Shiatsu vs. Swedish Massage: How Are They Different And Which Is Better?

Shiatsu vs. Swedish Massage: How Are They Different And Which Is Better?

In search of a way to effectively relieve stress and give their bodies a much needed pampering, people will often seek the services of a massage therapist.

It’s easy to understand why massage appeals to so many people.

Being able to just lie down on a massage table and feel the tension in your body slowly melt away is an amazing feeling.

To get the most of the massage session, it’s important to understand what type of work is about to be provided.

There are several types of massages that can be offered to customers. Among them are Shiatsu and Swedish (we've also covered Thai massage in a previous post).

This article will focus on both Shiatsu and Swedish massage.

Expect to learn more about them and how they differ from another.

By the end, it should be easier to determine if Shiatsu or Swedish massage is better for you depending on your personal preferences.

What is Shiatsu massage?

Before diving deep into the Shiatsu vs Swedish massage battle, it would be best to learn about the individual disciplines first.

Starting with Shiatsu massage, the name itself hints at what kind of work is performed.

The term Shiatsu translates to “finger pressure” and that’s the basis for this form of massage.

Massage therapists trained to use Shiatsu techniques help the Qi, or the body’s vital energy, flow better throughout the body by accessing the different Vital Points, per this post on University of Minnesota’s website.

The massage therapists will use their fingers to activate those Vital Points located throughout the body.

As Shiatsu massage has evolved, additional techniques have also been folded into it.

An interesting thing to note about Shiatsu massage sessions is that the people getting them aren’t asked to immediately lie down on the table.

Instead, the sessions usually begin with the massage therapist evaluating the client and seeing if Qi imbalances are present.

Once the massage therapist is done with the client assessment, he/she will then move on to creating a detailed plan for how to best apply the techniques used in Shiatsu massage.

Speaking of Shiatsu techniques, there’s quite a few of them that are often used over the course of a single session.

This video from Howcast demonstrates some of the basic techniques used in Shiatsu massage.

As seen in the video, there are techniques that involve rocking the body gently back and forth as well as ones that focus more on the application of pressure.

Even stretching is now being used in Shiatsu massages.

What is Swedish massage?

According to Massage Envy, one of the main goals of Swedish massage is to help the body relax completely.

In pursuit of that goal, the massage therapists who specialize in performing Swedish massage will often use long, gliding strokes on the muscles.

The long strokes usually involved in Swedish massage are not just done randomly though.

More often than not, the strokes are directed toward the heart.

The strokes are performed that way because improving circulation is yet another point emphasis for Swedish massage.

By guiding the blood back to the heart, the aforementioned muscle can effectively improve circulation by pumping more blood.

Aside from the long, sweeping strokes, Swedish massage also features kneading techniques.

The kneading technique can be seen in this video from expertvillage and as one can see, it really does resemble how a baker would work with a ball of dough, although the motions are gentler.

Swedish massage sessions may also involve a technique that’s known as friction.

Friction is basically just rubbing and spreading the muscle out using the palms or even the forearms.

Percussion is also often performed during Swedish massage sessions.

To perform the percussion technique, the massage therapist will cup his/her hands and then proceed to tap them rhythmically along the body.

Lastly, the technique known as vibration is also used in Swedish massage and it involves the heel of the palm being deployed to cause vibrations throughout the muscles.

The vibrations are typically followed by rubbing motions applied to the muscles.

Shiatsu vs Swedish massage: How are they different?

It’s now time to focus more on how Shiatsu and Swedish massage differ from one another and the best place to start is with the techniques involved in each discipline.

While both massage types are meant to promote relaxation and provide other helpful benefits, the way they go about doing so can differ significantly.

As detailed above, Swedish massage is predicated more on using the hands in a variety of ways.

This may involve rubbing, tapping, or even just shaking up the muscles using the hands.

The bottom line though is that a Swedish massage session can be completed by a therapist using only his/her hands.

