What kind of massage do I need? The real differences between deep tissue, swedish & sports massage

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

Deep Tissue Massage vs Sports Massage vs Swedish/Relaxation

I often have clients asking about the differences between various styles of massage. While explaining the techniques and pressures involved, I also help them to understand the different sources of tension that create the need for each.

While deep tissue, sports, and swedish massage involve many of the same muscle groups, they vary greatly in not only the source of tension, but the overall goal of the work. This post will briefly describe them.


The term "deep tissue" tends to make some cautious, either from fear of discomfort or a possible negative past experience. During a deep tissue massage the therapist should always ease into deeper pressure, while communicating with the client about comfort.

Deep tissue massage is not just someone leaning into a back with an elbow. Accessing the deeper tissues with the right pressure at the right angle is much more effective than max pressure straight down.

Soreness is a common concern, but should dissipate within 72 hours. Soreness from deeper work in general tends to dissipate after a few consistent sessions.

Deep tissue targets deeper muscle fibers that have adhered together, causing tension or an adhesion(knot). These issues generally come from postural imbalances, repetitive stress or tension, decreased range of motion, and past injuries.

Common issues treated with deep tissue massage include tension headaches, TMJ, pain in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, legs, and feet, decreased range of motion.

The goal of this treatment is increased blood flow, breaking up adhered tissue, increased range of motion, and decreasing tension and pain.


Sports massage shares many techniques and end goals with deep tissue, but differs by using trigger point, stretching, myofascial release, joint mobilization. This is not intended to be a relaxing massage.

Therapists use a combination of techniques specifically targeting muscle groups that the client has or could have issues with, based on what activities they are doing. For example, a long distance runner would have different needs than that of a tennis player or a swimmer.

A sports massage is not just for athletes. Anyone that is having pain with activity is appropriate for sports massage.

A postural and range of motion assessment is generally a part of the treatment. Common issues treated with sports massage are tight joints, knee pain, shortened muscles, unilateral restrictions, decreased range of motion, shoulder pain, hip pain, shin splints, tennis elbow, golf elbow, ect.

The goal of this treatment is injury prevention, injury recovery, improved physical performance, getting full/effective range of motion, and decreased pain during activity.


Swedish and relaxing massages do not focus on the deeper tissues. They consist of longer gliding, kneading, friction, and vibration movements.

Light passive and active stretches are also used. This type of work should feel comfortable and relaxing. It also pairs well with certain essential oils.

Swedish and relaxing massage can help improve flexibility, ease physical and emotional stress, improve blood flow, decrease edema, and can help with insomnia. The goal of this work is to feel relaxed during, and rejuvenated after.

Talk soon,

Massage Near Me-Denver

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