If you’ve ever wondered how a shiatsu massage can help balance your client’s body energy flow and relieve tension, it all starts with understanding the techniques practitioners use.

Unlike other types of massages, shiatsu focuses on applying pressure to specific areas along Chinese acupuncture meridians or energy pathways in the body.

The primary goal is not just physical relief but also achieving harmony within one’s vital life force or “qi.” This approach stems from traditional Chinese medicine principles, which view health as a state of balanced energies within our bodies.

Following is your guide to Shiatsu massage; namely, how does it differ from traditional forms of massage, such as Swedish massage, and which one is right for you?

Shiatsu Massage Overview

Shiatsu, which means “finger pressure” in Japanese, traces its roots back to ancient Japanese healing practices.

Developed in the early 20th century, Shiatsu incorporates elements of traditional Japanese medicine, including the concept of meridians and energy flow in the body.

Shiatsu practitioners believe that applying pressure to specific points along these meridians can balance the body’s energy, known as qi or ki.

This ancient technique is very similar to meridian acupuncture, a Japanese disciple of the ancient Chinese practice.

Shiatsu Massage Techniques

Shiatsu massage is characterized by finger and palm pressure, stretching, and joint manipulation. The therapist employs various techniques to stimulate energy flow and promote relaxation, such as:

  • Kneading
  • Tapping
  • Stretching
  • Holding specific pressure points

Unlike traditional Swedish massage, Shiatsu is performed while the client is fully clothed and lying on a mat or futon on the floor.

The therapist’s hands, fingers, and sometimes even elbows are used to apply pressure to specific points on the body.

These pressure points correspond to the body’s energy pathways, and by manipulating them, the therapist aims to restore balance, alleviate tension, and promote overall well-being.

Therapeutic Benefits of Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu massage offers a range of therapeutic benefits.

  • Reduced stress
  • Improved circulation
  • Enhanced flexibility

Additionally, proponents of Shiatsu believe that it can help alleviate various physical and emotional ailments, including headaches, back pain, anxiety, and insomnia.

The holistic approach of Shiatsu, addressing both the physical and energetic aspects of the body, makes it a popular choice for those seeking a comprehensive and rejuvenating massage experience.

Are There Any Risks or Side Effects Associated with Shiatsu?

Shiatsu is generally considered safe when performed by a trained and experienced therapist. However, as with any therapeutic practice, there are potential risks and side effects to be aware of:

  • Soreness: Some individuals may experience mild soreness after a Shiatsu session, similar to the discomfort felt after a workout. This usually subsides within a day or two.
  • Bruising: Intense or improper pressure during Shiatsu could lead to bruising. It’s essential to communicate with your therapist about your comfort level and any discomfort experienced during the session.
  • Fatigue: In some cases, clients might feel fatigued after a Shiatsu session. This is a normal response as the body goes through a healing process.
  • Contraindications: Individuals with certain health conditions, such as infectious skin diseases, open wounds, or recent surgeries, should consult with a healthcare professional before undergoing Shiatsu. Pregnant individuals should inform their therapist to ensure proper modifications are made.

It’s crucial to communicate openly, disclosing any health concerns or conditions beforehand. This allows for a tailored and safe session that addresses your specific needs.

Now, one of the biggest questions we get is how a Shiatsu compares with a Swedish massage. Let’s dig in!

How Does Shiatsu Massage Differ from Swedish Massage

While both Shiatsu and Swedish massage aim to promote relaxation and well-being, they differ significantly in their origins, techniques, and underlying philosophies.

Origins and Philosophies

  • Shiatsu: Rooted in traditional Japanese medicine, Shiatsu focuses on balancing the body’s energy flow through pressure points along meridians.
  • Swedish Massage: Developed in Sweden by Per Henrik Ling, Swedish massage emphasizes the manipulation of soft tissues to improve circulation, release tension, and induce relaxation.


  • Shiatsu: Utilizes finger and palm pressure, stretching, and joint manipulation to stimulate energy flow and restore balance.
  • Swedish Massage: Incorporates a set of five strokes, including effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement, and vibration, to relax muscles, improve circulation, and promote overall well-being.

Clothing and Setting

  • Shiatsu: Typically performed with the client fully clothed, lying on a mat or futon on the floor.
  • Swedish Massage: Usually performed with the client undressed on a massage table, using oils or lotions for smooth gliding strokes.

Pressure and Intensity

  • Shiatsu: Involves firm pressure on specific points, with the intensity adjusted based on the client’s preferences.
  • Swedish Massage: Offers a range of pressure options, from light to firm, catering to the client’s comfort level.

Therapeutic Focus

  • Shiatsu: Aims to balance energy flow, alleviate tension, and address both physical and emotional ailments.
  • Swedish Massage: Primarily focuses on physical relaxation, muscle tension relief, and improvement of blood circulation.

Shiatsu Vs Swedish: Which Massage Is Best for My Client?

If a client is undecided between a Shiatsu or Swedish massage, consider the following factors to influence their decision.

Goals and Relief

Swedish massage is often used to invoke relaxation and reduce stress. More of a broad panacea for physical ailments, Swedish massages are usually recommended for people new to massage or who want to experience greater comfort.

On the other hand, if a client is seeking relief from an illness, fatigue, muscle tension, or a more specific issue, then a Shiatsu massage may be better suited.

Since Shiatsu massage can target specific muscles and manipulate blood circulation, Shiatsu may provide greater relief for those suffering from specific pains or illnesses.

Comfort Level

Shiatsu massage may not be as intense as a deep tissue massage, but it can still be uncomfortable for people not used to firm-pressure massages.

Furthermore, Shiatsu massage does not incorporate aromatherapy with essential oils or long strokes like Swedish massage; therefore, it may not be as pleasant of an experience as a Swedish massage.

Holistic vs. Physical Approach

Shiatsu provides a holistic approach if you are looking for a massage that addresses both physical and energetic aspects of well-being. Swedish massage is a well-established choice for those primarily seeking physical relaxation and muscle tension relief.

Both Shiatsu massage and Swedish massage provide several benefits for clients and can be employed to address specific ailments.

Mastering both techniques will allow you to expand your work opportunities as a massage therapist and improve your techniques.

FAQs: Shiatsu vs Swedish Massage

What is Shiatsu massage best for?

Shiatsu excels at balancing energy, relieving stress, and improving circulation. It’s ideal for clients dealing with chronic pain or tension.

What Types of Ailments Can Shiatsu Address?

Shiatsu is renowned for its holistic healing approach, providing physical relief and mental health benefits to clients. Shiatsu can address a variety of specific ailments, including stress, anxiety, muscle tension, insomnia, headaches, and more.

It’s important to note that while Shiatsu can complement conventional medical treatments, it is not a replacement for professional medical advice or treatment. Individuals with specific health concerns should consult with their healthcare providers before starting Shiatsu therapy.

Is Swedish Massage Suitable for Everyone?

Swedish massage is generally considered safe and suitable for a wide range of individuals. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind, including whether you are pregnant, have had recent surgery, or have a pre-existing medical condition.

Always communicate openly with your massage therapist about any health concerns, allergies, or personal preferences to ensure a safe and enjoyable Swedish massage experience. If you have specific health conditions, consulting with a healthcare professional before scheduling a massage is advisable.