Swedish vs Shiatsu: Which Is Best

​Today there are a host of different massage styles to suit all people and needs. Whether you have some serious lower back pain, or just feel like the comfort of a nice relaxing massage, there is a massage style for you. With so many different styles, it can be hard to know which massage will give you the utmost benefit.  In this Swedish vs shiatsu comparison we look at two of the more popular styles to identify the differences and to help you decide which is best for you.

Swedish vs Shiatsu

A Swedish massage is the most classic form of massage type and is in fact only called a Swedish massage in certain countries. Originating in Sweden in the 1800s from the work of Per Henrik Ling at the University of Stockholm​, a Swedish massage aims to relax the whole body.

​During a Swedish massage, you will be lying down on a massage table. This keeps your spine in a neutral position, allowing your muscles to relax. With the use of a massage oil or lotion, the masseuse will use a combination of techniques depending on their style and of course your preference. 

There are five types of  strokes in a Swedish massage. These are long sliding strokes directed towards the heart, kneading, percussive tapping, friction and vibration. Each of these strokes has a different impact on your muscles with the overall goal of causing a release of tension and stress.

​Essentially a Swedish massage works by causing an increase in blood circulation. This heightens the oxygen and other nutrient levels in the blood, and assists with the removal of toxins. In doing so, muscle tension reduces and flexibility increases. 

Swedish massages have been scientifically shown to reduce cortisol levels in the body.  They promote entire body relaxation, and can assist in pain relief and joint stiffness. 

swedish vs shiatsu

​Shiatsu massage derives from Japan and is becoming increasingly popular in the West. Meaning "finger pressure" in Japanese, a shiatsu massage uses the fingers and thumbs to apply pressure to key energy points on the body. It is believed that there are energy pathways on the body and by concentrating on key points, the flow of energy is promoted. 

Usually taking place on the floor or on a low table, a shiatsu massage does not use any massage oil and  generally does not require that you remove any clothing.​ As the massage therapist applies pressure to your energy points, you may feel some discomfort. Although you can think of this as good pain.

​With the benefits of stimulating blood circulation, relieving pain and promoting relaxation, shiatsu massages are used to treat a large range of ailments. According to the Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota, shiatsu can be used to treat headaches, digestive issues, muskuloskeletal pain, fatigue and more.

Final Word

Both Swedish and shiatsu massages help promote relaxation and general wellness. However they derive from different ideologies and use different principles. A Swedish massage is perhaps less intense (although it always depends on the massage therapist) than a shiatsu massage. Using a combination of strokes, the overall feel is more soothing than a shiatsu massage. By applying firm pressure to the energy points on the body, a shiatsu massage can cause some discomfort. Although this does give way to a residual feeling of relaxation and reduced stress. In comparing Swedish vs shiatsu massages, it can be said that if you are new to massage therapy, a Swedish massage might be a better place to start. If you have experience with massages and are looking for something new, a shiatsu massage might be right for you.