Swedish Massage vs Deep Tissue Massage

swedish vs deep tissue massage

Swedish massage is the most popular massage treatment in the United States. This massage modality is also known as a “wellness massage” or “relaxation massage”. A Swedish treatment decreases stress, lengthens tight muscles, and increases circulation by using gentle massage techniques.

The second most requested massage treatment is a deep tissue massage. A deep tissue massage addresses your deepest muscle layers. The goal of a deep tissue treatment is decreasing pain and improving joint range of motion.

You might find yourself wondering, should I choose a Swedish or deep tissue massage? Here is everything you need to know about Swedish vs deep tissue massage and how they both address your specific needs.

What is a Swedish Massage?

Swedish Massage has an interesting history. It all started in the nineteenth-century with a Swedish fencing instructor named Per Henrik Ling. Reportedly, Ling cured his sports related injuries with massage therapy.  How did he do it? Ling developed massage techniques such as: stroking, pressing, and kneading. 

Ling also noticed that massaging his arms with specific techniques had a positive effect on his overall health. A number of physicians embraced Ling’s techniques and soon Swedish massage was internationally known thanks to his many enthusiastic followers.

Per Henrik Ling’s techniques are still the foundation of what we refer to today as a ‘Swedish Massage’. When you receive a Swedish massage your therapist will use a combination of these five techniques:

  1. Stroking- Softly applying pressure to broad areas of the skin at the beginning/end of the massage as an introductory or closing technique.
  2. Effleurage- Long gliding strokes across the back or limbs with lotion of lubricant.
  3. Petrissage- Kneading or squeezing of muscles rhythmically to gently stretch tissue layers.
  4. Tapotement- Alternately tapping or applying pressure with hands in a patting motion without lotion or lubricant.
  5. Vibrations- Oscillating muscles and soft tissues with rhythmic movement.

So, what is a Swedish massage? The simple answer is: A massage using the classical Swedish techniques. When receiving a Swedish massage, you will disrobe (undress) and lay on a massage table covered by sheets and/or a blanket. Your therapist will use lotion or oil to perform Swedish massage techniques.

Most Swedish massage treatments are full-body. Meaning they address your back, arms, legs and neck. Swedish massage techniques are light soothing strokes. Be prepared to enter a deep state of relaxation when you receive a Swedish massage.

Swedish massage techniques

Swedish Massage Vs Deep Tissue

In 1949, A Canadian doctor named Therese Phimmer wrote a book analyzing Swedish massage techniques. Her book  titled “Muscles: Your Invisible Bonds” detailed a new technique: Deep tissue massage.

Dr. Phimmer’s book recommended massage therapists use hands, fingers, and elbows to apply a combination of pressure and friction on the client’s muscles. This made Dr. Phimmer the first person to write about Swedish massage vs deep tissue massage.

Techniques often associated with deep tissue massage include:

  1. Trigger Point Release-  A trigger point release is performed by placing deep and firm pressure on muscles to direct blood flow back into ischemic muscle tissue. This technique is used to remove what feels like knots in your muscles. Knots are actually areas in the muscle that are not getting enough blood flow due to injury, using your muscles too much or too little, and poor posture.
  2. Cross-fiber Frictions- Administered by rubbing a finger or thumb across the grain of a muscle, tendon or ligament. Cross-fiber friction breaks up scar tissue. This allows the tissue to remodel back into a more flexible and healthy state so that it can function normally.
  3. Sports Massage- These treatments focus on treating muscle pain and injuries associated with athletic activities.

What should you expect during a deep tissue massage session? You may remain fully clothed. Or, your therapist will ask you to disrobe to access the treatment area(s). The deep work will begin after warming the soft tissue around the treatment area with heat, stretching, or Swedish techniques. Your massage therapist will check in with you frequently to assure they are not working beyond your pain tolerance.

Deep tissue massage

When to Book a Swedish vs Deep Tissue Massage

When people ask, ‘What is a Swedish massage?’, the answer is most often, a massage for relaxation. However, when you compare the benefits of a Swedish massage vs deep tissue you find several similarities. So how do you know if you should book a Swedish or deep tissue massage?

First consider these questions:

  1. Is this your first massage?
  2. Are you in pain?
  3. Have you recently suffered an injury?
  4. Are you dealing with chronic stress?
  5. Are you overly sensitive to deep pressure?

Swedish or deep tissue massage

Is this your first massage?

If you are booking your first massage then a Swedish treatment is a great option. The techniques used in a Swedish massage are gentle yet effective. Making this treatment a great introduction to massage therapy.

Are you in pain?

A massage therapist will ask you a variety of questions to determine the source of your pain. Often, deep tissue work is required to address muscle pain.

Have you recently suffered an injury?

You might assume that a deep tissue massage is the best choice to deal with an injury. However, deep muscle work is a contraindication (not recommended) in the acute (early) injury stage. Inform your massage therapist about any recent injuries. You may need to book a Swedish treatment until it is safe to receive deep work after an injury.

Are you dealing with chronic stress?

It is true that a Swedish massage promotes relaxation and feelings of wellbeing. However a Swedish treatment focuses on relieving tension in the superficial muscles. Chronic stress is often associated with deep muscle pain. A deep tissue massage goes beyond the superficial layers into our deepest muscles making deep tissue work an equally effective way to manage chronic stress.

Are you overly sensitive to deep pressure?

Obviously, a deep tissue massage involves deep pressure. If you are overly sensitive to deep pressure then a Swedish massage is a better option.  

Book a Massage Appointment with Yoga Now Chicago

Of course, the best way to discover the difference between a Swedish and deep tissue massage is to experience them! Yoga Now offers a variety of healing services including Swedish and deep tissue massage.