Seven Massage Modalities That Will Set Your Spa Apart

Differentiate your service offerings with these seven unique massage techniques.


Massage-modalities-spa[Image: Getty Images]

Hot stone or deep tissue massages may be big draws in the wellness business, but if you limit your bodywork offerings to the traditional, you not only risk falling behind the times—you’re already there. Today’s spa-goers are eager to experience therapies that offer more targeted results, from pain relief to antiaging. “Years ago, we looked at massage as just a way to relax. Now spas need to be able to customize them for each client based on lifestyle and need,” says Tracy Whynot, owner of Place360 Health + Spa in Del Mar, California. “Our guests are savvy travelers, entrepreneurs, athletes, busy executives and moms, and the constant struggle of balancing work and life has created a myriad of health concerns. They’re looking to feel a difference after a single session.” Get ready to step into the new age with these top techniques that will add a tantalizing twist to your massage menu.


1. Myofascial Release

Myofascial release therapy is a gentle technique that targets pain arising from the fascia, which are fibrous connective tissues that weave throughout the body, attaching, separating and supporting muscles, bones, ligaments and internal organs. When the fascia is healthy, it’s supple, allowing smooth, pain-free movement. When it’s unhealthy, the fibers become tight, limiting mobility and causing stiffness and pain.

How it works: After looking for signs of stiffness, the therapist helps loosen or “unravel” the fascia by applying light, sustained pressure. “Unlike deep tissue massages that use brute force, myofascial release helps the system relax naturally,” says Connie Bryner, LMT, owner of Devine Rejuvenations Spa in Glasgow, Delaware. She explains that because the fascia system is so expansive, therapeutic pressure on one part of the body can help relieve tension elsewhere without even touching the affected area directly.

Popularity points: Devine Rejuvenations offers the technique as both an enhancement and stand-alone service (75 min./$110), and Bryner notes that pain relief can be pronounced and swift. “I’ve had grown men come in with an eight or nine on the pain scale, practically with tears in their eyes, and walk out with a two or three,” she says.


2. Craniosacral Therapy
Craniosacral therapy (CST) might be a hot new menu item in day spas, but it’s been practiced in chiropractic/osteopathic offices since the 1970s. Developed by osteopathic physician John E. Upledger, MD, it’s primarily used to relieve pain and improve central nervous system function.

How it works: Therapists gently manipulate the cranium and the sacrum to free restrictions and improve the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the dural tube, which surrounds the brain and encases the spinal cord. “CST is a way to noninvasively affect the deepest part of the body,” explains Elizabeth Scott, LMT, massage therapist at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas. “It provides an opportunity for the body to heal itself.” A trendy option at Lake Austin is the Aquatic CranioSacral treatment (50 min./$195), designed to enhance results with the healing benefits of being in the water.

Popularity points: CST can help ease chronic neck and back pain, stress, migraines and more. “I’ve worked with many executives and others who tried weekly deep tissue and therapeutic massages, but none of them ever experienced the deep and lasting relief and relaxation that they did from our CST sessions,” notes Heather Hemmer, LMT, massage therapist at Place360.

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3. Reiki

This Japanese stress reduction and healing technique is intended to improve the flow of a person’s life force energy, or qi. Proponents believe that low or stagnant qi creates sickness and stress, while a strong life force brings health and happiness.

How it works: Reiki aims to transfer energy from the practitioner to the client. The guest can remain fully clothed as the therapist lightly touches or simply hovers their hands over areas where energy is needed most—often the head, torso and back. “Most Reiki clients have a feeling of imbalance and low energy. They’re looking for a service that will help address that and improve their overall well-being,” reports Bill Engvall, assistant spa director of G2O Spa + Salon in Boston. It usually takes two to three sessions to make an impact. Reiki at G2O is available as a stand-alone service, and as an add-on to facials or massages (30 min./$65; 60 min./$105).

Popularity points: Reiki is especially sought-after by people “going through a crisis like cancer or the loss of a loved one,” notes Engvall. “It’s an excellent and needed component for any place that offers alternative healing.” Some guests visit G2O specifically for Reiki treatments, but often the therapist suggests it during a regular massage when they sense the guest could benefit from energy work.


