Massage Jargon Decoded: How to Order What You Want

From the lobby of a fancy spa everything on the massage menu sounds divine. Big, exotic words fill your mind with daydreams of being rubbed-down on white sand beaches by ethereal massage therapists who just know exactly what pressure you like, and who understand your boundaries.

In reality, not knowing the terminology of the massage trade can leave you nonplussed by an unsatisfactory experience. It can also leave a practitioner confused and disappointed that he or she couldn’t serve you better.

By knowing just a few key terms, you can learn to order exactly what you want so that your next massage will be peaceful and uncomplicated. Here are key terms to help you understand what you’re ordering, and know what to expect from your next massage.



An abundance of heated herbal massage oils are used in this style of massage from India. Often performed with two massage therapists, the technique involves simple rubbing.


Touch therapies that often include muscle manipulation and movement are defined as bodywork. Expect to be physically exerted by someone in close quarters with you.


Bolsters are like positioning pads, and are often used with a massage table to correctly place the massage recipient.


This technique uses a quick, rolling movement over muscles and ligaments. Bowen supposedly relieves pressure and tension in the tissue.


Breathwork is believed to promote spirituality and emotional growth. Particular focus to breathing patterns as they effect healing and rejuvenation are used.


Breema is a style of massage where the recipient is on the ground, fully clothed, and manually stretched by the therapist. This is not a peaceful experience, but it can help a sore back.


Ischemia means under-nourished tissues are not getting enough blood supply for nourishment. This is not a type of massage, but rather, an issue that can be resolved with regular massages.


Circular motions are applied to the lymph nodes, which release and flush toxins. This can be useful to those suffering from chronic allergies.


Bonds between muscles and fascia are released with compression, eliminating pain and helping to increase the recipient’s ranger of motion.


Overworked muscles shorten, creating excessive pulling on the vertebrae, causing it to misalign and pinch nerves. This can lead to chronic pain, discomfort, distorted posture, and weakness.


Reflexology is manipulation of reflex areas. It relieves congestion, pain, and tension. Reflexology often promotes self-healing and is sometimes called ‘zone therapy.’


Range of motion is the recipient’s greatest range of mobility for a given segment of muscles. Often, a person’s range of motion is greatly decreased by injury, and can be increased gradually by stretching through massage.


Somatic massage is a holistic approach to massage therapy, opposed to environmental or troubleshooting. For those who intend to continue getting massages frequently, this approach is recommended.


Triggers are intensely sensitive areas of the body, which have either sprains, strains, spasms, or other issues that need relief.


Hydrotherapy is a style of massage that uses pressurized water and special shower nozzles to stimulate muscle healing. This style of massage requires a special massage table, which has drains for the water.



Getting a massage should relieve anxiety, rather than causing you stress during the menu selection at the spa. Armed with the terminology of the massage trade, you can order exactly what you need and then relax and enjoy the experience.