The most common question we get asked here at Elements is, “what is the difference between Swedish massage and deep tissue massage?” They are both beneficial for anyone in need of Massage Therapy but do have some key differences. It is important to understand these to help you better schedule your massage and have the therapist that best fits with you and help with what you need done. Let’s break it down!
As some may think, Swedish massage did not originate in Sweden. In Europe, it's usually referred to as a classic massage, which was originally put together and created by Dutch practitioner John George Mezger. It consists of specific strokes including efflurage (sliding movements), petrissage (kneading movements), friction (rubbing), vibration and percussion techniques. This massage will usually include passive and active joint movements, stretching and bending of the joints with the assistance of the therapist. Swedish massage is the most commonly offered massage technique, utilizing a firm or lighter pressure on the muscles. It will involve long yet gliding strokes. Swedish massage is mainly used to increase blood flow, easing tension in the body's muscles and improving their flexibility. It is very stimulating to the skin, helping reduce emotional and physical stresses in the body. This is one of the main reasons this type of massage is paired amazingly with aromatherapy. This type of massage stimulates the nervous system as well. The body builds up different types of toxins including lactic acids, uric acid and other types of metabolic wastes that Swedish massage targets and with the increase of oxygen to the blood, is filtered out.
Deep tissue massage is a specific type of massage that targets deeper structures of muscles and fascia, which is more commonly known as connective tissue. It is best used on smaller muscle injuries and chronic problems. Whiplash, sports injuries, postural alignment, treating spasms as well as tension in the muscles are very good examples of what would best be targeted for deep tissue. This massage will focus on stretching fascia, supporting and penetrating all the muscles, bones, nerves and organs. It will work layer-by-layer releasing tension in the connective tissue going into the deepest accessible layer to create changes in posture and make room for movements after releasing fascial adhesions and chronic muscle contractures. Deep tissue massage therapist will use fingers, thumbs, fist, elbows and forearms to help penetrate all these areas. The massage therapist will also be focusing on releasing chronic muscle tension as well as knots and adhesions in the muscles. A series of slow specific and deliberate strokes are applied. The strokes will be best suited for postural deviances and abnormal muscle tone due to any of the previously mentioned injuries above. The therapist will use "hooking in" approach and slowly start moving down the muscle as it lets them in. Pressure should never be forced into the area. The muscles need to push back when pressure is applied, letting the therapist know that they are achieving releases, so they can continue throughout the rest of the muscle. This should never be painful but border the line of pleasurable release of tension and the pain blocking response (what we call tensing up).
To best choose between these two types of therapy, you will be looking at their key components. Swedish massage is for more relaxation and to create increased circulation of blood and lymph, for relief of pain, improved mood and better sleep. You'll want to choose deeper tissue massage for chronic pains that are more muscular in origin, to help your posture and range of motion during the healing process. Hopefully with this breakdown of some specific differences between these two types of massage you can have a better understanding of what you may be needing when you schedule your next appointment. We have many great therapists who can provide both types of massage. In many cases it takes 2 to 3 sessions for you to feels relief and for us to feel changes with what you need or may need done. And keep in mind, you don't have to choose one or the other - a customized massage can incorporate both if that is your desire!