Massage Therapy: Basic Techniques of Swedish Massage


A Swedish gymnast, Per Henrik Ling, originally developed Swedish massage in the late 19th century. He developed a method of massage and gymnastics known as Swedish Movement Treatment or Swedish massage. This was the first systematic application of therapeutic massage in the West. It was based on European folk massage, oriental techniques from the Middle East and the then emerging knowledge of modern anatomy and physiology.

The strokes and manipulations of Swedish massage are each conceived as having a specific therapeutic benefit. One of the primary goals of Swedish massage is to speed the venous return of de-oxygenated and toxic blood from the extremities.

Swedish massage shortens recovery time from muscular strain by flushing the tissues of lactic acid, uric acid, and other metabolic wastes. It increases circulation without increasing heart load. It stretches the ligaments and tendons keeping them supple and young. Swedish Massage also stimulates the skin and nervous system and soothes the nerves themselves at the same time. It reduces stress, both emotional and physical, and is suggested in a regular program for stress management. It also has many specific clinical uses in medical or remedial therapy.

Basic Techniques of Swedish Massage

Traditional Swedish Massage uses five main strokes, and many variations, to achieve its relaxing and healing effects. Many therapists use a variety of techniques.

• Effleurage consists of long, gliding strokes from the neck down to the base of the spine or from the shoulder down to the fingertips. When done on the limbs, all strokes are toward the heart to aid blood and lymphatic flow. It is done with the whole hand or the thumb pads.

Effleurage is designed to acquaint the therapist with his or her subject’s body and vice versa.

• Petrissage involves gently lifting muscles up and away from the bones, then rolling and squeezing them, again with a gentle pressure. It generally involves kneading and compression motions – rolling, squeezing, or pressing the muscles to enhance deeper circulation. Petrissage attempts to increase circulation with clearing out toxins from muscle and nerve tissue.

• Friction is the most penetrating of the strokes, and consists of deep circular or transverse movements made with the thumb pads or fingertips. The therapist applies deep, circular movement near joints and other bony areas (such as the sides of the spine).

Friction breaks down adhesions, which are knots that result when muscle fibres bind together during the healing process, thus contributing to more flexible muscles and joints.

• Tapotement consists of a series of briskly applied percussive movements, using the hands alternately to strike or tap the muscles for an invigorating effect. There are many variations on this stroke. It may be applied with the edge of the hand, with the tips of the fingers, or with a closed fist.

Tapotement attempts to release tension and cramping from muscles in spasm.

• Vibration or Shaking involves the therapist pressing his or her hands on the back or limbs, and rapidly shaking it for a few seconds. This boosts the circulation and increases the power of the muscles to contract. Vibration is particularly helpful to people suffering from low-back pain.

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