Swedish massage and deep tissue massage are both popular types of massage therapy. While there are some similarities, the pressure, technique, intended use, and areas of focus make Swedish and deep tissue different from each other.

Here are the key differences between these two massage styles, along with tips on choosing the right therapist for you.

Swedish massage is one of the most commonly offered massage techniques. It’s sometimes called a classic massage. The technique aims to promote relaxation by releasing muscle tension.

Swedish massage is gentler than deep tissue massage and better suited for people interested in relaxation and tension relief. Swedish massage may loosen up tight muscles caused by daily activities such as sitting at the computer or exercising. It can be very helpful for people who hold a lot of tension in their lower back, shoulders, or neck.

What happens during a Swedish massage?

During a Swedish massage, therapists use kneading, long strokes, deep circular movements, and passive joint movements. These techniques are meant to relax you, stimulate nerve endings, and increase blood flow and lymph drainage.

A traditional Swedish massage involves the whole body. You will begin on either your back or your stomach and flip over at the halfway point. If you have an area of particular concern, such as a tight neck, you can ask your therapist to spend more time in this area. Depending on your preferences, you can ask your massage therapist to use light, medium, or firm pressure.

During most full-body massages the expectation is you’ll be undressed. Your massage therapist will ask you to undress for your massage while they wait outside. It’s up to you whether or not to keep your underwear on. Your massage therapist will drape a sheet over your body, which they will pull back and adjust as they work their way around. You will be covered most of the time.

Your massage therapist will use an oil or lotion to allow for smooth and long stokes. They may also ask if you have a preferred scent for aromatherapy.

Deep tissue massage is similar to Swedish massage, but it goes farther. Deep tissue massage targets the inner layers of your muscles, tendons, and fascia (dense connective tissue). Deep tissue massage uses many of the same stroking and kneading movements as Swedish massage, but there is far more pressure. This pressure can sometimes be painful.

Deep tissue massage is best suited for athletes, runners, and people with injuries. It can also work for people with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and lower back pain.

This type of massage facilitates healing by releasing contracted areas of muscle and tissue. It can help increase blood flow to the soft tissues and may help to reduce inflammation.

What happens during a deep tissue massage?

Before a deep tissue massage, you will discuss your problem areas with your therapist. A deep tissue massage can be full-body or focus only on one area. You will begin lying on your back or stomach, under a sheet. It’s up to you to what level you undress.

Deep tissue massages begin as a more traditional relaxation massage. After the muscles are warmed up, your massage therapist will begin to work deep into your problem areas. In addition to their palms, finger tips, and knuckles, your therapist may use their forearms or elbows to increase pressure.

It’s important to be open with your massage therapist about the level of pressure and discomfort you wish to endure. This may be different for certain areas and throughout the massage, feel free to communicate with your massage therapist before and during the massage. Some massage therapists find pain to be counterproductive to the process and expect you to speak up if the pain is too much.

You should expect a fair amount of soreness in the days following your deep tissue massage. Your therapist may recommend treating with ice, heat, or stretching.

  • Find the right massage therapist. Look for a therapist who specifically identifies the massage type you’re interested in as part of their practice and background. If necessary, look for someone trained to treat a particular condition, such as sports injuries, fibromyalgia, arthritis, or pregnancy. Also check if the therapist is licensed or certified according to state requirements.
  • Talk to your therapist about any injuries. Be clear about the extent of your injuries, how long they have been healing, and what your current pain level is.
  • Talk about your comfort levels. Tell the massage therapist which areas you do not want them to touch. For example, some people are uncomfortable with their buttocks being massaged.
  • Talk about your goals and expectations. Do you just want to relax? Are you trying to recover from an injury?
  • Discuss pressure. Talk to your therapist about what level of pressure is best for you.
  • Be open. Let your therapist know if you have privacy concerns or areas that you don’t want touched.
  • Warm up. If possible, warm up your muscles by taking a warm shower, soaking in a hot tub, or spending a few minutes in a sauna.
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of water before your massage.

Before booking your Swedish or deep tissue massage, here are a few things to consider:

  • Is this a one-time thing? It will help your therapist to know if massages are something you do once or twice a year or if they’re part of a long-term treatment plan.
  • Do you have a gender preference? Some people feel more comfortable with a same or opposite gender massage therapist.
  • Do you have a setting preference? Some massages take place in relaxing beauty spas while others take place in a physical therapy or gym environment.
  • Have you read the reviews? Before booking your massage, read what other people have said about your potential therapist. Have they helped people with your condition before?

Swedish and deep tissue massages are very similar. The primary difference is the level of pressure involved. If you’re looking for relaxation and relief from tense, tight muscles, Swedish massage is probably right for you. If you’re recovering from an injury, deep tissue massage can be a helpful part of your treatment plan. Feel free to ask questions before you book a massage and to communicate feedback to your therapist during a massage.