Swedish massage and deep tissue massage are two popular forms of massage. Differences include technique, uses, and benefits.

Swedish massage uses long strokes and light-to-firm pressure to provide gentle relaxation. Deep tissue massage is a more forceful technique that releases tension deep in the muscles and connective tissues.

As Swedish massage is the basis for many deep tissue techniques, the two therapies share many similarities. There are also some key differences that may help a person decide which method will be best for them.

Read on to find out about the different massage therapies and their intended uses. We also provide tips on how to prepare for a massage session.

Swedish massage forms the basis of deep tissue massage. However, there are some distinct differences between the two massage therapies. These include:


a woman receiving either a swedish massage or deep tissueShare on Pinterest
Swedish massage and deep tissue massage have distinct differences.

Swedish massage uses a series of light, long strokes to ease surface tension and stimulate circulation in the muscles.

Deep tissue massage may include strokes similar to those of Swedish massage, but the therapist will apply the strokes more forcefully.

This intensity helps release tension in the deeper layers of muscle and in the connective tissues, or fascia, beneath the muscles.


The massage types also vary in the degree of pressure that the therapist applies.

Swedish massage involves long strokes using light-to-firm pressure. This style generally provides a more relaxing experience, but the pressure may not be enough for some people.

In contrast, deep tissue massage applies much more pressure to release tension deep within the muscles and fascia. It may be too strong for people who simply want a relaxing massage.

Intended use

The massage types also vary in their intended uses.

Swedish massage is a popular massage for relaxation. The light-to-moderate pressure is good for relieving light muscle tension and stress. It can leave a person feeling rejuvenated.

Deep tissue massage is mainly for working out deep muscle tension or aiding recovery from a muscle strain. To achieve this, the therapist must apply greater pressure, and this can cause some discomfort. As a result, deep tissue massage is typically not for relaxation or stress relief.

Swedish massage involves long, gliding strokes in combination with kneading and friction to release surface tension.

Swedish massage uses five basic strokes, which form the basis of many other types of massage therapy. The five basic strokes are:

  • Effleurage: This massage movement involves long, gentle, rhythmic strokes across the skin. Besides being deeply relaxing, these strokes allow the massage therapist to feel the general muscle tone and identify any problem areas that need work.
  • Friction: Friction strokes are short, fast strokes that create heat as the hands or fingers rub against the body. This heat promotes circulation in the area and eases tension.
  • Petrissage: Petrissage uses a squeezing technique and lifts the muscle to help release tension.
  • Vibration: Vibration is a stroke that involves rapid, superficial movements of the fingertips or palms. If the therapist performs it correctly, it can feel very relaxing for the entire body.
  • Tapotement: Tapotement is a series of strikes to the body that helps relax a tense muscle. Many people are familiar with the “karate chop” massage technique, which is one form of tapotement.

Who is it best for?

Swedish massage is a lighter form of massage. It may be best for people who simply require stress relief.

Stress can exacerbate the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A 2016 study investigated whether Swedish massage could reduce symptoms of GAD in people who were not receiving treatment for the disorder.

Over 6 weeks, some participants received Swedish massage twice a week, while a control group received light touch only. In comparison with the control group, the participants who received the Swedish massage had significant reductions in their anxiety scores. The researchers concluded that Swedish massage might be an effective treatment for GAD.

Swedish massage may also be beneficial for people with circulatory issues. A 2013 study found that a 4 week course of weekly Swedish massage sessions reduced heart rate and blood pressure in women with hypertension.

During deep tissue massage, the therapist applies slow, forceful strokes. These help release knots and strains in the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue.

The overall aim is to realign the muscles and release chronic muscle tension from ailments or injuries.

Deep tissue massage can be slightly uncomfortable at times, especially when the therapist is working on a knot in the muscle. However, deep tissue massage should not be painful. Forcing very tight muscles or knots may do more damage to the delicate areas.

Who is it best for?

Deep tissue massage is popular among people who are recovering from muscle injuries due to sports or an accident.

People who have structural abnormalities of the spine and muscles may also benefit from deep tissue massage. This form of massage can often help release chronic muscle tension and promote correct muscle function.

Before making an appointment, people should consider the type of massage that will best suit their needs. Many massage therapy practices will specialize in certain forms of therapy, such as sports injury recovery or pregnancy massage. Finding a suitable specialist increases the likelihood of a more effective and enjoyable massage.

Some people get more out of the massage session if they have managed to de-stress beforehand. A visit to a sauna or spa can be a good way to release tension.

It is also a good idea to shower before the appointment, both as a common courtesy to the massage therapist and to provide peace of mind to the person receiving the massage.

Before the session begins, a person should talk to the therapist about their preferred level of pressure during the massage. People can also mention any muscle tensions or sore spots on which they would like the therapist to work. It is also important to make the therapist aware of any injuries or sensitive areas to avoid.

Swedish massage and deep tissue massage are popular forms of massage therapy. Although some of their techniques are similar, they differ in the amount of pressure that they involve and in their intended purpose.

Swedish massage helps promote circulation and relax the surface muscles. Deep tissue massage works into the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue to remove knots or chronic tension.

To find a massage session beneficial, people must choose the technique that best suits their needs. An accredited massage therapist will be able to offer further advice and guidance.