Drainage,Cleansing.

Light touch massage used to move the lymph through the body and flush the system. This technique is great for edema or swelling and detoxification.

Hot stone,Rock On.

A popular spa technique where hot stones (up to 140 degrees F) are placed on the body. The stones are then used as tools to give the massage. Pressure can vary and the warmth adds to the relaxation. Michael Antrim from Santa Barbara Bodyworks cautions that, though this can feel relaxing, there is more chance of injury because an inexperienced therapist cannot feel the tissue beneath their hands and can go too deep.

Deep Tissue,Some Gusto.

Deep tissue is, just like the name implies, deeper work on the muscles. Deep tissue utilizes knuckles, elbows, feet or tools. This is another popular modality and is useful for aches, knots, tension and muscle pain. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’thaveto hurt. If the pressure is too much during your massage, ask your therapist to lighten up.

Sports massage,Game On.

Sports massage is a combination of techniques specifically for the athlete. Very useful for pre and post event, sports massage stretches, kneads, shakes and uses deep pressure to help prevent and address injuries. Post event massage can calm the nervous system and help to flush the lactic acid out of the muscles, reducing recovery time.

Trigger Point,Get to the Root of the Problem.

Similar to deep tissue it searches out specific points which refer pain to other parts of the body. This technique is based on two decades of research and was made popular in the 1980’s by Doctors who mapped the trigger points and their referral patterns. Therapists use this technique for pain management, increased range of motion and rehabilitation after injuries.

Shiatsu,A Taste of Japan.

Shiatsu works with energy meridians similar to those used in Acupuncture. It is performed on the floor and you stay fully clothed. Erick Jackson, a Shiatsu practitioner here in Santa Barbara (www.zensynergy.com) explains, “It is used to tone and balance the energy and to calm or activate the system. It’s versatile; the compression used during shiatsu can be deeper in a pre-sport situation or lighter to help drain lymph. It doesn’t focus on specific muscle groups; it’s about the intention and the energy.”

Acupressure is similar with the exception that it focuses on individual points, not whole energy meridians and can be used for self-treatment.

Thai,Lazy Man’s Yoga.

Thai massage, popular in modern spas, has been taught and practiced in Thailand for 2,500 years. This technique is performed on the floor, fully clothed and utilizes a lot of stretching and manipulating of the client’s limbs and torso. Michael Antrim, co-owner and instructor at Santa Barbara Bodyworks loves this massage but because of its physical intensity doesn’t recommend it for people who are injured.

Barefoot,Step on the Wild Side.

Barefoot or compressive deep tissue is a massage practice that uses the therapist’s feet instead of hands. Although similar techniques have been used in other countries for centuries, this American style grew out of a need for deeper, continuous pressure with less stress on the therapist’s hands and arms. This approach is performed on the floor with the client clothed.

Reflexology,More Than a Foot Massage.

Reflexology, typically done on the feet but also popular on the hands and ears, follows a belief that every point on the body has a corresponding point on the foot. An ancient Chinese therapy, reflexology is especially useful for stress-related illness and emotional disorders. However this diagnostic/therapeutic system has today become less clinical and more relaxing.

Medical Massage,The New Kid.

This is a category of massage, not really a technique on its own and is relatively new. It is used for injuries or rehabilitation and indicates that the therapist has training to address specific pathologies such as frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel, sciatica, disease states and others. These therapists often work with Chiropractors, Physical Therapists and Doctors. Some therapists use “medical massage” as a general term that differentiates them from “spa massage”.

Reiki,Spirit Calling.

Reiki is a technique that a lot of massage therapists utilize but it’s not really a type of massage. Reiki (meaning Universal Life Force) is a hands on healing technique that uses universal energy flowing through a practitioner into the person being healed. It heals on all levels of body, mind and spirit and is a great addition to a massage or as a stand alone session.


Rich Goodstein, an advanced Rolfer for 27 years explains that Rolfing is not really a massage technique. “Rolfing works globally, with range of motion, breath and realigning the body. It’s useful to help the body surrender and let go of patterns.” Contrary to popular misconception, Rolfing doesn’t have to be deep and doesn’t have to hurt. “Sure, it can make you sore just like yoga class or Pilates can.” Unlike massage, Rolfing is done in sessions of 10 or sometimes 15 and works on unifying the whole body, including the emotions.

I hope this brief exploration of massage techniques proves helpful. Whichever massage you choose, may they be frequent and beneficial. Yours in good health!

Kathy Gruver

Kathy Gruver

Dr. Kathy Gruver, host of the TV series The Alternative Medicine Cabinet, has earned her PhD in natural health and has penned three books on natural therapies and mind/body medicine. She maintains a health and massage practice in Santa Barbara, CA and more information can be found at www.thealternativemedicinecabinet.com
Kathy Gruver

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