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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 benefits include helping relieve tension, pain, stress, and anxiety.

Swedish Massage Techniques

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


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 and as a transition stroke between other techniques.

A variation of effleurage is nerve feathering. It's very light using only the tips of the fingers and is often used as a finishing stroke to end massage of an area. The purpose is to stimulate the nerves and increase the lymph flow.


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 (similar to kneading but with more pressure), rolling (moving and squeezing tissue in a side-ways pattern), and lifting (picking up tissue and squeezing with the fingers). 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

Effleurage and Petrissage Massage Video


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.

Cross-Fiber Friction Video


Tapotement (or percussion) includes movements such as tapping gently with the fingertips or brisk hacking (including the stereotypical karate-chop motion). Massage therapists may also do gentle slapping with the palms of the hand, tapping with a cupped hand, or tapping with a closed fist.

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.

If you think you might find tapotement unpleasant or jarring, let your massage therapist know before the massage.

Tapotement Video


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

Swedish Vibration Video

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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