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Massage Time: Deep Tissue? Swedish? Aromatherapy? What the Hell???

The other day, a client asked me what the difference was between Swedish massage and deep tissue. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked that question...well, I wouldn't have enough money to quit my job, but I'd be able to pay my electric bill for the month. Since I have a limited amount of time to explain things between clients, I just tell them it's a difference in pressure which is true and not true at the same time. Since I'm not currently at work, I've decided to take time out of my busy schedule to explain the differences between the various modalities. Oh, and I'm running late with my third post of the month, so there's that too.


I've mentioned before that chair massage is massage with training wheels. It's what I suggest to clients who've never had a massage and are a bit leery over the whole "take off your clothes" thing. This is silly since Louisiana state law prohibits me from working on or even revealing any of the "sexy parts". If you come to me for a massage and are unhappy with this law, feel free to shove it up your ass. Just...not in front of me.

In relation to all the different types of massage, Swedish is the pre-k of the massage world because the basic techniques used in Swedish (effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, etc) are also used in most other forms of massage. Swedish tends to be lighter pressure, but not necessarily. The difference is in the goal of the massage which, in the case of Swedish, is to relax the superficial muscles. Did you book a massage because you wanted to veg out? Then Swedish is the massage for you. It's also good for improving circulation and releasing toxins from the muscles, so there's that too.

You see that picture on the left? You see the way that man's arm is being held behind his back while the massage therapist works around his scapula? One of my instructors called this "The Police Hold". She also warned us never to call it that in front of a client. No sense scaring the poor bastards before you get to their rhomboids.

It looks like torture, but really it's pure heaven. Especially to someone like me with concrete between their shoulder blades. If the guy in the picture went to his MT complaining he couldn't throw the old ball around like he used to (or, if he's like me, a lazy asshole who can't reach his behind to scratch his ass), his therapist will use friction around and beneath the scapula to help increase range of motion. That's the goal of deep tissue-to unstick the stuck muscles by working the fascia or connective tissue.

This is the easy one. Basically, aromatherapy is any type of massage that uses scented oils such as lavender, eucalyptus, and bergamot-to name a few-to address a specific complaint or need. Each scent is supposed to be good for something. For instance, eucalyptus is supposed to be a good decongestant and expectorant. Bergamot is supposed to be an analgesic. Lavender is supposed to make you happy...unless you're allergic to it like my coworker, in which case, not so much.

The question I get on this one is, "But do they really work?" The answer changes depending on whether or not I'm working at the spa or doing a bit of freelance. My boss generally frowns on me shrugging and telling the client, "It's never been clinically proven, but what the hell. They sure do smell nice, don't they?"

Reflexology is a massage that uses pressure points on different parts of the hands and feet to affect changes in corresponding organs or zones of the body. Like the toes correspond to the head and points around the ankles correspond to the sex organs. I was taught never to work the area around the ankles on women when they're pregnant because you risk them going into labor on your table. This is not a good thing to happen if you're not a midwife or hate buying new sheets.

But does it work, you ask. Well...I'm an agnostic and a skeptic. This is a wacky combo in a massage therapist since a good many people in the industry are into alternative medicine. I'm not much of a believer myself. If I have a headache, I'm going to take an Advil before I start pressing points on my hands and feet to cure that shit. But you get foot rub out of it, so why not?


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