What Is The Difference Between Swedish And Deep Tissue Massage? Discover Which Is Right For You

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If you’re in need of a massage, you might be wondering which type is best for your needs. Two popular types are Swedish and deep tissue massage, but what’s the difference between them? Understanding this can help you decide which one is right for you.

Swedish massage is perhaps the most well-known type of massage and tends to have a more gentle touch than many other types. It typically involves kneading, long strokes, and circular movements on the topmost layers of muscles. On the other hand, deep tissue massage utilizes deeper pressure and focuses on releasing chronic muscle tension.

“A Swedish massage is more relaxing while a deep tissue massage is designed to target specific areas that may be causing discomfort or pain,” states Dr. Lluís Fuentemilla, a licensed chiropractor.

The differences between these two massages go beyond mere pressure, though. They differ in technique, goals, and even the parts of the body they focus on. Both offer their own unique benefits, so it’s worth understanding what each entails before booking your next appointment.

In this article, we’ll dive into the details of what distinguishes deep tissue massage from Swedish massage. We’ll also explore some common scenarios where one type of massage may be preferable over the other based on your individual needs. By the end of it all, you should feel confident in choosing which massage type will best suit you and your physical health.


Efficient Movements

Both Swedish and deep tissue massage have different techniques to achieve the best results. Unlike Swedish massage, which focuses on long strokes, effleurage (a French word that means “to skim” or “to touch lightly”), kneading, friction, and vibration, deep tissue massage is focused on more specific problems, like chronic pain and muscle tightness. It uses slow movements and deep pressure against the grain of the muscles to relieve these issues.

The efficient movement technique used in Swedish massage helps improve blood flow and lymphatic drainage, reducing stress hormones – another distinguishing factor when comparing Swedish vs deep tissue massage.

Proper Form

In both types of massage therapy, proper form is essential to prevent injury and ensure optimal relaxation and rejuvenation. During a deep tissue massage, the therapist’s fingers, thumbs, and elbows are used gently or with great force depending on the situation to apply pressure to the deep layer of tissue beneath the skin where adhesions can form following an injury or overuse. A well-trained masseuse must also pay careful attention not to go too far and cause additional pain.

Similarly, during a Swedish massage, it’s important to maintain proper working posture to avoid fatigue as this causes tension in the neck, arms, and back muscles of the masseuse; therefore hindering their ability to provide your body with the care needed. This type of massage requires rhythm, consistency, and coordination to meet the needs of clients who want relaxation.

Breathing Techniques

The use of breathing techniques may vary between Swedish and deep tissue massages, but they play a vital role in both for better therapeutic outcomes.

“Deep-tissue therapists know how to get at those deeper layers of muscle, but they often need help during the stretching portions of massage,” says Ben Brown from Royersford Spa and Center City Spa in Philadelphia.

During a deep tissue massage, breathing exercises are essential to bring oxygen to your body’s muscles after working through knots and tension points; doing so will aid in releasing storages of tension rather than letting them build-up over time.

A well-done Swedish massage allows you to relax while promoting your circulation as it reduces stress by utilizing more gentle strokes and kneading methods, whilst rhythmically dealing with deeper levels of comfort. It aims at soothing tensed muscles present in your entire body, leading to better blood flow downstream.


Light Pressure

Swedish massage utilizes light pressure. This technique is best for inducing relaxation and promoting circulation, as it involves long, smooth strokes along the muscle fibers in the direction of blood flow. Light pressure can also help to lower stress hormones such as cortisol in the body. In general, those who are new to massage or have sensitive skin may prefer lighter pressure.

The overall effect of Swedish massage with its gentle touch creates a deep sense of tranquility while improving flexibility & range of motion (ROM). It is recommended specifically for those suffering from anxiety or depression. According to Robert Pellegrino-Estrich (Professional Massage Therapist), “light pressure massages allow your nervous system to relax”.

Moderate Pressure

Deep tissue massage typically uses moderate pressure. In contrast to the more superficial strokes used in Swedish massage, this technique targets deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. Deep tissue massage can be therapeutic for patients experiencing chronic pain, soreness, or limited mobility.In essence, medium pressure really starts reaching into the muscles with slower movements. Your therapist begins going further into trigger points; providing better release there.”

Moderate pressure is often effective at breaking up adhesions or “knots” that can form within muscle fiber over time. These knots can cause discomfort or restrict movement if left unaddressed. The ultimate goal of moderate pressure work is improved mobility and alleviation from discomfort. As Colin Batty explained, the processes involved in a Deep Tissue Massage requires much understanding on the side of therapists because of which one should opt for established clinics only. “

“Experience matters when dealing with deeper tissues” -Colin Batty”

Deep Pressure

When you get closer to the muscles, more and more embedded knots can become visible. Thus deep tissue requires an increased amount of pressure or force applied to it. Therapists performing this massage modality use knuckles, elbows, and even forearms in order to apply that added bit of oomph.This technique is not for everyone as uncomfortable sensations are often felt when working on troubled areas.

