Swedish massage is the most widely practiced massage therapy in U.S. day spas today and serves as the foundation for other massages such as deep tissue, sports massage and pregnancy massage. It was reportedly pioneered in 1812 by the Swedish physiologist Peter Henry Ling and was introduced to the U.S. in 1858 as ‘the Swedish movement system’. The system included four basic strokes (effleurage, petrissage, tapotement and friction) with the addition of vibration as the fifth stroke made years later. Strokes are performed directly on the client’s skin using massage oil, lotion or cream. The client lies nude underneath a sheet or towel and the therapist only uncovers the area he or she is working on at the time.
While Swedish massage is viewed as a luxury by many Americans today, its intended purpose was and is to be therapeutic. It increases oxygen, blood and lymphatic flow to the body’s tissues without increasing the body’s heart load and it prevents and manages stress which is the number one cause of death and disease in the U.S. today. It also flushes the body of toxins and it feels great! Becoming familiar with the five basic strokes of Swedish massage can increase your awareness and appreciation of your therapist’s massage technique while giving you the basics to deliver your own massage at home to a loved one.
The 5 basic strokes
- Effleurage is the most superficial stroke in Swedish massage. It is a long gliding stroke and is most commonly used as the opening stroke in massage to apply the lubricant and assess the body’s tissue while warming the muscles and skin. It deeply soothes and relaxes the mind and body by stimulating the nervous system, connects you to the receiver and is also used to close the massage. It can be applied to all areas of the body with open palms, soft fists or forearms using varied pressure and speed.
- Petrissage is distinguished by kneading, squeezing, lifting, rolling and compression of the skin and musculature. The actions of this stroke release muscle tension and stretch the tendons providing major relief from New York pain and stress. This stroke usually follows effleurage in a basic massage sequence to further increase blood flow and warm the muscles in preparation for deeper work if necessary.
- Friction is typically used in deep tissue work and consists of small, deep back-and-forth movements over a local area of muscle applied by the therapist’s fingers, thumbs or elbows with little to no lubricant. It is used to break up adhesions and ‘knots’ in a typical deep tissue massage and should be applied only after effleurage and petrissage have been applied to warm the skin and muscles, preventing injury.
- Tapotement is perhaps the most popular stroke associated with Swedish massage and is characterized by fast tapping, drumming, patting or hacking of the clients body with the therapist’s hands, soft fists or finger tips. Commonly used in sports and medical massage, its stimulating effects affect the nervous system, circulatory system and musculoskeletal system, stimulating weak muscles and loosening tight ones depending on the length of application. Tapotement has also been shown to break up mucus congestion when applied over the chest and back by a trained therapist.
- Vibration or shaking tends to imitate the pulsing sensations produced by electric or battery-operated massage devices. The therapist creates a trembling or vibrating movement from their tensed hands and fingers when applied to small areas or jostles or shakes larger areas of the body such as an arm or leg using both hands. When applied to the abdomen by a trained therapist, vibration can stimulate a sluggish bowel.
A relaxing full body or partial body massage can be given at home to a loved one using effleurage alone or a combination of two or more of the above mentioned stroke variations. Click on this massage video to learn more about effleurage and have fun giving your first massage! You’re now on your way to massaging your loved ones like a spa professional!
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