Swedish vs Deep Tissue Massage: Benefits Based on Science

swedish vs deep tissue massage

A few of my friends are new to massage therapy and hardly know much about it. To them, massage is basically just rubbing any oil and kneading the body. However, massaging isn’t just that and I think most of you understand it. Thus, if you’re just starting out, reading all about it is a good option to begin with. Here are a few quick details: all types of massages can be categorized into these groups: Acupressure, Swedish massage, and Deep Tissue massage. In this article, you’ll mostly learn about Swedish and Deep Tissue massage.

It may be a tough choice if you were to pick one between these two. Therefore, it’s probably going to be useful to learn more about each of them, and understand what these massages are for. That being said, let’s get to the point.

Swedish Massage

Massage benefits

Swedish Massage is the foundation of most Western massages since they are just variants of the basic Swedish massage. It tries to relax muscles by applying warm oil and using warm hands to massage the body. The typical Swedish massage techniques include long gliding strokes, friction, lifting and tapping movements on the soft body tissue. The aim is, like behind most of the massages, to boost blood circulation and relax your body. Studies show that Swedish massage therapy reduces blood pressure, heart rate and inflammatory markers in hypertensive women. Additionally, Swedish massage targets lymph vessels and lymph nodes. Therefore, it helps with detoxification too.

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Origin and History

While it might be obvious that Swedish massage originated from Sweden, it’s not actually truth. In fact, the Swedish massage was called that way by Johan Georg Mezger, a Dutch practitioner, who did massages himself (source). Swedish massage is so common and popular in Europe that it’s simply called a ‘classic’ massage. The offshoots of Swedish massage include medical massage, body wraps, hydrotherapy, manual lymphatic drainage, Esalen massage, pregnancy massage, chair massage, geriatric massage, sports massage, and massage for children and infants.

Swedish Massage Techniques

swedish massage techniques

The techniques associated with Swedish massage are as follows:

Effleurage Strokes

These are long and flowing strokes that not only help the masseuse to spread the oil or lubricant all over the body but also assess muscle toning.


Those are massage movements that involve kneading, lifting, skin rolling and squeezing. The technique aids in flushing out the metabolic toxins.


Frictional strokes are short but fast movements that lead to heat generation. It loosens up the ligaments and directs blood flow to that area.


It’s a rhythmic percussion. You may be familiar with this technique because almost all cartoons or pop culture depictions showcase it. Remember the strokes that look like karate chops? Yes, that’s a tapotement massage technique. It releases lymphatic build-up and pleasantly stimulates nervous system.


The technique uses the heel of the hand to stroke and shake the surface of the body. It creates quite a pleasant feeling and increases blood circulation. It’s very often used on sportsmen before important competitions.

Swedish Massage Benefits

Full body Swedish massage benefits can be seen in a both short and long term. However, the best results can be achiever when it’s done regularly.

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Increases Blood Circulation

Since the effleurage techniques follow the motion of circulatory system, it increases the blood flow in a person’s body. Also, application of warm essential oils helps with generating more bodily heat. Therefore, that helps with blood circulation too since body naturally tries to cool down your muscles and skin. It does it by pumping more blood into the warm areas.

Lowers Blood Pressure

The long strokes used in Swedish massage are directed towards the heart, influencing both lymph and blood. That helps with both removal of metabolic waste and lowering blood pressure.

Improves Immunity

According to a study conducted by Emory University in March 2015, a direct correlation between decrease in fatigue was found when cancer patients were subjected to Swedish massage. The decrease in fatigue improved the immunity in the cancer patients.

Relaxes and De-Stresses Your Body

Like any effect of a good massage, the primary goal is to de-stress and relax. The movements and motions used in Swedish massage have the capacity to bring inner peace. And who doesn’t want that?

Decreases Anxiety

The same study by Emory University also suggests that Swedish massage can assuage anxiety. A similar study conducted in 2014 by University of Miami Medical School shows that experiencing a Swedish massage decreases anxiety, depression, and enhances social interaction and self-esteem. It also promotes body positivity.

Boosts Mood

While Swedish massage helps with reducing anxiety, essential oils, when used with carrier oils, can boost your mood, relax your body and energize it. Therefore, the usage of these oils is definitely recommended.

Relieves Pain

Swedish massage does help with pain reduction. Although, it’s best to consult a professional on that. Even those suffering from chronic diseases like arthritis and multiple sclerosis can find some relief through regular Swedish massages.

Reduces Constipation

Abdominal muscles can be warmed up by regular massages and encouraged a little bit. Thus, a Swedish massage could actually reduce constipation and calm down an upset stomach!

Read More: How to Give a Full Body Massage

Deep Tissue Massage

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This massage is also not as simple as the name suggests. One may think that Deep Tissue massage involves heavy pressure, but that’s not always how it goes. Deep muscles can be relaxed even with light pressure but precise skills are required. Basically, the massage aims at the problems in the deep tissue areas and that’s how the name came around. Unlike regular massages or Swedish massage, Deep Tissue massages are more specific in nature. They deal with distorted body areas and are useful in loosening up tight muscles. That helps with correction of the posture and alleviation of acute or chronic inflammation. Deep tissue massage acts from layer to layer through the connective tissues, down the muscles, right to the chronic muscle contracture and fascial adhesions (source).

