Swedish Massage vs. Aromatherapy Massage: Which Is Better?

Swedish Massage vs. Aromatherapy Massage: Which Is Better?

There’s plenty of evidence to prove how beneficial massage therapy can be. However, when choosing the exact type of massage you’d like to receive, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer depth and number of options. You may just find yourself struggling to choose between Swedish massage and aromatherapy massage.

Swedish massage is a type of massage therapy utilizing extended, slow stroking techniques. Aromatherapy massage can feature many kinds of massage techniques, though it always incorporates essential oils. Both can be soothing, calming, and relaxing. The better option depends on your preferences.

In this article, we’ll examine Swedish massage and aromatherapy massage to discover what they are, where they come from, and how they might be beneficial. We’ll also compare them in an attempt to find out which one is better. Let’s get started!

Swedish Massage

As you can probably imagine, Swedish massage is a type of massage therapy that originates from Sweden. It is often called one of the most relaxing forms of massage, and there’s little doubt why.

The patient, slow and rhythmic movements that make Swedish massage so calming can be soothing enough to put you to sleep. This type of massage therapy continues to be the most popular kind of massage in the United States.

History

The earliest forms of Swedish massage can be traced back to a Swedish man named Per Henrik Ling. After suffering from chronic pain during the early 1800s, Ling decided to perform a series of self-massage techniques in the hopes that they would allow him to heal more quickly and experience less pain.

He managed to recover quite well, and he soon spread the word about his experience. He died in 1839 at the ripe old age of 63. And while many do attribute him with the invention or creation of Swedish massage, the five distinct techniques that define this massage are the product of Johann Georg Mezger’s work.

A few decades later, the Swedish massage concept arrived on US shores with an American physician named George Herbert Taylor.  When he was in his thirties, he spent a significant amount of time studying Swedish massage and traveling to Sweden to learn from some of the most respected authorities on massage, physical fitness, and gymnastics.

Massage therapy was relegated to physical therapy for athletes and post-op patients for several decades after Dr. Taylor’s research. It wouldn’t be until the 1900s that massage would become more accessible, and it was still seen as a vice-like activity until the 1930s.

Techniques

Nearly every specific type of massage utilizes a particular series of hand motions and massage techniques. Swedish massage incorporates five distinct techniques. They are:

  • Effleurage
  • Petrissage
  • Friction
  • Vibration
  • Tapotement

These terms aren’t commonplace, and it can be tricky to determine what “petrissage” entails if you’re not a massage therapist. Let’s take a moment to define and discuss these terms before addressing the potential benefits they could provide.

Effleurage

This massage technique often reappears multiple times throughout a single Swedish massage session. It is one of the gentlest massage techniques a therapist can utilize and involves long stroking motions that typically target oxygen-poor arteries and veins.

When a massage therapist performs effleurage, the goal is to facilitate the passage of oxygen-poor blood, potentially increasing circulation while promoting a boost of oxygen-rich blood. Unlike deep tissue massage techniques, this motion is incredibly soothing and almost always pain-free.

Petrissage

If you’ve ever owned a cat or baked bread, then you’re familiar with kneading. This repetitive pushing or gentle punching is thought to stimulate and compress underlying muscle tissue. Petrissage hand motions may result in increased circulation and improved relaxation.

Friction

As the name of this technique suggests, friction massage is all about intense pressure that results from the friction across and between a client’s muscles and a therapist’s hands. This technique is thought to help reduce scar tissue and promote faster healing.

Vibration

During this technique, the massage therapist may apply rapid vibrational pressure on a particular muscle point to encourage improved blood flow, pain relief, and relaxation. Vibration may increase flexibility throughout the body and potentially help to prevent athletic injuries.

Tapotement

This term is a broad one that could refer to several percussive motions. During this Swedish massage stage, the therapist may cup their hands and rapidly tap, slap, or beat against a client. The side of the hand is often used during tapotement, though fingertips may also come into play.

Potential Benefits

When you commit to a Swedish massage therapy session, you also agree to enjoy various potential benefits. This form of massage therapy is often referred to as the most relaxing type, but a calmer mind isn’t the only possible outcome.

Some of the most common benefits associated with Swedish massage include:

  • Less Stress
  • Better Sleep
  • A Positive Outlook
  • Reduced Muscle Soreness
  • Fewer Headaches

We’ll need to investigate the evidence supporting these claims to determine just how valid these benefits might be. After all, businesses often promote themselves aggressively, sometimes to the point of blurring the line between fact and fiction.