In Shiatsu massage, the therapist will likely use more parts of his/her body to perform the different techniques.

While the hands and fingers are still very much involved in the massage, practitioners of Shiatsu massage can also make good use of their elbows and knees.

They can also rely more on their body to create the pressure needed for performing specific Shiatsu massage techniques.

Shiatsu massage therapists will also make more use of the client’s joints to create the desired, relaxing results.

To be clear, there are still similarities that exist among the two disciplines.

For instance, pressure points are still important in Swedish massage and they are often emphasized during a session.

Still, Shiatsu massage arguably features a more varied approach to pursuing relaxation.

It’s worth experiencing for people who have experienced mostly conventional forms of massage.

Shiatsu or Swedish massage: Where to get them and what to wear

Shiatsu and Swedish massage vary not just in terms of which techniques they feature.

The two disciplines are also different in terms of how accessible they are to customers.

An important thing to note here is that the dress code differs for Shiatsu and Swedish.

According to LiveStrong, Swedish massage sessions typically feature the usage of different oils and lotions.

Because of that, the massage cannot be performed properly if the client is clothed.

Some people are not comfortable with taking off their clothes even for massage sessions.

For that reason, Swedish massage may not suit them perfectly.

On the other hand, Shiatsu massage is more accommodating to people who are not completely comfortable with taking their clothes off.

As long as the articles of clothing worn by the customer are somewhat loose, many Shiatsu massage techniques can still be used.

The two aforementioned types of massage also differ from each other in terms of how easy it is to secure a session.

Swedish massage is among the most popular types of massage available right now.

It should be easy for people to find someone who can perform a Swedish massage at most nearby spas.

In contrast, practitioners of Shiatsu massage are harder to find.

People will probably have to look up spas that offer Shiatsu massage online.

Determining which type of massage is better will still depend on individual preferences.

In many instances though, a choice will not even have to be made because only one type of massage is being offered.

Shiatsu vs Swedish massage: Which one is better?

The people who go in for massages usually do so because some parts of their body are feeling a bit stiff and they would like that problem to go away.

Both Shiatsu and Swedish massage can certainly work to ease stiffness, but that is just one among the many benefits they can provide.

With Swedish massage, recipients of it can enjoy improved circulation.

Remember that many of the techniques employed in Swedish massage are designed to direct blood flow back to the heart so that it can then be pumped faster throughout the body.

After going through an extended Swedish massage session, clients should be able to start feeling that improved circulation.

Thanks in large part to the improved blood flow, the client’s blood pressure may also drop with continued Swedish massage sessions.

This type of massage is also great for addressing joint pain.

Speaking of joint pain, Shiatsu massage can address issues related to that as well.

It can do more than though.

Shiatsu massage is great for easing the tension that may be lying dormant in the muscles.

With stretching and pressure often featured in Shiatsu massages, it’s easy to understand how they can work to release tension.

Many people on the receiving end of a Shiatsu massage also talk about feeling more energized.

Since this type of massage emphasizes Vital Points and improved Qi flow, it’s not that surprising to learn that it can help with boosting energy levels.

There’s a lot of overlap between the benefits offered by Shiatsu and Swedish massage, but there are also dissimilarities that can make targeting one a good idea.

We prefer Shiatsu over Swedish but it depends on your situation

The reality is that there is no definitive better choice between Shiatsu and Swedish massage.

Preferences will always vary from one individual to the next.

Some may appreciate the more straightforward techniques utilized in Swedish massage, while others may be more fond of the different approaches used in Shiatsu massage.

It’s well worth a person’s time to check out both forms of exercise to see which one aligns better with his/her preferences.


Love Shiatsu?
Get the Shiatsu massage content that we don't post publicly.

Deep Shiatsu
Author: Deep Shiatsu
Preserve your ki, and restore your health and balance with an ancient Japanese artform.
Join our community and learn more.