Skip to main content

«  View All Posts

Sports Performance | Physical Therapy

Deep Tissue, Swedish, or Shiatsu? Comparing Types of Massage With Physical Therapy

July 14th, 2022 | 4 min. read

Deep Tissue, Swedish, or Shiatsu? Comparing Types of Massage With Physical Therapy
James Ingram

James Ingram

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT DPT // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

Print/Save as PDF

When you have muscle tension, getting a massage might be a great step to help you feel better. Many massage facilities have multiple services you can choose from, and some even offer a combination of various techniques customized to your needs. You could even try an at-home product like TheraGun, but that might not be the most ideal treatment for your symptoms, so working with a professional is probably best. But how do you know which type of massage best addresses your symptoms? And when should you seek further help? 


While a massage does feel great and can help you relax, if your tension begins to affect your daily activities, it may be time to consider seeking additional treatment. Physical therapy can be a great solution to help with postural awareness and retraining dysfunctional muscle groups - our physical therapists at EW Motion Therapy do this every day with our clients. Even if you decide not to do physical therapy with us, we still want to discuss the most popular types of massage compared to how physical therapy can relieve tension and pain.


This article discusses the four most popular types of massage compared to physical therapy and which one might be best for you. With this information, you can choose the best treatment for your condition and experience the relief you deserve.


What are the most popular types of massage? 

The list of massage techniques in the world is much too long to cover in the scope of this article, so we will discuss four of the most well-known and practiced types in our area. 


Deep tissue massage 

As the name implies, deep tissue massage is focused on relieving tension in tissue deep within the muscle structure. This is the type of massage that can “hurt so good”. Deep tissue massage can be helpful for tense quads or rotator cuffs, since they are critical to healthy movement but can be difficult to address with a hands-on approach. Once the specialist does reach the affected area, they will likely stay there for a while, continuing to increase blood flow and help improve muscle function. 


Swedish massage

Swedish massage is characterized by long strokes with light-medium pressure, along with some tapping and other movements. It usually covers a broad area of the body, like your entire back or your neck and shoulders. This type has been shown to reduce anxiety and tension, and many people feel fantastic after a Swedish massage. Physical therapists often use Swedish techniques on tight hamstrings, calves, and the lower back.


Shiatsu massage 

Shiatsu was first practiced in Japan as a way to restore a proper flow of energy (your chi) throughout the body. This form of massage is still used to reduce tension and relieve stress in many areas of the body. A specialist may use many of their body parts, including hands, forearms, and elbows, to free blockages and improve circulation in affected areas.


Sports massage 

Unlike deep tissue massage, the name of this type can be deceiving: sports massages are not just for athletes. The technique focuses primarily on getting you back to whatever activity your body is not performing at its best. It emphasizes tissue recovery, increasing mobility, and easing tension. Muscle tissue can break down if it is not allowed the proper rest, and a sports massage can help push more blood flow to certain areas and allow that tissue to heal.


How are these different from what physical therapists do? 

While all of these massage techniques can be beneficial in many ways, if you go to physical therapy for increased tension or pain, your therapist may take a slightly different approach. Since physical therapists are doctors with extensive knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, they combine that knowledge with different massage techniques to provide the most relief to tight, dysfunctional muscle structures. They always follow up the massage with corrective exercises to help you progress further.


Many physical therapists use myofascial release to relieve tension in certain trigger points of muscles. Each muscle in your body is surrounded by connective tissue called fascia - picture a package of chicken breasts at the grocery store wrapped tightly in plastic. Muscle tension occurs when the fascia around a certain muscle group becomes thick and tight, so a physical therapist will use multiple techniques to stretch the fascia and relieve tension. Sometimes a hands-on massage is not enough to release a trigger point, so your therapist may suggest dry needling as an option to combat the trigger point directly.


The umbrella term for the hands-on techniques physical therapists use is manual therapy. This can be a light Swedish massage to reduce swelling or myofascial release with deep tissue massage and dry needling. Manual therapy is beneficial for many patients, as it helps them move better and pursue their favorite activities without tension or pain.


Massage or physical therapy? 

Now you know more about different types of massage and how physical therapists can combine them to find what works best for you. If you have more complicated medical issues, a physical therapist can help you address those with a doctor’s referral. It is always a good idea to compare your options and decide which treatment makes the most sense for your symptoms. 


Muscle tension and pain can slow you down and even prevent you from doing your favorite things, but you don’t have to live that way. Whether you get a massage or schedule an evaluation with a physical therapist, it is paramount to take care of yourself and address the issues affecting your daily activities. Our BodyWork program at EW Motion Therapy is a great starting point for those who might not need to begin a physical therapy regimen, which has to be referred by a physician. It allows you to experience the benefits of manual therapy for minor aches and pains without beginning an extensive program. If you are interested in working with us, answer the questions in our Program Match Tool to decide which of our programs best fits your needs.


New call-to-action