4. Natural Facelift Massage

No need to go under the knife—in fact, some people find natural facelift massage to be as good, if not better. Initially developed by massage therapists Kundan and Narendra Mehta, the technique is based on Ayurvedic practices and involves no products of any kind.

How it works: Multiple modalities are employed, including myofascial release, acupressure and lymphatic drainage using circular, sweeping and lifting motions to relax facial muscles. “As we age, the skin sinks into the bone, making us look older,” explains Lisa Zimmer, LMT, owner of NY Natural Facelift Massage in New York City. “This massage works to free and retrain connective tissue. Afterward, guests look more youthful and feel refreshed. People ask my clients if they’re in love!”

Popularity points: Some guests see a difference immediately, while others notice changes after several sessions. “It depends on their age and needs,” notes Zimmer, whose sole offering is the Mehta Natural Facelift Massage (50 min./$145). It usually takes around six sessions for the muscles to remember the work and create lasting change, she adds.

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5. Chair Massage

Also known as a seated massage, chair massage isn’t exactly a new therapy, but it’s an increasingly popular modality with a growing number of day spas offering it in house and at off-site locations, including offices and events like music festivals and conventions.

How it works: Guests sit fully clothed in a specially designed, forward-leaning massage chair that supports the face, upper body and legs, and the therapist targets their neck, back, shoulders and arms—or whichever spots are holding the most tension. “It’s a good opportunity for people to do a lot of short treatments,” says Tami Berthiaume, LMT, massage therapist at renew.calm in West Springfield, Massachusetts. “Some clients come in for just 10 to 20 minutes to focus on their neck and upper back. It’s a great tool to hammer out those trouble areas.”

At renew.calm, chair massage is advertised as a stand-alone service, but therapists and technicians also promote it as an add-on to other beauty treatments like manicures ($1 per minute). “We keep the chair in an area that’s visible, which increases requests for it,” says Berthiaume.

Popularity points: The massage can serve as a useful introduction for those who may be unsure about getting bodywork. “I’ve had some people start with a chair massage and later, once they were comfortable, transfer to a table massage,” says Berthiaume, adding that it’s also great for older guests who might have trouble climbing on and off the table.


6. Light Therapy

Long used to combat the effects of aging or improve skin conditions, infrared light therapy is becoming increasingly popular for pain relief. Simple and safe, it’s been found in clinical trials to be particularly effective for easing inflammation, muscle spasms and other musculoskeletal issues. It should come as no surprise, then, that implementing light therapy before a massage is beneficial for kickstarting pain relief.

How it works: During the treatment, the therapist places LED panels or other devices emitting infrared light on the affected area of the body. The wavelengths penetrate deeply, heating nerves, muscles and bone at a level that traditional massage therapy can’t, which helps further relax muscles and speed healing.

Popularity points: Pain relief tends to be almost immediate. “Clients notice the difference as soon as they get up,” says Bryner, adding that it also calms the mind. “They feel more vivacious and more themselves afterward.” At Devine Rejuvenations, clients can opt for the light therapy add-on (30 min./$40) during massages and antiaging facials; Bryner prefers to use it with body sculpting treatments in particular, as it helps ease any anxiety guests may have.

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7. Assisted Stretching

A fitness industry favorite, assisted stretching is a technique where instructors or therapists help guests improve their flexibility and range of motion.

How it works: Practitioners use a hands-on approach to guide clients, gently intensifying their stretches. “People new to exercising often have trouble finding the muscles they want to stretch,” says Lu Mueller-Kaul, owner of massage therapy clinic Balance Orlando in Florida. “Assistance helps them gain that awareness.” That said, it’s also popular with fitness buffs and athletes who want to take their flexibility to the next level, or better stretch areas that can’t be reached without some help.

Popularity points: Unlike exercise classes, assisted stretching gives clients more results-oriented, individualized attention. “In classes, instructors might walk around and lightly touch a body part to bring awareness to that area, but they don’t deepen or intensify the stretch,” says Mueller-Kaul. Balance Orlando provides a 45-minute introductory session for $45, along with additional nonmember options (30 min.-120 min./$55-$190). “Our therapists often use assisted stretching together with massage,” Mueller-Kaul says, noting that it’s simply incorporated into bodywork services as needed.

—Barbara Diggs

This story first appeared in the August issue of DAYSPA Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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