River Bend Therapeutic Massage
Putting my clients back together one muscle at a time.


recently logged onto the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals website, and found numerous types of bodywork. Far too many to mention or to list in one short article, let’s just say the list had 26 choices one for every letter in the alphabet, plus a few more. I can totally understand why clients don’t choose to consider massage therapy or bodywork when it is far too overwhelming. How do you know what to choose? How do you know whether or not a type of bodywork is good for you? At this time I would like to define for you some common types of bodywork.

Swedish Massage

Swedish is one of the most common and well-known types of bodywork, designed to stimulate the circulation and energize the body. Swedish massage is based on five techniques: 1)Effleurage uses long flowing, or gliding strokes; 2) Petrissage uses kneading and squeezing of the muscles using hands, fingers, and knuckles; 3) Tapotement uses rhythmic tapping that uses the sides of the hands, to loosen and relax the muscles; 4) Friction uses movements with the hands to create heat and to bring about relaxation of the muscles, and 5) Vibration-uses the back and forth movement of the fingertips or the heel of the hand over the body to loosen the muscles.

I appreciate the Swedish massage more than anything; typically this is ignored as an excellent form of bodywork. Why do we stigmatize this work as many of the deep tissue techniques are based on this work? Don’t miss-interpret that Swedish is light work in any way. Some of the techniques listed above can be very deep. Petrissage is and can be very deep work. My conclusion is that what is written about Swedish in the features section of a spa menu leads us to believe that this work is more of a relaxation session than a massage. This is simply not true.

Deep Tissue

Deep Tissue is described by some as the only type of bodywork that makes a difference in the body or to affect change in the muscles. Therapists have a tendency to use this term to describe their work and to make it seem as if there aren’t any other types of bodywork. This work is very good for many people, we all are different and what might be deep to you might be light to someone else. These are techniques based on Swedish massage that affect the deeper layers of tissue in the muscles and usually require a good understanding of anatomy, and structure of the muscles. This work can be helpful with chronic pain or muscular injury rehabilitation. I think it is best to work using a combination of deep techniques with lighter strokes to allow the body to adjust to the work.

I find that it is important to keep the lines of communication open between the therapist and the client. Just telling the therapist that you want deep work and to “go as deep as you can, don’t worry I can take it”. Is not really what we are going for here. When I am working with clients I really want to know what is going on in the body while I am working. I use a pain scale of 0-10. Zero means: “is this person even touching me”, all the way up to ten where: “this is killing me and I am out of here”. I prefer to work around a seven or eight, and this is subjective for nearly everyone. Your eight may be my five. Everyone is different and it really isn’t for the therapist to decide what is right for you, it is your decision, your massage, and you are the one that is paying for the session.

Muscular Therapy

Muscular Therapy is not listed in the glossary, so it will need its own definition here. It is a form of bodywork that includes a series of techniques and exercises designed to break down muscular tension and possibly prevent it from returning. This is different than deep tissue or Swedish. We have nearly 200 different techniques that we learn in our course work to apply to different parts of the body and we learn to use speeds and rhythms. Plus there are three other parts to our work and they are body care, tension release exercises, and postural alignment.

What does it feel like when you receive a Muscular Therapy session? Probably different than Swedish though there are some very close similarities, and it may also feel like a deep tissue massage. We use oil or lotion and we also do a nice warm up for the part of the body that is being massaged. The full benefits of the work come into play when we add the other segments.

Body Care Techniques

Body care techniques are usually given as homework and sometimes clients don’t think they need to do this part of the work. My favorite one to use with everyone is a salt bath. Add two cups of salt to a warm, not hot, bath. The salt facilitates the tension reducing effect of the water. The act of taking a bath and taking time to do something for you is relaxation. I use this one to demonstrate that you don’t need to do a lot to change how you feel, or to help your body feel better.

Tension release exercises are given as homework for clients to use with specific muscles and parts of the body. They are simple and easy ways to reduce tension in your own body. I wish that I could describe some in further detail; these are taught to clients after they have had a full intake, assessment and a few massages, and are taught specifically for each client. I can say that when I was going through school, I used these techniques on myself and experienced some tension relief.

Postural Alignment

Postural Alignment may also be known as ergonomics. While reducing the tension in the body via Muscular Therapy, it is also important to improve your postural alignment so that treatments will allow you to return physical health. I don’t go to offices to help with ergonomics, though I educate my clients about proper posture, how to sit at the desk, and to encourage breaks in the day to stretch, drink water and re-evaluate your posture. If you are in pain this can truly make the changes last as you are not undoing the work that your therapist did in your last session.

I am sure that I could go on for hours or pages about the types of bodywork that are out there, and I am sure that there are more being developed right now. It is not so much the type of bodywork that you receive but the fact that you are receiving the bodywork and that it feels good to you. It really is about communication between you and the therapist. Remember it is your session; don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or for a reduction or an increase in pressure. The therapist doesn’t get to decide what is good for you, you do.

How do you choose? You go with your heart or your referrals from friends or family or colleagues. Or maybe you read my article and decide to find someone in your area that does the type of work I have described and you reach out to him or her for massages. It really comes down to personal preference.


Heather Piper is the owner and primary Muscular Therapist at River Bend Therapeutic Massage in Kennebunk Maine. She has worked at two well-known spas, The White Barn Inn, and the Cliff House Resort & Spa; she had worked with athletes and performers all over New England. She is licensed to practice massage in Maine and Massachusetts. She has a keen knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology. Heather uses her skills to assist the client’s return to physical health. She can be reached via email: heather@ksystems.us, or at her website: riverbendtherapeuticmassage.massagetherapy.com.

Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals
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