Massage therapists tend to be less competitive than business executives or advertising agents, but being a little skeptical could help you steer clear of scams and less-than-ethical promises. Without further ado, let’s do some snooping and find out just how beneficial Swedish massage can be.

Less Stress

One of the most talked-about aspects of Swedish massage is stress reduction. Many American adults experience a startling amount of stress each day. Worries concerning finances, health, relationships, or societal events can cause the body to remain in a near-constant state of anxiety.

In our ancient pasts, this physical response likely would have been crucial in staying alive. Before humankind began to domesticate plants and animals, they roamed around in nomadic tribes. These tribes of early people were threatened by predatory animals, the elements, and their lack of knowledge.

Those that survived unexpected attacks and crises likely did so due to a highly functioning stress response. This response still exists within us today, and it is often called the fight-or-flight response. When you encounter a stressor (something that causes stress), your body reacts in a very particular way.

Your brain may signal your adrenal glands to start releasing hormones, including adrenaline. This will cause your heart to race. You may also feel a surge of energy that makes you want to run, jump, or be active. This is partially the result of cortisol, a hormone responsible for blood sugar and blood pressure regulation.

During a period of stress, you may also experience:

  • Insomnia
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Chest Pain
  • Numbness
  • Increased Blood Pressure
  • Frequent Urination

These effects are designed to allow your body to suddenly face and overcome (fight) or flee (flight) from a threat. However, modern humans don’t often encounter hungry predators or falling boulders. Instead, our stressors come from societal norms and pressures.

These stressors can be a constant presence in your life, and the once-helpful stress response can become destructive. An abundance of cortisol can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease. It may be necessary to find healthy coping mechanisms to lower stress levels and avoid stress-related health conditions. Massage therapy is one such option.

Some forms of massage therapy utilize pressurized touch that can produce some mild discomfort. Swedish massage is far gentler than many other types of massage, promoting relaxation and a sensation of peace.

After a session, you may experience reduced cortisol levels. The resulting sensation is one of calm, happiness, and security. However, lower stress levels aren’t the only potential benefit of a Swedish massage.

Better Sleep

If you’re like approximately 33% of US adults, you’re not getting enough sleep each night. This could be causing you to feel sluggish during the day. Poor sleeping habits can also contribute to weight gain, confusion, and a lack of focus.

Unfortunately, becoming a healthy sleeper can be challenging, mainly if you’ve spent most of your life suffering from insomnia. That’s because each person requires a specific amount of regular sleep. When this amount isn’t reached, the body can begin to develop a sleep debt. Much like a bank account, this debt can build to ridiculous proportions.

But careful planning and consideration could help you get back on track and enjoy a healthier, better-rested body. Adding just one or two extra hours of sleep to your nightly routine could help you lower your sleep debt. However, many people struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

You could spend ten hours in bed but only enjoy two or three hours of restful slumber, which is both frustrating and potentially harmful to your health. Massage therapy, including Swedish massage, could help improve your sleep quality and help alleviate insomnia symptoms.

A Positive Outlook

Swedish massage may change the way you look at the world. In addition to alleviating stress and helping you enjoy quality sleep, this massage type could leave you feeling a little livelier. That’s because massage therapy is known to trigger the release of several “feel-good” chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin.

A lack of these chemicals is often associated with chronic depression. Consequently, Swedish massage may be a helpful alternative to powerful mood-altering medications, particularly when paired with counseling or regular therapy.

Reduced Muscle Soreness

The techniques used to perform a Swedish massage can help muscles experience a brief boost in circulation. Poor circulation is associated with many health issues and may negatively affect muscle recovery.

Encouraging improved circulation could help expedite muscle recovery, resulting in less soreness. When you’re exercising for the first time in a while or attempting to challenge yourself with more physically exhaustive exercise routines, it’s normal to experience some muscle soreness.

Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) typically goes away within 24 to 72 days, but that time frame could be shortened with massage therapy. While a Swedish massage may not be as intense as a sports massage or an Active Release Techniques (ART) session, it does pose many of the same benefits of such massage types.

So, though it may not be the first choice for individuals with sore muscles, it could be the most soothing one. Besides, because Swedish massage can lower stress levels, it may also help you avoid chronic tension headaches.

