What is the difference between Remedial, Sports and Relaxation massage?

Massage is a broad term and there are many sub-types with various names in the industry. Here I’ll explain the differences, and what to look out for when choosing a massage therapist.

Brief history of massage

The history of massage dates back thousands of years, from Ancient Egypt and Asia. Massage has been used as a therapeutic tool throughout many cultures. In fact, it is our innate instinct to vigorously rub our body if we get hurt such as bang our elbow.

This rubbing action brings blood into the region, and channels nutrients to heal the tissue. It’s no surprise then, that massage has a rich history of healing within humankind.

4 Types of Massage Compared

The type of massage you choose will largely depend on what benefits you are after.  Sports and Remedial massage use similar techniques depending on the muscles involved. Relaxation massage works in conjunction with the nervous system.

Remedial or Sports Massage

Remedial and Sports come under the same umbrella. They are essentially the same type of massage.

However, a qualified Sports Masseur will better understand your potential body imbalances/ tightness depending on the sport that you do. A broad range of techniques is still utilised and a skilled therapist will be able to pinpoint muscle weakness, over tightness, stuck muscle fibres (or knots).  Sometimes releasing muscle tissue can cause pain, but this is only transient and usually decreases once the area has been thoroughly treated.¹

#tip If the pain increases it can be a sign of an acute injury, so is therefore contraindicated for massage at this point in time. A skilled therapist will ask you plenty of questions surrounding the type of pain or sensation experienced during the massage.

The benefits of remedial/ sports massage

You may seek to enjoy the numerous benefits which include:

  1. Assist with healing from an injury   #tip don’t come for a massage until the swelling has gone down.
  2. Prevent and management of injuries
  3. Release tension and tightness to reduce pain, improve movement and support wellbeing
  4. Improve the microcirculation and help oxygenate the tissue
  5. Supports the nervous system to restore balance in the body
  6. Reduces stress and nervous system issues such as depression and anxiety
  7. Helps ‘flush’ out the by-products of metabolism (otherwise known as toxins)
  8. Can help in the recovery of chronic conditions such arthritis management, frozen shoulder, lower back ache, abdominal pain or spasm, cramps, headaches or migraines.
  9. Helps with recovery post-surgery by clearing excess fluid/ lymph and healing scar tissue
  10. Balances your mind and body and improves your overall wellbeing

Relaxation v Aromatherapy Massage

Relaxation massage may also be performed by a remedial massage therapist. It tends to be more ‘holistic’ in the sense that it may incorporate massaging the whole body. The ‘touch’ will generally be lighter, so as to not cause pain. It may also incorporate the use of essential oils – often called ‘aromatherapy’ massage. Certainly, in Australia, Aromatherapy massage is a light style relaxation massage using a tailored blend of essential oils.

“My first step into the natural therapy world was training as an aromatherapist at the Tisserand College back in 2002 in London. I absolutely loved it. We learned anatomy and physiology, practical massage, essential oil pharmacology and chemistry and how to take a case history. We used to spend 30 minutes taking a case history even before we started the massage. Here in Australia, people want the massage ASAP, so I’ve adapted my style since my initial training to ask more about how the client feels. Then I select a bunch of essential oils to create a harmonising blend. I always allow the client to smell the oils before making the blend, since the sense of smell is so subjective.”

#tip Essential oils can also be added to a base oil blend for remedial/sports massage. For example, adding in some black pepper, ginger, rosemary and peppermint can really enhance your experience and help the blood flow into the tissues and work on reducing inflammation.

The 3 Main Massage Techniques

1. Petrissage movements

This is where the thumb and palm of the hand move, or squeeze the muscle tissues. It’s kind of like kneading bread. This can be done lightly or at a deeper level to unstick muscle fibres or knots. 1

This is where the thumb is firmly fixed in a specific area of the muscle to help it ‘switch off’. With overuse, sometimes the muscles just stay switched on all of the time, so not getting any rest or relief. Its kind of like the muscle thinks “what’s the point in relaxation, they are only going to make me work again soon”!!! By holding the trigger point it re-establishes the connection between the brain and the muscle, so that when you release the muscle switches that area off.

2. Friction (for the deepest tissue)

This is where the use of thumbs or elbows comes into it. The aim is to provide a deep level of pressure to a targeted area in order to break down stuck soft tissue. The movement can be static or include different movements. Since this is powerful, it may cause bruising to the surface tissue.

3. Percussion or Tapotement

AKA “the karate chop”. This is where alternating hands strike the skin in rapid succession.² Different areas of the hand will create different sensations and help to bring balance back, especially after deep tissue work.

Massage FAQs

How does massage improve the blood flow?

Massage helps to improve the microcirculation of the blood by forcing the blood through tiny pliable capillaries and arterioles. The massage stroking action stretches the vessel walls and this helps to increase the size, capacity and function. The results are better absorption and better filtration creating a vascular gymnastics effect of your vessels. This helps to improve the overall health of the tissue. At the end of the day the purpose of blood is to bring in the goodness and take out the waste products or by-products of metabolism. 2

What about scar tissue?

As with microcirculation, massage will help to bring blood around the finer healthy tissue areas of the scar tissue. Performed at the right time after injury, this will actually improve healing time and prevent scar tissue build-up. Scar tissue build-up will limit the ability of the area to stretch out properly. 2

What’s going on when there is a knot?

A knot is a stuck bit of muscle tissue and can vary in sizes. The congealed bunch will prevent any or limit blood flow, so healing cannot occur. By using a variety of soft tissue manipulation techniques, these adhesions can break down, and allow better blood flow. If its been a while between remedial massages, this is where a skilled therapist will recommend that you come back for a follow-up within a week or two so as to continue to break down these adhesions before they get stuck again. 2

Have you ever had a relaxation massage and then your tummy starts to rumble? Here’s why!

The impact of relaxation massage on the nervous system is significant. The sensory receptors respond to touch, pressure and warmth, and these have a reflex effect helping to relax the tissue and reduce any pain. Tension in the soft tissues of the body may reduce this output causing an overdrive of your sympathetic nervous system – the fight of flight response! By releasing tension through massage, and restoring balance by relaxing the body and hence stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, your digestive juices wake up and the rumble begins. As a society we are often have an over dominance of our sympathetic nervous systems due to the busyness of life! This is one reason why a relaxation or aromatherapy massage can be so therapeutic for you bringing your nervous system back into balance. 2

Why choose a remedial massage therapist, even if you just want a relaxation massage?

The main difference between a remedial massage and a relaxation massage, is that a remedial massage therapist has been trained to level where they are a provider for health fund rebates. So, this means you can claim on your private health insurance, even if your main objective is for a relaxation massage. A remedially trained therapist will have studied anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology and have a broad range of techniques to apply (rather then a routine) to really tailor your treatment.

Hopefully this helps explain the differences between remedial, sports and relaxation types of massage.  You can meet our team and review our therapist qualifications here, or book a massage online here.



1 https://www.mamamia.com.au/what-is-remedial-massage/
2 Sport and Remedial massage therapy, Mel Cash


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