However painful it may sound, deep tissue remains a useful way of reducing persistent muscular tension and pain due to sports injuries or complications from pre-existing medical conditions such as arthritis. “Deep tissue excels at breaking down scar tissue and adhesions involved with chronic musculoskeletal conditions” -Robert Pellegrino-Estrich

Although deep tissue can be very effective at relieving chronic pain, the potential side effects should also be taken into consideration. Soreness, bruising, and headache after a deep tissue massage experience are a possibility which usually subsides within a day or two.

Targeted Areas

Neck and Shoulders

The neck and shoulders are common areas for tension buildup due to stress, poor posture, and repetitive motions. Swedish massage targets these areas by using long strokes and kneading techniques to improve circulation and promote relaxation in the muscles.

Deep tissue massage, on the other hand, uses much more pressure and targeting techniques to reach deeper layers of muscle tissue. This can be especially effective for chronic pain and tension in the neck and shoulder area.

“Stress causes muscular tension that is particularly intense in the neck, shoulder, and upper back areas.” -World Health Organization

Back and Spine

The back and spine contain some of the largest muscles in the body and can become tight or strained from daily activities, injuries, and poor posture. Swedish massage can help loosen up muscles and relieve soreness with its flowing movements and light to medium pressure.

Deep tissue massage can also target these areas but involves a slower, more focused approach to accessing deep layers of muscle tissue. This technique can be helpful for those with chronic back pain or injury.

“Massage therapy has been shown to effectively reduce lower back pain.” -National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Hips and Glutes

Tight hips and glutes are often associated with sitting for extended periods, lack of exercise, and certain medical conditions. Swedish massage can use effleurage (long gliding strokes) to increase blood flow and flexibility in these areas.

With deep tissue massage, the therapist may use their elbows or forearms to apply more direct pressure where needed, in order to relieve knots and tension within the hip and gluteal muscles.

“Deep tissue massage is recommended for individuals who experience persistent pain, are involved in heavy physical activity, such as athletes, and patients who have sustained physical injury.” -National Institutes of Health

Limbs and Joints

The limbs and joints can become stiff or sore from overuse, aging, or underlying medical conditions. Swedish massage uses long strokes and kneading techniques to relax the muscles throughout the body, which can help enhance mobility and range of motion.

Deep tissue massage may incorporate more intense pressure and stretching in order to access deeper layers of muscle tissue around the joints. This technique can be helpful for those with arthritis or other inflammatory joint conditions.

“Massage therapy appears to reduce symptoms associated with lymphoedema.” -National Lymphedema Network
In conclusion, while both Swedish and deep tissue massages can benefit many different areas of the body, they do so using different techniques and levels of pressure. It’s important to communicate your needs and preferences to your massage therapist in order to ensure you receive the best treatment possible for your specific concerns.


Massage therapy has been used for centuries as a way to heal and rejuvenate the body. Both Swedish and deep tissue massage have their unique benefits that cater to different needs.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Swedish massage is known for its relaxing properties, making it an excellent choice for individuals dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety. During a session, the therapist uses long strokes and kneading techniques to promote relaxation by easing tension in the muscles and increasing blood flow throughout the body. Studies show that this technique also lowers cortisol levels, which can lead to reduced feelings of stress and anxiety.

“The best way to overcome anxiety is not to fight it but to relax into it.” -Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Improves Blood Circulation

The primary goal of Swedish massage is to increase blood circulation, which helps promote healing and repair within the body. The gentle pressure applied during the massage moves blood through congested areas and allows new blood to flow more freely. This means that more oxygen and nutrients reach your cells and organs, leading to better overall health.

Relieves Muscle Tension

If you suffer from muscle pain or stiffness caused by injury or overuse, deep tissue massage may be just what you need. During a session, the therapist applies intense pressure to target deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. This technique can help break up adhesions, reduce inflammation, and alleviate chronic tension or soreness.

“Pain doesn’t happen in the muscles, it happens in the brain. The role of manual therapy is to modulate the input from the periphery so that it no longer makes us scream” -Adriaan Louw

Boosts Immune System

Both Swedish and deep tissue massage have beneficial effects on the immune system. When stress levels are high, our immune systems can become compromised, making us more susceptible to illness and disease. The relaxation and stress reduction that comes with massage therapy help boost your body’s natural defense system, promoting overall health and well-being.

Both Swedish and deep tissue massage offer numerous benefits that cater to different needs. Whether you want to relax more or target deeper layers of muscle for pain relief, there is a technique that will work best for you. Ultimately, choosing the right type of massage depends on your individual concerns and goals.

Discomfort Level

Minimal Discomfort

A Swedish massage is known for its ability to provide relaxation, comfort, and a gentle touch. It uses soft, long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping to help you relax and feel peaceful. The therapist may also use stretching and light joint mobilization techniques.

This type of massage targets the superficial layers of muscles which are not very tense or knotted up. Because Swedish massage usually involves minimal pressure, it is unlikely to cause pain during or after the massage session.