Fewer Headaches

One of the more notable side effects of reduced stress levels is fewer headaches. Stress-fueled headaches are prevalent, and some cannot be soothed with over-the-counter pain relievers.

Fortunately, massage therapy can produce a calming effect to lower stress levels and naturally prevent chronic tension headaches. This could help you to become more productive, as you’ll spend less time in bed attempting to sleep away a headache and more time confidently achieving your goals.

Potential Drawbacks

Fortunately, there are few potential drawbacks of a Swedish massage. The gentleness of this massage type lends it well to people of all body types of comfort levels.

Naturally, individuals with broken bones, fractures, or open wounds should not seek massage therapy until they’ve healed from their injuries. However, those with muscle sprains, arthritis, or other conditions could benefit from a Swedish massage’s soothing and healing effects.

In some cases, clients that have recently enjoyed a Swedish massage may feel some muscle soreness or discomfort. But this side effect is more often associated with deep tissue or Shiatsu massages.

Consequently, this massage type is considered one of the most accessible and comforting options. Somewhat surprisingly, aromatherapy massage may pose more negative side effects or unexpected drawbacks than Swedish massage. However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be equally helpful.

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy massage can incorporate many different types of massage techniques, but at least one thing remains constant throughout all aromatherapy massage sessions: The use of essential oils. These oils serve two primary purposes.

Firstly, their scent is used to trigger particular emotional and physical states. Some may induce feelings of tranquility, while others may help energize clients. Secondly, essential oils are often massaged into the skin to produce distinctly physical reactions. Peppermint oil, for example, can make the skin tingle and feel pleasantly cool.

History

Humans have been burning scented oils for thousands of years, but aromatherapy is often linked to Chinese medicine and practices. Still, the creation of this particular type of treatment can be attributed to a single person, namely a Frenchman named René-Maurice Gattefossé.

He was fascinated by essential oils and often experimented with them. This interest may have been spurred by an accident that left one of Gattefossé’s hands badly burned. After searing the skin on his hand, he rushed to relieve the pain and submerged the affected hand into a container of lavender oil.

The burn seemed to heal rapidly and leave minimal scarring, leaving Gattefossé to wonder at various essential oils’ potential power. He coined the term aromatherapy with a book published in 1937. The rest, as they say, is history.

Essential Oils

There are several different types of aromatherapy, but they all utilize essential oils. Aromatherapy massage often includes the topical application of essential oils, though they’re typically diluted in a skin-safe carrier oil.

The exact type of combination of oils used during an aromatherapy massage differs depending on the client’s desired results. For example, some oils (like citrus-derived essential oils) help promote improved energy and focus. Others, like lavender essential oil, are applied to promote inner calm and relaxation.

If you’re interested in receiving an aromatherapy massage, it may help familiarize yourself with the most commonly used types of essential oil and their potential benefits. Some of the most widely-used essential oils include:

  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea Tree
  • Lemon

Let’s take a brief look at a few of these oils to discover more about them.

Lavender

Lavender essential oil is used to help clients relax. It produces a pleasant, floral scent that may aid in anxiety relief. Consequently, lavender is often added to bath products or nighttime cosmetics to help consumers fall asleep more quickly and rest more effectively.

In terms of aromatherapy massage, the lavender essential oil may help reduce stress while promoting a prolonged state of relaxation and calm. Still, a massage that incorporates this particular oil may be the best option before work or a trip to the gym.

Peppermint

Peppermint is an extremely popular flavoring. Many of the highest-quality peppermint candies contain peppermint extract, as do many mint-flavored sweets, chocolates, and ice creams. But peppermint essential oil isn’t safe for consumption, even if it is a multipurpose solution.

When applied to the skin, peppermint oil can relieve itching, help cool burned skin, and even relieve headaches. Many people thoroughly enjoy the pungent, minty scent that this oil produces, and several types of household pests loathe the smell.

A therapist may decide to use peppermint oil as part of their aromatherapy massage to help reduce muscle soreness and impart a feeling of freshness and vitality. After a few drops of peppermint oil are gently massaged into your skin, you’re bound to feel awake and ready for almost anything.

Eucalyptus

The eucalyptus tree originates from Australia. As such, it is a relatively novel species for most Western gardeners. However, that doesn’t mean that pharmaceutical companies haven’t been growing and harvesting their own eucalyptus plants.

