What’s the right massage for you?

There are many types of massage out there and it can be quite confusing as to which is best suited to your needs. Here’s a guide to some of the more common forms of the therapy to help you decide:

86519692Thai massage

Best for: Energy boosting, constipation, IBS, headaches, sciatica, back and neck pain.

What’s involved: A cross between massage and yoga, it’s done fully clothed on a mat on the floor. The practitioner uses thumbs, palms, forearms, elbows, feet, knees and shins to stretch your body and apply pressure on various ‘Sen’ points on the body, thought to regulate the body’s energy system.

Find a practitioner: See the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council register, cnhcregister.org.uk.

Sports massage (also known as Remedial Massage)

Best for:  Muscle strains and other soft tissue injuries, RSI-related problems, treating and preventing aches and sprains incurred by everyday living.

What’s involved: Deep pressure and stretching techniques are used to manipulate muscles, tendons and ligaments, to prevent injury and encourage healing. Your therapist will concentrate on the area causing you problems; so don’t expect a full-body massage (unless you specifically ask for one).

Find a practitioner: The Sports Massage Association, www.thesma.org.

Manual lymphatic drainage

Best for: Sinusitis, lymphoedema, swelling due to the removal of lymph nodes due to cancer, boosting immune system, rheumatoid arthritis, water retention (including during pregnancy).

What’s involved: A series of light but precise hand movements are used to speed up the lymphatic flow. Excess lymph fluid is encouraged towards the neck area, where it empties into the bloodstream at the base of the neck and is removed from the body.

Find a practitioner: The Association of Manual Lymphatic Drainage practitioners, mlduk.org.uk


Best for: Depression, IBS, ME, fibromyalgia, rheumatism and sciatica.

What’s involved: Although shiatsu means ‘finger pressure’ in Japanese, therapists use a combination of touch, pressure and gentle manipulation techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance your energy flow.

Find a practitioner: The Shiatsu Society, shiatsusociety.org

Swedish massage

Best for: Lower backache, post-illness recovery, improving the digestion, reducing stress and boosting mood.

What’s involved: The five strokes devised by Swedish gymnast, Per Henrik Ling, in the early 19th century have become the ‘mother’ strokes of most Western massage techniques. A Swedish massage usually involves the whole body, ending with limbs being gently stretched then shaken. A recent study found that Swedish massage was a more effective treatment for lower back pain than painkillers and the benefits of a ten-week course of massage lasted up to six months.

Find a practitioner: The General Council for Massage Therapies, www.gcmt.org.uk


Best for:  Anxiety, grief, insomnia, muscular aches and pains, skin conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis (depending on skin sensitivity).

What’s involved: A traditional Swedish massage is enhanced by the use of specific aromatherapy oils chosen to treat your health condition or state of mind. Some oils, such as tea tree, are believed to fight infection. Aromatherapy can also positively affect mood, and research has shown that massage with sage essential oil can promote calmness and improve memory in dementia patients. Aromatherapy massage also helps people deal with the effects of cancer, such as anxiety, fatigue and mood changes.

Find a practitioner: The Aromatherapy Council, www.aromatherapycouncil.co.uk

Pregnancy massage

Best for: Pre and post-natal general discomfort, and post-natal depression.

What’s involved: There is no one technique for pregnancy massage, but in general, lighter pressure than normal is used, especially on the legs, to reduce the risks of blood clots. Although there is no direct link between massage and miscarriage, many therapists and doctors advise waiting until the second trimester when the miscarriage risk goes down. A pregnancy massage can decrease back and leg pain, improve sleep, lower anxiety and decrease levels of stress hormone, norepinephrine, according to research from the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Find a practitioner: See the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council register, cnhcregister.org.uk. Always check with your GP or midwife before having a treatment.

Baby massage

Best for: Calming and building a bond with new-borns, older babies and toddlers

What’s involved: Light strokes are used for younger babies, progressing to firmer pressure after six weeks. A ten-minute massage of rhythmic strokes is done using a massage oil specially for babies, and usually carried out by a parent. Studies show that massaged babies sleep and feed better and it can also help relieve constipation and colic. Older children respond well to story massage, where you paint a picture of the story you’re telling by using your hands as a paintbrush on their back (done over clothes).

Find a practitioner: You can find baby massage classes at most antenatal clinics.  For more details on story massage, see www.storymassage.co.uk 


Best for: Tiredness and low energy, headaches, back pain, depression, anxiety and nausea (from chemotherapy, pregnancy, motion sickness).

What’s involved: Sometimes called acupuncture without needles, this technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine involves applying pressure to specific acupoints along the body’s energy pathways or meridians. Hands, arms, elbows and feet are used to apply pressure and the massage is often done through clothes, while seated in a massage chair.

Find a practitioner: The General Council for Massage Therapies (www.gcmt.org.uk).

Indian head massage (also known as champissage)

Best for: Headaches, stress, insomnia and sinusitis.

What’s involved: A range of strokes are used on the face, neck, shoulders and scalp. It’s a good express option as it’s often done fully clothed and doesn’t always involve oil. Originally part of the Ayurvedic traditional form of medicine from India, where it was a ritual performed at weddings. Most people find it invigorating as well as relaxing.

Find a practitioner: The General Council for Massage Therapies (www.gcmt.org.uk).

Bowen therapy

Best for: Frozen shoulder, back and neck injuries

What’s involved: The aim is to rebalance the body and encourage ongoing changes to posture. Rather than being an all-over treatment, very light rolling movements are used to stimulate the muscles at specific points in the body, depending on where it’s needed. It’s usually done through clothing. An initial course of three once-a-week treatments is usually recommended.

Find a practitioner: Bowen Therapy Professional Association (www.bowen-therapy.co) or the European College of Bowen Studies (www.bowentechnique.com)

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