The A to Z of treatments

Everything you want to know about each treatment type to enable you to decide which is best for you

There are literally hundreds of different treatment types being offered by a multitude of spas from around the world. We've all been on the phone in our hotel room or at the spa desk when the receptionist has asked: "What treatment would you like today?" Where do you start? Our TIPS section provides a useful guide of what to look for and questions to ask when the ever keen receptionist or spa manager next hands you a form and ask what treatment to book for you.

» A word of warning: although most spa staff are professionally trained and operate ethically, some spas offer staff financial incentives to encourage clients to purchase certain branded spa products or to sell treatments which are most profitable.

Every decent spa worth it's salt has a 'signature treatment' these days. One has dates infused into the massage oils, another uses extracts from an exotic local plant, while another may use gold or even minerals or diamonds in it's primary treatment. Or you could be offered an 'eight hands' massage! In case you're wondering, that's four therapists working on you at the same time. Now, that's a treat...


To help you through the maze of the treatment world, we've developed a continually updated guide to world's best treatments from around the world, and where possible, include who does it, and given ratings based on our own or reader reviews:

Treatment types:

Ayurveda Ayurvedic Shirodhara Balinese Crystals
Deep Tissue Head massage Heat treatments (thermotherapy) Hot stone
Reiki Reflexology Rasuul Shiatsu
Swedish Thalassotherapy Thai Watsu
Wraps Zen Dry Wet

» Below is a summary of the treatment method for the most popular treatments types listed above. Click on the link next to each summary to go a more detailed page for more comprehensive information, spa lists and reviews. 

An ancient Indian holistic medical system involving diet, yoga, massage and herbal remedies based on five elements - earth, water, fire, air and space, stressing balance through your dosha.

Ayurvedic Shirodhara:
Includes the steady streaming of warm, fragrant oil onto the forehead (‘third eye’), followed by a scalp massage and depending on the treatment, another body massage. Acupressure: An ancient healing art using the fingers and other parts of the body to skillfully press key points, which stimulate the body's natural, self-curative abilities.


Related to Ayurveda it is an ancient technique which uses a combination of gentle stretches, acupressure and aromatherapy oils to stimulate the flow of blood, oxygen and 'qi' (energy) around the body, for deep relaxation.

Used knowledgably, crystals can restore balance on all levels – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Healing works with the seven energy centres in the body known as the chakras. These are located at major points along the spine and relate to different physical functions and emotional states.

Deep Tissue:
A blanket term that describes a number of different therapies typically used medically by chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists. Similar to Swedish massage, it uses slower and firmer strokes than other treatments and follows muscle and tendon fibres.

Head massage:
Often referred to as an Indian head massage, focusing on the head, neck and shoulders. The technique uses a variety of pressure that tap into the seven chakras, encouraging healing and balance throughout the body. Good for relieving tension, headaches, neck and back pain.

Heat treatments (thermotherapy):
Wet or dry heat improves blood circulation, clears out toxins, and relaxes and soothes the muscles. At a spa, heat treatments usually feature saunas, steam rooms or hot stones. The effect of heat is to cleanse, relax and relieve your body of aches and pains.

Hot stone massage:
Smooth, heated stones of varying sizes are placed on parts of the body – from the forehead to between the toes - creating a sensation of warmth and comfort. The heat from the stones is wholly therapeutic - helping detox the body and relaxing the nervous system. A deeply soothing form of massage.

A holistic treatment based on the idea of balance and 'qi'. A gentle form of healing, originally from Tibet, Reiki aims to renew and refresh your energy flow, encouraging healing and increasing your sense of well-being.

The physical act of applying pressure to the feet and hands which corresponds with all the organs, glands, tissues and muscles in your body. Pressure on your hands or feet can effect a physical change elsewhere in the body.

A traditional hands-on Japanese holistic treatment that combines massage, acupressure and stretching. Can help in a wide range of conditions from specific injuries to more general symptoms of poor health. Known as a healing massage, regular treatments assist the body's immune system and strengthen its ability to heal itself.

