Do I Want a Swedish Massage or a Deep Tissue Massage? What’s the Difference?


As a massage therapist, this is the most commonly asked question I get. Clients want to know whether a Swedish Massage is really Swedish, and if “Deep Tissue” means it hurts. Is a deep tissue just a harder Swedish?

Here are the answers, with a little background.

The Swedish Massage was in fact developed in Sweden, in the 1800s, by a man named Pehr Henrik Ling who brought the technique to the United States as what he called “The Swedish Movement Cure,” which included a combination of gymnastics and physiological techniques borrowed from Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman tradition.

The intended purpose of the Swedish Massage is to improve circulation, ease tension in the muscles, and to promote relaxation. Once the body is relaxed, muscle flexibility is improved. Another benefit is that the Swedish Massage technique can rid the body of waste products, all that lactic and uric acid that can get built up in the muscles and other body tissues.

The Swedish Massage technique primarily uses five types of strokes:

Effleurage, which are the long flowing strokes usually at the beginning of the massage when the therapist is applying lotion or oil to reduce friction on the skin. The application of lotion or oil also helps the therapist to feel the muscle tone, looking for tense spots and knots.

Petrissage is the kneading movement the therapist uses to lift and squeeze the tissue, assisting in the flushing out of metabolic waste.

The next stroke is a friction stroke, a short and quick movement used to create heat to restore blood flow to the specific area. This stroke also aids in loosening tight ligaments.

Tapotement is the fourth type of stroke, which relaxes the muscles by administering a series of light blows to the body. Some people might know this stroke as the “karate chop” stroke. No actual karate will be done on the body during a Swedish Massage.

Vibration is the fifth main stroke used, which creates movement in the entire body to promote total relaxation.

Depending on the needs and preferences of the client, a Swedish massage can be toned down to completely slow and gentle levels, or it can be done more vigorously and with greater force applied for especially tight muscles.

Swedish Massage is regularly used in anxiety treatments, as the process also stimulates the skin and nervous system, helping to soothe nerves. With the release of physical tension, emotional and physical stress can also be reduced.

On the other hand, Deep Tissue Massage goes beyond a basic relaxation treatment or loosening of minor muscle tightness. The strokes of a Deep Tissue Massage are designed to reach for the deeper tissue structure of the muscles, as well as the fascia, which is the connective tissue.

While Deep Tissue Massage can be effective in releasing general muscle tension, the treatment is ideal for smaller muscle injuries and even minor but chronic problems. The therapist uses a concentrated “hooking in” motion to release the chronic muscle tension in a specific area, any adhesions and muscular knots, which can result from whiplash, another injury such as a sports injury, or postural misalignment. The strokes are slow and deliberate, done as part of a series, moving slowly down into the muscle without forcing pressure into the muscle. Pressure is administered until the muscle pushes back, at which time the muscle begins (slowly) to release pressure and allow the therapist to manipulate it. This targeted approach also works well for treating muscle spasms and abnormal muscle tone.

The Deep Tissue Massage should not be painful, and a good massage therapist will not cause pain with the massage. What clients can expect is the body reacting to the pressure with an initial tensing up, which is a pain-blocking response from the body, coupled with a release of tension, which is relieving and often pleasurable. Effects can be felt immediately or the next day. In some cases, more extreme cases may need additional treatment sessions to coax the muscle back into a normal, relaxed state.

At Massage Concepts, we are dedicated to helping clients improve health and achieve a more balanced lifestyle. For more information on Swedish versus Deep Tissue massages, or if you’re ready to make an appointment or want to view a full listing of our services, call us at 858-847-2777 or visit us at