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Swedish Massage Techniques (With Videos)

Swedish massage techniques are often considered classic Western massage. Techniques include gliding, kneading, pressing, tapping, vibration, and stretching to affect muscles and other soft tissue.

This system of massage brings about change by working with anatomy, physiology, and the response of the body's systems and functions to specific manipulations and strokes. The massage can be soft, gentle, and relaxing or deep, firm, and stimulating.

Swedish Massage Techniques

Swedish massage has six major techniques, each with variations useful for specific purposes.

Effleurage

Effleurage is a light or deep gliding movement over the skin and muscles using the palms, thumbs, knuckles, or fingertips. Two main purposes of effleurage are to relax muscles and improve circulation. The technique is also used for spreading oil and warming up the muscles.

A variation of effleurage is nerve feathering. It's very light using only the tips of the fingers. The purpose is to stimulate the nerves and increase the lymph flow.

Petrissage

Petrissage is a lifting, stretching, or squeezing stroke used to lift the soft tissue away from adjacent structures. Probably the most common version of petrissage is a kneading motion, similar to kneading bread. Other petrissage strokes include wringing, thumb rolling, and skin rolling. These techniques:

  • Stretch muscle fibers 
  • Break up adhesions (stuck together tissue)
  • Improve circulation
  • Stimulate muscle tone
  • Stimulate the movement of interstitial fluid (fluid around the cells), improving lymphatic flow

Friction

Friction involves compressing and moving superficial tissue (such as skin) over deeper tissue. Types of friction include direct (stationary) pressure, linear (along the muscle fibers) movement, circular movement, or cross fiber (at a right angle to the muscle fibers).

The defining quality of friction is there's no gliding over the skin; the massage therapist moves your skin with the intention of affecting the underlying muscle.

The main effects of friction include broadening and stretching muscle fibers and fascia and breaking up adhesions. Cross-fiber friction is especially useful to help prevent excess scar tissue after an injury.

Tapotement

Tapotement (or percussion) includes movements such as brisk hacking or tapping (including the stereotypical karate-chop technique). This Swedish technique relaxes tight muscles, improves circulation, stimulates tired muscles and the nervous system, and enhances muscle tone by contracting and releasing the muscle.

Vibration

Vibration is a rhythmic shaking or vibrating of the body. Fine vibration relaxes and calms the nervous system, helping to reduce pain and relax muscles. In contrast, the penetrating shaking motion of coarse vibration promotes the production of synovial fluid in the joints, increases circulation, and stimulates organs.

Swedish Massage Gymnastics

Swedish gymnastics are movements that stretch muscles, loosen adhesions, and improve flexibility and range of motion. Swedish gymnastics can be:

  • Passive (range of motion): The massage therapist moves a relaxed client.
  • Active assistive: The client moves with the help of the massage therapist.
  • Active unassisted: The client is responsible for the movement.
  • Active resistive: The client moves against resistance provided by the massage therapist.

For a historical perspective, see Massage and the Original Swedish Movements.

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