Deep tissue vs Swedish massage: which is best?

Man getting a massage
(Image credit: Getty)

Deep tissue vs Swedish massage, which is better? It's time to find out.

There are lots of massage techniques out there, but deep tissue and Swedish massage are two of the most popular choices. Whether you’re an athlete recovering from an injury, or in need of a stress reliever from everyday life, massages can be a great way to treat the body’s mental and physical tensions.

But deciding which massage is the right fit for you can be tricky. Similar to any decision when it comes to our health, it’s best to be informed before jumping into a treatment. This will ensure that it aligns with your concerns and will help you to get the results you want from the treatment. 

If you aren't ready to be massaged by a therapist, you can have a look at our buying guide for the best massage guns

To get to the bottom of deep tissue vs Swedish massage, we spoke to Charlie Thompson, Co-Founder and Managing Director of The Massage Company.

Deep tissue vs Swedish massage: what’s the difference?

There are some key differences between deep tissue vs Swedish massage. According to Thompson, this includes what the massage is being used for (i.e the intent), the pressure applied and the main area of focus. 

“A deep tissue massage will work a far greater proportion of the muscle due to the pressure applied,” he says. 

The deeper pressure also means that a masseuse can release more tension from the muscles, enabling them to move more freely. A deep tissue massage is particularly useful for those who have overworked their muscles, whether through sport, heavy lifting or even inactivity. Inactive muscles can become cold and tense, so a deep tissue massage gets into the depth of the muscle, warming it up and making the whole area more fluid and movable.

Man getting a neck massage

(Image credit: Getty)

By applying deep pressure in a consistent way, using slow and deep strokes, the muscles are loosened up and the scar tissue that may have formed around them is broken up. The intended use, adds Thompson, is for those who enjoy firmer pressure and have particularly tense muscles that need quite a lot of work.

In comparison, he says, Swedish massage is a technique that has been around for a long time and is very much focused on the more relaxing elements. This is why you often see Swedish massages listed at spas.

A Swedish massage stimulates the nervous system and helps to relieve tension by the use of long strokes, similar to that of a kneading bread motion. It also uses deep pressure in circular movements to increase blood flow, although less intensely than a deep tissue massage.

For those looking to relax and unwind, a Swedish massage can work wonders. 

“There is a lot of gentle scalping work involved and attention to the neck,” explains Thompson. Swedish massages also work well for those feeling anxious and stressed.

Deep tissue massage

A deep tissue massage is a more specialized treatment focusing on the main muscle groups of the body. The massage techniques are designed to release and reduce musculoskeletal pain and tension, and are particularly effective in helping with general back, neck, shoulder and leg pain. Thompson adds that this kind of massage is excellent for reducing stress, raising energy levels and improving posture.

For those who are struggling with significant aches and pains, a deep tissue massage is usually the best option. Because of the deep pressure applied, the techniques that are involved in providing a deep tissue massage need to be much more accurate too.

“The skill set of a therapist is much more important with this kind of massage because they're placing greater strains and stresses on your body,” says Thompson. 

man receiving a deep tissue massage

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A 2021 clinical trial found that women who had just had a cesarean had significantly decreased levels of pain and increased levels of comfort following a deep tissue massage. So, the relief from pain in many circumstances is able to be aided by the use of deep tissue massage, not just the regular aches and pains that we get from daily strain.

In a deep tissue massage, your therapist is likely to ask where your problem areas are and, after starting to warm them up, will begin to work on them with the deeper, kneading techniques.

A deep tissue massage is great for those who have sports injuries, but also for those with high blood pressure, sciatica, fibromyalgia and tennis elbow. 

Swedish massage

There are many different forms of Swedish massage, says Thompson, so the name covers a broad area. “It's almost the basic entry point for massage therapy,” he adds.

People will often get a Swedish massage because they're stressed or need some relaxation time. During a Swedish massage, your masseuse will use kneading techniques, circular movements and passive joint movements to help relax you and increase blood flow.

A 2017 review of Swedish massage and its benefits showed that in most cases, the use of Swedish massage was beneficial, including helping to improve nasal breathing in children and reducing lower-back pain for nurses. These findings suggest that there are benefits for Swedish massage outside of helping to aid stress and promote relaxation, although they can vary from case to case.

Usually, a Swedish massage involves the whole body. You tend to begin on your back or front, and turn over halfway through.Although this kind of massage can help with sore muscles, a Swedish massage is mainly used to aid relaxation or to reduce stress.

Deep tissue vs Swedish massage: Verdict

Both deep tissue and Swedish massage use similar techniques, but what sets them apart is the deeper, more intense pressure of a deep tissue massage, and the focus on particular areas of tension.

If you're looking for a massage that will help with tension and stress, a Swedish massage may be the right option for you. If you feel a deeper level of muscular discomfort or are recovering from an injury, then a deep tissue massage may be better suited.

As with all massages, you should speak to a doctor first if you are experiencing problems that give you cause for concern, and communicate any health problems with your massage therapist before treatment. It’s likely that they will be trained in several areas of massage, and can help you to choose the best treatment for you.

Mollie Davies
Freelance Writer

Mollie is a lifestyle journalist who regularly contributes to publications including Insider, Cosmopolitan, The Metro, Healthline, HelloGiggles, Reviewed, HuffPost, Independent, and Fabulous, amongst others. Particularly, Mollie covers health and beauty. Basset Hounds are Mollie's favourite things on the earth - she has her own named Olive. Mollie loves anything with too much sugar in, the colour yellow, pop culture, and musical theatre.