Swedish Massage Techniques

Swedish massage therapy is the modality that comes to mind when most people think about massage. As the best-known type of bodywork performed today, one of the primary goals of swedish massage techniques are to relax the entire body. This is accomplished by rubbing the muscles with long gliding strokes in the direction of blood returning to the heart. But Swedish massage therapy goes beyond relaxation. Swedish massage is exceptionally beneficial for increasing the level of oxygen in the blood, decreasing muscle toxins, improving circulation and flexibility while easing tension. Swedish massage consists of five basic stroke techniques; effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction and vibration. Effleurage is the most basic massage movement and is often used as a linking movement by which the therapist maintains contact with the client while smoothly transferring from one movement or area of the body to the next. Effleurage is suitable for use on any area of the body that would normally be massaged. An effleurage movement is a relatively slow and smoothly continuous stroke using the flat of the hand. The fingers are generally held together and moulded to the contour of the client’s body in a relaxed way. Although the fingers preceed the palm of the hand as it is moved along the body, and they do apply some pressure, most of the pressure during this movement is applied by the palm of the hand. Even pressure is applied during effleurage. The amount of pressure may differ between the outward and return strokes – generally with more pressure applied in the direction towards the heart, then slightly less in the return movement back to repeat the sequence. The speed of the motion should remain steady throughout the whole sequence. An effleurage movement is usually repeated several times over the same area on the body, and prepares the body for more specific techniques like petrissage. Petrissage actually refers to a category of massage movements, that includes: kneading, wringing, lifting and rolling (skin rolling and muscle rolling). Petrissage is applied slowly and rhythmically and can be performed using either one or both hands. The benefits of petrissage movements can include: stimulating the skin, improving muscle tone, improving the elimination of waste products from tissues, and the breakdown of adipose tissue. Tapotement – The words tapotement and percussion actually refer to a category of massage movements, which include: cupping, hacking, plucking, pounding, pummeling and tapping. Tapotement movements may be applied to the fleshy parts of the body, but are not appropriate on all areas of the body or in all circumstances. A tapotement movement usually takes the form of rapid movements from the wrists in which the body is struck with soft blows from each hand alternately. The differences between the percussion techniques depends on the part of the therapist’s hand or hands used to strike the client and the action used. Tapotement movements are generally performed for relatively short but even sequences / durations over specific areas of the body. They may then be followed by a different tapotement technique or other massage manipulation. These movements should not be too hard or aggressive or continued for too long in one area because to do so may not be comfortable for the client and may over-stimulate the skin, muscles or nerves in that area. The benefits of tapotement movements can include stimulating the skin and/or relaxing muscle reflexes. Frictions are techniques focussed on a precise area; usually scar tissue in a ligament or muscle tendon. They are performed with only one or two fingers, either the thumb, index or middle finger, or the index and middle together. The tips of the fingers are moved across the structure such that there is no movement or drag between the therapists fingers and the skin but rather movement between the skin and the underlying tissue being treated. The two types of frictions are transverse and circular frictions. Transverse frictions move across the grain of the tissue being worked; circular frictions, as the name suggests, are applied in a circular pattern. The depth of the pressure may be increased gradually over a short series of 3-4 passes before pressure is released and the movement repeated. Frictions should not be continued for an excessive amount of time. Vibrations are a massage technique in which tissues of the body are pressed and released in an “up and down” movement. This often takes the form of a fine trembling movement applied using the palmar surfaces or just some of the fingertips of either or both hands. It is a stimulatory technique used for awakening the tissues. While effleurage and petrissage techniques are always present in most massages, the other techniques are up to the discretion of the therapist and what is needed for the client in order to achieve their treatment goals. These are some of the first tools I ever learned for massage and I always use some swedish techniques when treating for relaxation.
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