The ‘classic massage’ which represents the western standard for massage. Normal Swedish massage techniques are specifically designed to relax muscles by applying pressure to them and rubbing in the same direction as the flow of blood returning to the heart. Increases the oxygen flow in the blood releases toxins from the muscles.

Derived from the Greek word for sea. The combined effect of the sun, iodine and salt water together can be most beneficial for one's health and well being. This incorporates a wide variety of all natural treatments that share the same source; the ocean and the coastal environment.

A combination of acupressure, Shiatsu and yogic stretches, Thai massage stimulates the acupressure points across the body, healing pain and releasing tension. The belief system behind it is one of complete healing, aimed at connecting body, energy and mind.

Often described as Shiatsu in water, Watsu is a deeply relaxing combination of water-based exercise, flotation and massage. Watsu is gentle with assisted stretching, movement and massage that takes place in a pool of warm water (around 35șC).

Designed to provide therapeutic and cosmetic benefits by cleansing the body of toxins and reducing inches by firming the skin, and relaxing the muscles. Those who experience joint pain will benefit from the therapeutic effects. Seaweed wraps are especially good - the skin absorbs minerals that are essential for restoring its tone.

The art of letting go and of simply being at peace. Zen massage incorporates moments of stillness, long slow strokes and stretches to reconnect the body and mind. Instead of avoiding painful areas, a Zen therapist will focus attention on a body spot until the tension melts away using breathing, gentle pressure and hot stones. Good Zen therapists say the muscle has no choice but to relax!

» Go to our comprehensive treatment information


We cut through the fluff and helps maximise your relaxation time with our guide to the treatments which are best for your needs. Let your body do the talking…


Decide on the purpose of the spa treatment. Are you looking strictly for relaxation, or is there something specific that you want to accomplish with your spa treatment?


If you just want to relax and melt into the massage table, a luxurious treatment like a hot stone massage will give you the pure bliss that you're seeking. If you have sore muscles, a Swedish massage with some extra work in your problem areas might be more appropriate.


With your partner? Decide whether you want a singles or a couples experience. Many spas offer a variety of family / companion treatments for those who enjoy being pampered with their partner. If both prefer something traditional, book separate massages in a double suite.


If you're looking for something a little more private and adventurous, consider an Exotic Rasuul treatment. Rather than having a hands-on massage performed by a spa therapist, the Rasuul provides you and your partner with your own private steam and shower rooms. You're given a variety of muds and spa products to try, with complete privacy for a couple of hours. It can be as low key or romantic as you choose to make it.


Decide on your budget. If you're on a strict budget take advantage of seasonal specials, or select a shorter massage treatment. Spas are not as busy during mid-week and weekday mornings, so they will often offer off-peak specials and discounts on a variety of treatments and packages.


If a hands-on treatment is not for you, how about spending time in the wet areas enjoying saunas and steam rooms, heated-tile lounge chairs or the relaxation beds in a chillout room surrounded by the soothing sound of running water or a fountain.

Decide whether you want to try something new or play it safe. Many spas offer a wide variety of treatments, from traditional Swedish and aromatherapy massages to reflexology and body wraps.


Most people are familiar with massages and feel comfortable sticking with those. If you want to try something a little bit different but not too exotic, see our guide to a whole range of treatments.


If you want to stray even farther from the usual, how about trying an ocean or seaweed wrap? Similar to a mud wrap, your body is encased in a warm seaweed mixture, and whilst wrapped up, you can relax basking in the soothing heat. After showering off the wrap, many spas offer a therapeutic body massage to compliment the experience.


Still not sure where to start? Research spa offerings online and explore the treatment listings offered before deciding what to book. If you are traveling on holiday, try to decide on your choices in advance, so you have something to look forward to. Once you arrive at a new resort, it’s always a good idea to go on a spa tour.


Ask the head therapist to take you on a tour of the treatment rooms, wet zones and relaxation areas. If you need help, ask a knowledgeable and trained member of staff or therapist to explain the various options, and if need be, even get a demonstration on how some of the treatments work.


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