How Massage Therapy Works

In a nutshell, massage therapy makes use of hands, other body parts, and certain tools to manipulate soft tissue. And depending on the technique and intensity, different massages can offer a wide range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about different forms of massage therapy and how they work.

Common massage types and how they work

Many massage types have a more fixed set of styles and intended benefits. And others tend to have more variety to serve more complex purposes.

Swedish massage


It’s a popular full-body massage that focuses on general relaxation and muscle tension release. So it tends to be on the gentler side, only increasing in pressure later in the session if needed. Here are some of the main techniques used to achieve its goals:

  • Effleurage – gentle gliding strokes that work great for muscle soreness relief. This achieves parasympathetic relaxation while helping the therapist further detect any tension or damage in the muscles.
  • Petrissage – kneading, squeezing, and rolling to promote circulation and movement of other intramuscular fluids.
  • Friction – this goes slightly deeper. It makes use of circular movements to let muscles collide and rub against each other. This works on the scar tissues and adhesions that may compromise comfort and mobility.
  • Tapotement – highly stimulating percussive strokes using hands that are either cupped or on their sides. It can help loosen up tight muscles to prepare them for the other techniques. But most often, it’s used to promote circulation that is useful for warming up and boosting energy levels.
  • Vibration – shaking the muscles with the palms or fingertips stimulates the inner layers of muscle tissue and even internal organs. This results in muscle relaxation and enhanced nerve function.

Lymphatic drainage massage


This focuses on your lymphatic system, a network of glands that are interconnected by pathways similar to your blood vessels. It’s responsible for your immune responses, toxin disposal, and even metabolism. And there are many factors that can disrupt the fluids that flow through this system.

With lymphatic vessels lying right below your skin, lymphatic massage techniques tend to be gentle but focused. A therapist would locate these vessels and gently drag the skin above with their fingers, going towards your heart’s direction.

Lymphatic drainage massage usually starts with your outermost extremities, working inwards towards your torso. This clears blockages in the lymphatic vessels and stimulates better flow.

Deep tissue massage


Most known for its intensity and pressure, the deep tissue massage is commonly misunderstood. Not every “deep” massage necessarily falls under this style. It takes a certain technique and amount of pressure to fully interact with the innermost layers of muscle tissue.

While based on the Swedish massage, deep tissue massage goes even deeper and more nuanced. And it may or may not be a full-body treatment. Moreover, it tends to drag across the inner muscle fibers. This level of muscle stimulation can be achieved with the fingers or a powerful deep tissue massager.

Its benefits include relief from muscle knots, fasciitis, and fibromyalgia. Even joint problems like arthritis can be addressed by massaging the muscles surrounding the affected joints. It also helps prevent injuries by improving your muscle flexibility and joint mobility.

Myofascial release


The fascia is a sheet of connective tissue that lies underneath and in between the muscles. This collagen fabric moves and stretches along with your muscles and houses sensory receptors that influence muscle flexibility. And it may easily “crumple” when muscle tension pins it down somewhere. This can cause discomfort and limited movement in the affected areas.

Myofascial release employs techniques similar to deep tissue massage to release muscle tension and stimulate the fasciae. This often solves problems with mobility and persistent muscle tightness.

Sports massage


This isn’t just for pro athletes and hardcore hobbyists. Sports massage is for anyone who wants to maximize their progress at a physical activity while minimizing injury risk.

Its approaches ought to vary during the life cycle of the athletic activity. The timing informs the very nature and intention of the massage. That said, sports massage borrows techniques from Swedish and deep tissue massage while incorporating light exercise and stretching.

  • Pre-event – it’s done on game day itself as a quick 10-15 minute routine. This targets the specific muscles that you’ll use on the event. And it focuses mainly on boosting blood flow and active muscle stimulation.
  • Post-event – another quick massage takes place right after the event. It focuses on cooling down the muscles, addressing muscle fatigue, and calming the nerves.
  • Rehabilitation – this is done in the event of an injury. It focuses on easing inflammation, reshaping scar tissue, and maintaining the healthy muscles that support the injured area. This sets the optimal conditions for faster recovery and return to fitness.

Can you do self-therapy at home?

Absolutely. There’s quite a number of options to get a DIY massage therapy, but some will work better than the others.

Do therapeutic exercises like Yoga

You can boost circulation, improve your mobility, and relieve stress even with a quick Yoga session. For these reasons, Yoga is considered massage in itself. The bending and twisting poses can also stimulate your internal organs and optimize their functioning.

Learn some manual self-massage techniques

It is possible for you to replicate some basic massage techniques on yourself. You might have even done this instinctively at some point. With a little care and practice, you can effectively address minor discomfort on your own. You can learn more by checking out this video.

Use a good quality massage gun

These devices are becoming a staple tool in-home workspaces and gym bags alike. The massage gun packs plenty of power in a simple and convenient package. According to, the Hydrogen also remains lightweight and silent, making it ideal for use anywhere and at any time of the day.

Bogdan Radicanin
Bogdan Radicanin

My name is Bogdan Radicanin, but everyone calls me Boba. I also work as a full-time musician. I approach both jobs with a lot of passion, and I believe that's what makes me successful.