Swedish and Shiatsu Massage vs. Deep Tissue and Sports Massage

9 min read
Updated: 28.06.2022

A massage is not always just a relaxing and soothing experience. There are many types of massages, but we can separate the whole concept into 2 classes based on their intensity level.

Swedish and Shiatsu massages are the best-known and most popular gentle and comforting massages. 

And on the other side of the spectrum, you can see the intense massage techniques, known as deep tissue and sports massages. 

But which one reigns supreme?

It actually depends on your personal expectations, but if you are looking for regular relaxation, without a doubt, the Swedish and Shiatsu massages are much more better than the Deep Tissue Massage. 

Even though intense massages are highly effective for targeted injury recovery, they may leave you feeling sore the next day. 

These are not ideal after a certain age as they apply more powerful pressure. 

1. What is Shiatsu Massage – How does It Work

There are 4 main types of massages. These are;

  • Shiatsu Massage
  • Swedish Massage
  • Deep Tissue Massage
  • Sports Massage 

Shiatsu massage is Japanese and comes from the old Japanese massage practice Anma, but we can follow its deeper roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine, a massage technique named Tui Nai

Japanese Massage Techniques

Therefore, it’s not just a simple massage technique.

” It’s a part of an ancient Stream of Consciousness. “

Tokujiro Namikoshi created the Shiatsu Massage in the early 1920s in Japan and opened the first Shiatsu massage center in 1925. 

The word Shiatsu means finger pressure, and that should give you a hint as to what exactly a Shiatsu Massage is. A shiatsu massage therapist applies pressure throughout the body by using his fingers. 

The massage movements are not improvised at all. Shiatsu therapists know your body’s acupressure points (or trigger points).

They target these points and use necessary finger, elbow, palm, and even foot pressures to construct essential relaxation and treatment.

Shiatsu’s other focus is on stretching and rotating the limbs and joints. 

What Type of Massage is Shiatsu

We use intensity levels, application modes, and purposes when classifying massage types. 

In that sense, Shiatsu is defined as a low-intensity therapeutic and relaxing massage technique aiming to heal the body in time.

Qi Energy and Human Body

Shiatsu massage belongs to Eastern Medicine which aspires to heal the body as a whole, not only the symptoms or individual disorders. 

The healing is a process and takes time. And the process itself is as critical as the final result.

Is Shiatsu Massage Really Effective – Benefits of Shiatsu Massage

Regardless of the application methods, massage is beneficial to the human body. It helps our body to generate energy and send extra blood to the pressurized area. 

In particular, Shiatsu has many positive effects in the hands of a good therapist. It, 

  • Enhances blood circulation, clears off circulation-related issues,
  • Reduces overall tiredness, 
  • Provides relief, lowers the stress level and depression risks,
  • Promotes healing from muscle, joint, or tissue generated injuries, as well as circulatory and excretory system complaints.E

The philosophy behind Shiatsu or any other Eastern Medicine method is that an energy called qi circulates inside our body, and blocking this energy for external reasons causes pain and annoyances.

  • Shiatsu massage helps clear these tie-ups by reordering meridian points,
  • When these points get back to a balanced state, our qi becomes free from obstacles, 
  • When qi energy moves freely, our body starts to heal itself.

Is Shiatsu Massage Good for Knots

Muscle knots are actually trigger points which are the specialty of the Shiatsu Massage technique. 

Deep and Consistent Pains

Using fingers, that’s why a good idea. The extra sensitive edges of our fingers can easily find the knotted parts and stimulate these trigger points for a faster recovery.

2. What is Deep Tissue Massage

A deep tissue massage refers to a style of massage that works to exert force through the many layers of the human body. 

The underlying muscles and connective tissues are the primary targets of deep tissue massages. It is a more focused massage technique that targets the primary areas of pain.

Powerful and Efficient Massage

As the name suggests, the goal is to apply deeper pressure, get past the skin and surface-level muscles and work the tendons beneath it all. 

Deep tissue massages are helpful in treating damaged muscle tissues and also aid in removing excessive lactic acid.

Is Shiatsu Massage the Same as Deep Tissue Massage

As we tried to explain in the above sections, Shiatsu and Deep Tissue massages are not the same in terms of their core approach and doctrine, and also the application practices.

“The difference is like an Eastern vs. Western state of mind.”

Shiatsu defines the problems as a part of a whole (the body) and tries to solve the problem with this holistic approach. 

It provides less forceful massage sessions, looks for long-term but long-lasting solutions, and promotes peace of mind and body.

Deep Tissue Massage, on the other hand, is more realistic and result-oriented, we can say. 

It targets exactly the problematic muscles and tissues and applies straight and deeper forces right to these areas.

Why do Shiatsu and Deep Tissue Massages Hurt

During the massage, sometimes feeling slight pains is quite usual and honestly normal. 

It’s highly unlikely to experience any extra discomfort after a Shiatsu massage session unless you have an amateur (didn’t want to say bad) therapist (or a wrong setting in your massage tool). 

More Intense Massage More Pain

However, Deep Tissue massages can cause pain because the force used on our tissues may cause a pinched nerve to be more inflamed. 