The oil derived from eucalyptus plants is menthol-like, lending it well for chest rubs and sinus decongestants. Aboriginal tribes have used eucalyptus oils and teas for centuries to help themselves recover from sinus issues.

Like peppermint essential oil, eucalyptus essential oil may also help ward off certain household pests, including mosquitoes. However, eucalyptus has a significant competitor in another Australian plant, the tea tree.

Tea Tree

When Western explorers and scientists first discovered the tea tree’s properties, the demand for tea tree oil began in earnest. This unique substance has powerful antifungal and antimicrobial effects and also produces a vibrant, menthol-like scent.

This substance is used to treat acne, dry skin, fungal infections, and lice. Before the advent of penicillin, it was one of the go-to chemicals for sterilization and antibacterial treatment. However, pure tea tree oil can irritate the skin.

Consequently, it’s crucial to combine tea tree oil with a skin-safe carrier oil before applying it to the skin. Jojoba oil and coconut oil are examples of some of the most popular and accessible options. A lemon essential oil should also be diluted before usage.

Lemon

The refreshing and invigorating scent of lemon essential oil can put you in the mood to clean, work, and exercise. It is known as one of the most energizing aromatherapeutic scents. It may also help to keep skin healthy and clear, promote positive feelings, and diminish symptoms of a sinus infection.

Like several other types of essential oil, lemon oil can be used as a mild antifungal. As such, many consumers and DIYers opt to mix small amounts of lemon essential oil with baking soda or vinegar to create a concentrated cleaning solution. Still, this oil is primarily used to help clients feel awake, alert, and ready to take on the world.

Potential Benefits

Aromatherapy may provide a host of benefits, including improved sleep quality, greater flexibility, and antimicrobial protection. However, aromatherapy massage may also result in:

  • Less Anxiety
  • Improved Memory
  • Reduced Insomnia
  • More Energy

While this means that aromatherapy massage shares some benefits with Swedish massage, it doesn’t mean that they’re precisely alike. After all, Swedish massage is a very structured type of therapy, while aromatherapy massage can involve many different techniques and styles.

But one thing worth noting is that they’re both well-known for the stress-reducing effects. Individuals hoping to simply relax and find peace could benefit from both forms of massage. However, aromatherapy offers a few added benefits not found in other massage types, including improved memory.

Less Anxiety

Our sense of smell is closely tied to both our emotions and our memory. Can you remember when you smelled something familiar and felt overcome by a particular feeling or recollection? It happens more than you may think, and it may have everything to do with the anatomy of the brain.

That said, you don’t have to be a neurosurgeon to take advantage of this interaction. By incorporating pleasant smells into your routines, you may be able to condition yourself to wake up feeling more rested, go to bed feeling less anxious, and generally become a more productive and healthy individual.

One of the vital aspects of aromatherapy massage is relaxation. Many clients who engage in this kind of massage do so because they suffer from feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression. When pleasant-smelling essential oils are combined with therapeutic massage techniques, a client can experience a heightened state of relaxation related to their brain chemistry.

Improved Memory

Certain smells can cause us to revisit past events and recollect long-forgotten memories. As we mentioned above, this has everything to do with the brain and its unlikely associations. But something interesting happens when specific scents are added to positive interactions.

Over time, individuals begin to associate feelings of happiness with the scent. When threatened by stressors, the associated scent’s introduction could help reduce feelings of anxiety and cause a reversal of the stress response. Additionally, repetitive usage of fragrances during certain activities, including studying, may help improve memory.

Dabbing a little perfume, cologne, or essential oil on your wrist before studying new material may not help you comprehend the material any better. However, the next time you dab on the same fragrance, you may begin to recall details of the things you studied with great clarity.

Consequently, therapists may incorporate repetitive scents during their sessions. They do this to help establish a comfortable pattern that keeps clients feeling secure and builds a psychological connection between their chosen scents and the client’s therapy.

Reduced Insomnia

Some essential oils may help to revitalize you, while others allow you to drift off to sleep. A lavender essential oil may be the most appropriate example of a scented oil used to reduce insomnia.

The soft flowery scent of this oil is exceptionally calming, and when it is safely applied to the skin, it may help muscles relax. Many nighttime bath oils and cosmetics contain lavender oils, and lavender tea is a relatively popular evening beverage.

