A-Z of massage therapy around the world


Massage therapy dates back to over 5000 years ago as a treatment for illness and injury. Now, in the 21st century, massage techniques have developed to provide a range of sensations and outcomes. To celebrate the evolution of massage, here is an A-Z glossary of massage styles, the techniques and the tool often used for the perfect massage.


Aromatherapy uses plant properties and aromatic plant oils to promote psychological or physical wellbeing. Those who practice aromatherapy blend essential oils to achieve a desired outcome -every scent encourages something different. For example, rosemary stimulates the brain and improves mental performance, while peppermint can enhance alertness and memory. Aromatherapy can be practiced through inhalation, massage or water immersion.


Body-to-body helps to relieve muscle knots, promotes relaxation and allows the client to experience a vast range of sensations from the masseuse’s body. Though the massage can stimulate arousal, it doesn’t have to be sexual.

Chair massage

Chair massage is often performed with the client fully clothed and seated, while the therapist applies Swedish massage techniques, including kneading and compression to the client’s neck, back and shoulders. The massage lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, relieves muscle tension and doesn’t require massage oil.

Deep tissue massage

Deep tissue massage is often performed on those with postural problems, low back pain or recovering from injury. The style breaks down scar tissue and ultimately eases the built-up tension from the muscles. Though it’s not supposed to be painful, the deep nature of the techniques can be discomforting.


Effleurage is a French word meaning ‘to skim’ or ‘touch lightly on’ with the technique incorporating long, gentle and gliding strokes to warm up the muscles. Effleurage is often used as the warm up process for a Swedish massage.


Instead of having one therapist, four hands is having two therapists perform the techniques in unison. The style has overwhelming relaxation and unwinding benefits and usually includes techniques derived from the Swedish style.


Gel in massage is often used in sensual styles to promote relaxation and enhance the client’s sexual pleasure. For example, to perform a nuru massage, a specific slippery gel is applied to a client’s body to maximise the benefits. (Go to N for more about nuru massage).

Hot stone massage

Hot stone massage is usually undertaken as a warm-up before the main massage. The therapist places smooth heated stones along the body – usually on the back. The heat promotes relaxation and warms up tight muscles so they become able to be worked on.

Ischemic compression

Ischemic compression is usually performed in trigger point therapy, to turn off active trigger points which are causing the muscle to spasm. The treatment is commonly used on athletes as a treatment to injury or overworked muscles. It is completely pain-free.

Joint mobilisation

Joint mobilisation is often used following injury or surgery, were restoring flexibility and range of motion as soon as possible is vital. It’s often performed by chiropractors and physical therapists by manipulating the client’s body into various positions, this release the stiffness.


Kneading is a circular type of petrissage move which involves compressing the skin and muscle tissue together or against the underlying bones. The technique is used by the therapist’s hands or finger tips, depending on the area of the body being kneaded. It is commonly used as part of a Swedish massage.

Lingam massage

A lingam massage allows the receiver to relax and enjoy a euphoria of pleasure as the therapist works on the male body’s most sensitive part – the penis. The massage can build trust and intimacy. it is also used to help men heal from negative sexual conditioning and trauma.


Masseuse is the term used to describe a woman who provides professional massage, however it’s often associated with sensual massaging. Therefore, many women prefer to be referred to as a ‘massage therapist’ to prevent the sexual connotations.

Nuru massage

Nuru massage involves the rubbing of a special gel all over the client’s body by another person’s chest, buttocks and torso. The massage is very slippery and overwhelms the client with sensual pleasure. Usually towards the end of the massage, the client has the option whether to practice oral sex and/or intercourse.

Oriental massage

Oriental massage is a type of massage therapy intended to relieve pain and tension through strategic pressure. China, Japan, India and Thailand have carved their own oriental massaging styles. These include Shiatsu, Thai massage and Hoshino therapy.


Petrissage is the term used to describe the kneading of muscles – which has been previously mentioned!


The beauty of the many different forms of massage techniques allows the bodywork to achieve different outcomes depending on the client’s needs and desires. However, the main purpose of all massage styles is to allow the mind and body to relax. No matter how erotic, discomforting or therapeutic a massage can be the client should always end the experience feeling relaxed.

Swedish massage

Swedish massage is the most popular type of massage in the west and is the foundation for various forms of western massaging including sports, deep tissue and aromatherapy. The therapist usually performs slow and gentle strokes before easing into more vigorous techniques. It’s often used to relieve tension and pain, it also combats stress.

Thai massage

Often referred to as the ‘lazy person’s yoga’ Thai massage includes pulling, stretching and rocking techniques to relieve tension and enhance the client’s flexibility and range of motion. Unlike many massage, Thai massage is performed fully clothed, usually on a padded matt or on the floor.


Believe it or not, there are more than 80 styles of massage therapy. These involve various techniques and body areas – ensuring every massage is unique and achieves a variety of benefits.


Vibration is a type of technique which uses quick shaking to rhythmic rocking – by using the hands and fingertips. Many massaging devices now include a vibration function as they are often deemed much more stimulating than performing the technique manually.


Often referred to as water shiatsu, watsu incorporates techniques from deep tissue massage and shiatsu for a relaxing massage. The style is usually performed in a pool of warm water – which enhances the ease of muscle stiffness.


Now a popular relaxation method in the western world, yoga derives from ancient Indian practice that unifies the mind and body with the universal spirit – which in turn encourages physical and psychological wellbeing. Yoga involves a sequence of stretched postures, breathing exercises and meditation practices.

Zen body therapy

Zen body therapy is a western practice which uses massage, meditation and self-contemplation to stimulate energy flow and release toxins.