The risk of worsening the pain after the massage is higher here. Still, a good deep tissue massage therapist should know the level of intensity you need and can only cause natural short-term muscle pain.

3. What is Swedish Massage

Swedish Massage is similar to Shiatsu, mainly aiming for a soft and relaxing massage. 

The massaging techniques are fundamentally similar, but the applications are different. 

Swedish massage involves more movements such as long strokes, vibration, kneading, tapping, and deep, circular motions. 

We also see that relaxing oils and lotions are frequently used.

There are 5 types of Swedish techniques called manipulation techniques (which all boost circulation and the easing the symptoms of tissue/nerve damage): 

  • Effleurage 
  • Petrissage
  • Tapotement
  • Friction 
  • and Vibration

Swedish Massage comes to mind when we think of a typical massage image.

Swedish Massage vs. Deep Tissue Massage

Similar to Shiatsu and Deep Tissue comparison, Swedish Massage is softer and aims for overall well-being rather than targeted improvements. 

If you need peace and see massage as leisure, you are going to love a Swedish Massage session. 

4. What is Sports Massage

Professional sports are tough. Being a pro player and keeping the performance level always optimum are challenging. 

Faster Healing between Games

  • Players need quick recovery between games, 
  • They also need to return back as quickly as possible after injuries.

That’s why sports massages are highly targeted and extreme for us normal human beings (unless you are engaged in regular exercise or have a complicated injury).

Which Massage Technique is Better for Me

This is a logical question because neither of these massages is a one-size-fits-all solution. Our nerves, muscles, and tissues can experience soreness, but the levels and underlying issues of these symptoms are not always the same.

If the primary purpose is finding relaxation and getting rid of constant fatigue or muscle tension, a Shiatsu or Swedish Massage is going to be your solution. 

Relaxing massage with a mindfulness concept in it, like Shiatsu, can also help treat insomnia and reduce stress.

Soft or Intense Massage

If you have a damaged muscle or tissue caused by physical injury or an excess build-up of lactic acid in your muscles, then a Deep Tissue Massage could be a better answer to your problems.

If you have a sports-related injury, it is better to seek help from a sports massage therapist.

What Type of Massage is Best for Back Pain

If you have pain in a specific area, like your back, it indicates that the problem is deeper. In such cases, it is critical first to be diagnosed medically. 

Afterward, if your doctor approves the suitability of massage therapy, deep tissue massage sessions will be more beneficial than relaxing types of massage for back pain.

How many Massage Therapy Sessions do I Need to See the Effects

The beauty of massage therapy is that the effects are observable instantly. But, it is not common to have all pain significantly reduced or disappear entirely from the onset of the first treatment. 

Further sessions not only work to reduce the potential of any future injuries but also to reverse any surface-level damage that the muscles or nerves may have been subjected to.

According to a 2012 study, participants who got massage therapy sessions once or twice a week saw improvements in their physical health after 5 weeks. But it also said that the intensity and the duration of these sessions could also affect the results. 

Further research should be conducted to make more clear assumptions.

Home-Based Massage Therapy Tools

The best part about massage therapy is that there are several different devices that one can purchase to receive a great massage within their very home. 

These devices range from affordable to luxurious, but they ensure that you receive a proper massage without paying for regular sessions. Some of these devices are:

Massage Chairs

Massage chairs are expensive, but they are by far my number one choice for receiving a great massage at home

The wealth of options the market offers, such as Zero Gravity Technology, Body Scanning and Tracking systems, and the ease of use is something that we can not ignore. 

Not to mention that with a massage chair, you will receive a full body massage, sure to comfort you even further. 

Massage Guns

Whenever you travel, you can always bring a massage gun. These are cheaper, portable, and actually can be a part of professional deep tissue or sports massage sessions. 

But still, having a massage gun at home is a smart decision, just to use it in an emergency.

Massage Chair Pads

These innovative products turn your regular chairs into relaxing massage chairs. 

The product has air compression units or rollers inside and covers the surface of a chair. When you turn on the power, the compression starts and gives the user a massage effect.

Again, affordable and practical for relaxing and boosting blood flow in your living or working space.

Massage Foot and Leg Compression Devices

Compression socks and leggings are great facilitators for treating edema, which causes swelling, itching, numbness, or even pain. 

These products improve blood flow in your lower body and reduce the effects of long hours of sitting.

Simple Massage Tools 

Even a wall can help self-massage, but some useful tools can assist you more in massaging yourself, such as massage rollers, sticks, pilates balls, and back stretching devices.

Close Up

There are numerous massage techniques that offer well-being and pain-free life. 

From the long strokes, circular motions, and tapping of the Swedish massage and unique finger touches from a Shiatsu massage on one side to the more robust Sports massage, with its deep movements and increased flexibility on the other.

Or fancier alternatives like 

  • Hot Stone Massage 
  • Thai Massage
  • Reflexology 
  • Aromatherapy 
  • Cupping Therapy

What you need to do is recognize what problem is plaguing your body and then find a massage that is specially designed to deal with said issue.

But let’s be honest and give you a clear cut answer. 

Shiatsu or similar relaxing massage is more pleasing for leisure. It is gentler and gives you an all-around better experience while healing your pains and suffering.

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