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Swedish Massage Techniques (With Videos)

Swedish massage is often considered the classic Western massage technique. Let's look at the six major Swedish massage techniques.


Effleurage is a light or deep gliding movement over the skin and muscles using the palms, thumbs, knuckles, or fingertips. Two of the main purposes of effleurage are to relax muscles and improve circulation.


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 involves compression 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 that 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 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 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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