“Swedish massage is a gentle type of full-body massage that’s ideal for people who: are new to massage, have a lot of tension, are sensitive to touch, have never had a massage before”

Moderate Discomfort

Deep tissue massage puts more pressure on the muscle tissues than a Swedish massage. It is useful when areas of your body like neck, shoulders, back, legs are extremely tight, sore, or painful. During this technique, the therapist applies slow, firm pressure with his/her elbows, hands, fingers, and forearms.

The purpose of deep tissue massage is to reach beneath the surface layer and release chronic knots and muscle adhesions that form due to poor posture, repetitive motion injury, or overuse. You might feel discomfort during this massage because the presses can sometimes be intense enough to stimulate nerve endings and trigger a pain response.

“A study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice showed that deep tissue massage induced significant reductions in blood pressure and heart rate.”

High Discomfort

A painful sensation is not a necessary part of massage therapy. However, some people might experience discomfort during an intense deep tissue massage if they have never received bodywork before or are unprepared for the amount of pressure applied.

A therapist must be aware of how much force he/she is exerting and whether you feel pain or just “good” pain (more often called as “hurts so good”). The technique should flow smoothly without causing tears in soft tissues or severe bruising.

“Pain isn’t necessarily good, and it’s not a sign that the massage will be effective. In fact, your body may tense up in response to pain, making it harder for the therapist to reach deeper muscles.”

Painful Discomfort

If you are experiencing sharp pain during any type of massage, stop at once and tell your therapist what happened. Pain can make the muscles tense even further, leading to more strain, soreness, and inflammation.

You should also avoid getting a deep tissue massage immediately after an injury like muscle sprains since deep tissue massage can increase blood flow, which may draw more fluid into injured tissues. Some medical conditions, such as bleeding disorders, osteoporosis, and diabetes, contraindicate massage or require special precautions.

“You should never get a sports massage when you’re hurt,” says Ligons. “Getting a massage on top of broken bones doesn’t help them heal faster.””

Marty Munson from Women’s Health Magazine


When it comes to getting a massage, cost can be a deciding factor for many people. Fortunately, there are options available at various price points depending on your budget.

Low-Cost Massage Options

If you’re looking to save some money on your massage, there are a few options available. One option is to look for student clinics in your area. These clinics offer discounted rates as the students are still learning and need practice hours. Another option is to look for affordable chain spas that may have lower rates than more expensive luxury spas.

According to Thumbtack, the national average cost for a massage is $75 per hour, but prices can range from $50-$250/hour depending on location and the type of establishment where the massage is being done.

Moderately Priced Massage Options

If you have a little more money to spend, you may want to consider mid-range massage options. This could include seeing an independent massage therapist who charges slightly higher rates or visiting a spa that offers a more upscale experience. For example, Elements Massage has locations throughout the US and offers customized massages starting at around $99/hour.

High-End Massage Options

For those willing to splurge on a high-end massage experience, there are a variety of luxurious options available. Some examples include booking a private massage session with a celebrity favorite like masseuse Flavia Lanini, who charges upwards of $300/hour, or treating yourself to a spa day at a five-star hotel. Prices for these services can easily exceed $500/hour.

Additional Costs for Add-On Services

It’s also important to keep in mind that many massage establishments offer additional services and add-ons that can increase the overall cost of your appointment. For example, some spas may charge more for hot stone massages or aromatherapy treatments. Make sure to ask about these costs upfront so you’re not surprised by any unexpected charges on your bill.

The cost of a massage depends on various factors including location, type of establishment and additional services offered. Whether you choose a low-cost option or decide to splurge on a luxurious experience, there are solutions available to fit your budget and personal preferences.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Swedish massage?

Swedish massage is the most common type of massage that uses long strokes, kneading, and circular movements to relax and energize your body. It is a gentle and relaxing massage that helps to improve blood circulation, reduce stress, and boost your immune system. This massage is perfect for those who are looking for a relaxing and soothing experience.

What is deep tissue massage?

Deep tissue massage is a type of massage that targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. It uses slow strokes, deep pressure, and friction to break up knots and relieve muscle tension. This massage is ideal for those who have chronic muscle pain, limited mobility, or have suffered from an injury. It can be uncomfortable at times, but it can be very effective in easing muscle pain.

What are the main differences between Swedish and deep tissue massage?

The main differences between Swedish and deep tissue massage are the amount of pressure used, the strokes applied, and the intended outcome. Swedish massage is a gentle and relaxing massage that uses long strokes and kneading to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Deep tissue massage, on the other hand, uses deep pressure and slow strokes to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. It is intended to relieve chronic muscle pain, improve mobility, and break up knots.

Which massage is better for relaxation?

If you are looking for a massage that will help you relax and reduce stress, then Swedish massage is the better option. It uses light pressure and long strokes to promote relaxation, improve blood circulation, and reduce tension in your muscles. It is a gentle and soothing massage that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Which massage is better for addressing muscle pain and tension?

If you are suffering from chronic muscle pain or tension, then deep tissue massage is the better option. It uses deep pressure, slow strokes, and friction to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. It can be uncomfortable at times, but it can be very effective in relieving muscle pain, improving mobility, and breaking up knots.

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