Origin and History

Deep Tissue massage has been practiced for centuries. The earliest traces of it date back to the civilisations of the Far-East, Greece, and Egypt (source). The techniques involved in the massage were developed in 1800s by Canadian physicians. By 1949, Canadian doctor Therese Pfrimmer further developed it and formulated the guidelines in her book “Muscle – Your Invisible Bonds.” An interesting fact is that Therese attempted massaging deep tissues to cure the paralysis of her legs and in just a matter of 3 months, she was able to reverse the effects of it! She then went on to establish a ‘Deep Tissue Therapy Clinic.’

Deep Tissue Massage Techniques

deep tissue massage techniques

Deep Tissue massage techniques involve the movement of fingers, elbows, hands, and in certain cases other massage accessories to apply pressure and build friction.

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Linear Friction

This is the primary stroke used with deep tissue massage. It’s a sustained linear stroke of the fascia, the 3-dimentional network of connective tissues that surround, support, and penetrate all the bones, organs, muscles, and nerves (source). The stroke follows a certain direction to address a specific muscle, thus activating the stretch receptors and causing the relaxation of the muscle. The whole process is also called a stretch reflex (source).

Static Pressure

Applying direct static pressure is also a technique that is often used. This pressure releases the muscle or a group of muscles tension.

Deep Tissue Massage Benefits

Here are some of the benefits that a deep tissue massage can offer. Some of them are obvious, others – not so much.

Relieves Chronic Inflammation and Pain

The primary goal of a deep tissue massage is to reduce pain and discomfort. A study published in the Studies in Health Technology and Informatics showed that deep tissue massage was more effective in relieving chronic low back pain than therapeutic massage. In fact, another study showed that this massage as effective in reducing pain as NSAID!

Lowers Blood Pressure

A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that deep tissue massage has a positive effect on the systolic, diastolic and the mean arterial blood pressure. Therefore, this massage can be definitely used if you suffer from high blood pressure.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety Caused by Chronic Illnesses

Long recovery times can make the patient stressed and anxious, and cause depression that may even further affect their general well-being. Deep tissue massage lowers cortisol levels and boosts production of oxytocin that reduces stress and therefore relaxes muscle tension (source).

Speeds Up Recovery from Sports Injuries

If you’re an athlete, you’ve probably had a deep tissue massage before. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness published a report on deep tissue massage, otherwise known as ‘sports massage,’ that suggest that it prevents injuries and helps with faster recovery.

Improves and Corrects Posture

After all the pressure and the lengthening of the fascia, strengthening the opposing muscles can help to align a correct posture. Bad posture is more like a habit that needs to be broken and before doing that, you have to relax those muscles. That’s exactly what deep tissue massage does.

Improves General Health

Just the idea that your chronic pain can be a thing of past is enough to make one feel mentally and psychologically fit. Deep tissue massage helps with alleviation of pain and therefore improves general health too.

Breaks Down Scar Tissues

If you have recently injured your soft tissue, then deep tissue massage can help even with that since it breaks down scar tissues. They generally hamper the recovery by causing stiffness. Therefore, breakdown of the scar tissue will allow a richer blood flow to affected areas aiding a quick recovery.

Can Assist With Labour Pain and Delivery

Giving birth is usually very painful. However, it can be made easier by introducing deep tissue massage and other alternative pain relieving techniques. The hormonal rush that takes place after the massage is also helpful in reducing anxiety and improving the mother-child bond.

Read More: How to Give a Neck Massage for Someone You Love

Swedish vs Deep Tissue Massage – Which One is For You?

deep tissue massage benefits

Swedish massage enjoys a greater popularity due to its overall therapeutic effect, and it provides you with holistic health benefits. Due to the inclusion of essential oils in the Swedish massage, they are not only beneficial for stiffness, pains, and muscle ache but also have the capacity to de-stress and boost your immunity! Thus, if you are looking for a more generalised massage where you can relax and have a good time, then the Swedish massage is the way to go. You can get one at the spa or get someone close to do it for you. My recommendation: do make use of essential oils to make the massage session even more enjoyable.

On the other hand, if you suffer from chronic pain or have recently gotten a whiplash or sports injury, then you should opt for a deep tissue massage. This massage is mainly focused on muscle rehabilitation and works well with a short-term therapy. I tried deep tissue massage for the first time when I had sprained my back and nothing could replace the feeling of relief. But remember: only an experienced and qualified practitioner can offer the right kind of deep tissue massage. These are slower and longer and are targeted at specific areas of the body. A poorly trained professional may make it worse rather than better. However, do consult your physician before you set out for such a massage adventure.


As you can see when it comes to comparing Swedish vs deep tissue massage, it’s quite simple. Swedish massage is more for relaxation while deep tissue massage mainly focuses on relieving the pain. Now based on this information, you can easily make a balanced decision as to which massage would be ideal for you. It also might be a good idea to consult your doctor if your condition is serious.

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