If you’re comfortable with scheduling your massage sessions in the late afternoons or early evenings, you may benefit from opting for a soothing, insomnia-curing massage. However, if you’re trying to get yourself ready for work, you may want to opt for a citrus-based essential oil massage.

More Energy

Some smells just make you want to open your eyes and go for a walk. Lemon, grapefruit, and orange oils are typically used as part of energizing aromatherapy massage sessions. Their vitamin C content may also prove beneficial in keeping skin toned, bright, and healthy.

During a massage session, a therapist manipulates your body to improve localized circulation and encourage muscles to relax. Adding an energizing scent to the mix can make you feel awake and prepared, making this type of massage a great way to start the day.

Potential Drawbacks

The potential drawbacks of aromatherapy massage are minimal. Clients with sensitive skin or allergies to specific plants may experience mild adverse reactions after coming into contact with some essential oils.

Still, professional aromatherapists always consult with new clients about potential allergies before initiating a session. Additionally, massage therapists with expert knowledge or aromatherapy techniques always dilute their essential oils with carrier oils.

These skin-friendly oils minimize potential inflammation or irritation that results from contact with pure essential oils. Consequently, it’s crucial to choose your aromatherapist wisely.

Well-meaning friends or family members offering aromatherapy massages may not be knowledgeable enough to apply essential oils safely. This lack of info could prove dangerous. Choosing a reputable massage therapist begins with browsing client reviews, confirming accreditation, and consulting with a potential therapist.

Swedish Massage vs. Aromatherapy Massage: Which Is Better?

Swedish massage and aromatherapy massage are both relaxing forms of massage therapy. However, they both offer some unique benefits that could help you decide between them. Neither is genuinely better than the other, though they may be better suited to certain conditions and personalities.

Swedish massage could be the ideal option for those looking to experience a long, relaxing massage session. Because it is a well-established massage type, clients are also bound to know exactly what to expect before attending their first session.

Aromatherapy massage techniques vary widely. The primary thing connecting the many variations is the use of essential oils. Aromatherapy is a customizable form of massage therapy that offers mental and emotional benefits based on smell. This is in addition to the standard advantages of massage. But some essential oils may cause clients to experience a mild allergic reaction, which can be uncomfortable.

Consequently, you might choose Swedish massage if you’re willing to spend an hour being stroked, kneaded, and gently relaxed. But you might opt for aromatherapy if you’re interested in customizing your massage therapy and incorporating essential oils.

Conclusion

Swedish massage is a type of massage that incorporates five distinct massage techniques to alleviate muscle tension and promote improved relaxation. Due to this massage type’s patient and slow-moving nature, it is often considered one of the mildest massage therapy forms.

An aromatherapy massage is any type of massage therapy that utilizes essential oils for mental and physical well-being. It can incorporate techniques from a wide range of massage types and may be partially customizable, allowing clients to choose their preferred session type and length.

Neither is better than the other. They both offer unique advantages.

Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS

Compliment Your Body, LLC
1441 Broadway #6087
New York, NY. 10018
(646) 868-8956

Compliment Your Body has been providing corporate chair massage and in-home massage therapy to New York City and the surrounding boroughs since 2004. We are local to New York City and pride ourselves on our team of local therapists. All of our therapists are hand-picked and thoroughly vetted. We don’t hire over the phone, we meet our team on the field.

Compliment Your Body believes that care is a circle. We care for our team, our team cares for the participants, and we all care for the community!

For every single in-home or chair massage, Compliment donates three meals to a New Yorker in need through our relationship with Food Bank For New York City.

Commitment – Compassion – Connection – Charity

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Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS, owner and CEO of Compliment Your Body, LLC has over fifteen years of experience in the health and wellness field. During his career he has worked in a multitude of settings, including spas, chiropractic offices, and on the field at IronMan competitions. Richard was hired in 2005 with the United States Tennis Association as a Massage Therapist and provided therapy to the professional athletes at the US Open Tennis Championships from 2005 - 2010. Richard graduated in 2004 from The Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences. He is a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He also completed the Plant Based Nutrition course at the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a Level 2 Nutrition Coach with Precision Nutrition. Compliment Your Body has been providing corporate / event massage therapy, and in-home massage therapy to New York City and the surrounding boroughs for over fifteen years, and has been the corporate massage provider to the New York Times throughout this time. Commitment, compassion, connection and charity are the pillars of our business. Experience the CYBNYC difference!

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