Swedish Massage: Some History
Swedish massage, sometimes also referred to as relaxation massage is the Western massage modality that most others stem from. By "Western" I mean that it is based on the western principles of anatomy and physiology of the body as opposed to other culture's means of approaching/understanding the body (we'll cover some of those approaches in another post). Swedish massage originated from the "Medical Gymnastics" program developed by Swedish physical therapist, Per Henrik Ling (check out Massage Today's article, The Life of Per Henrik Ling) . This program involved numerous passive manual therapy techniques along with a prescribed set of movements and was later simplified into 4 basic strokes and given French names that we still use today by the Dutch physician Johan Georg Mezger. The 5th classic Swedish massage technique of vibration was added later by other practitioners.
Swedish massage is the foundation of any massage therapy treatment. It is used initially to apply lubricant to the skin and to assess movement of the tissues being treated and has several other functions during and at the end of a massage treatment that we'll discuss as well when we cover the five basic Swedish massage techniques.
Swedish Massage: The Five Basic Techniques
Effleurage- this technique is used to introduce touch and for applying lubricant. These are long, sweeping strokes and is often used for assessing surface and underlying tissues. Depending on the speed and intention with which it is applied, it can either up-regulate (faster speeds) or down-regulate (slower) the nervous system. It is the stroke most commonly used to begin and end a massage because it is so proficient at moving lymph fluid and blood into and/or away from desired areas. Often effleurage on it's own, may be the only stroke needed to eliminate discomfort in a painful area.
Petrissage- this technique is employed by kneading, rolling, squeezing, compression and lifting of the skin and musculature. This is intended to help free up areas of tension and knots in the muscles and connective tissue, bring circulation to an area and stimulate nerve endings. These things (circulation, nerve stimulation) in turn assist with cell repair and regeneration (a cell that's not getting proper circulation and therefore nutrition is not a healthy cell!).
Tapotement- this technique involves the use of fast tapping, drumming, patting or hacking of the clients body with the therapist's hands, soft fists or finger tips. It has a stimulating effect on the nervous, circulatory and musculoskeletal systems. It is used to bring neurological awareness to a tissue and to increase tone of an over-stretched or weak muscle or group of muscles and to loosen tight muscles depending on the amount of time spent on a tissue. Tapotement has also been shown to break up mucus congestion when applied over the chest and back. This technique is used often in sports and medical massage applications. Check out a video of this technique from MassageASMR here.
Vibration- this technique is a shaking or rocking of a limb, a portion of the body or the body as a whole. It can be done slowly or very fast and is a great assessment tool to see where movement gets stuck in the body, and it is also excellent for assisting the client in "letting go" of a gripping or holding pattern and helps to facilitate a release of tension in the muscle or group of muscles being worked on.
Friction-this technique is characterized by small, back and forth motions with the fingers, elbows or thumbs in a specific area. It is used to generate heat in an area, to break up adhesions in the connective tissue and to mobilize scar tissue to pull evenly along the length/width of the scar. This is traditionally done without a lot of lubricant on the skin and should only be done after the tissue in an area has been properly warmed up with other strokes to prevent injury.
Some people may think that by asking for a Swedish massage or relaxation massage that what they are asking for is a certain amount of pressure (people usually think of it as a light pressure modality), but all of these techniques can be used with varying amounts of pressure from feather light to very deep. So be sure to clearly communicate with your massage therapist about the pressure that you prefer as well as asking for more information about a particular modality and if it may be appropriate for the issues you would like to address.
In scientific studies Swedish massage has been shown to potentially lower blood cortisol levels, regulate blood pressure and heart rate, improve sleep and increase serotonin levels (and those are just the highlights, y'all this stuff is great). This is important information to know and share with your massage therapist, so that if you are struggling with one of these issues, your licensed massage therapist will know how to best plan a massage therapy session that will address your health needs in an appropriate manner.
So, now that you know exactly what asking for a Swedish massage means, you can give your massage therapist a better idea of what you're wanting and expecting from your next massage appointment. Happy relaxing, sleeping, breathing, and all those other things that Swedish massage helps you do to so well!
Your partner in wellness,
Remedy Massage owner and therapist,
Lyndsey Anderson NC LMBT#9382
Remedy Massage is a privately-owned, therapeutic massage therapy practice in Raleigh, NC. Contact us by phone at 919-263-0932 by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or book online through Massagebook to schedule your appointment. We look forward to meeting and working with you!
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