guide to swedish massage techniques

Guide to Swedish Massage Techniques

Swedish massage is one of the most popular types of massage treatments in the Western world and is provided in most clinics, spas, gyms, and wellness centers. Many practitioners consider it as the foundation stone for several types of massages.

Swedish Massage Techniques Step-by-Step Guide

A Swedish massage lasts anywhere between 50 and 90 minutes and uses massaging oils and lotions.

You’re required to remove all your clothes for a Swedish massage — you can keep your underwear on. You’re then covered with a sheet.

The techniques used necessitate direct contact with the skin, but thanks to a technique called draping, the masseuse will expose only the parts they’re actively working on.

Massage Tutorial: Draping techniques (even glutes and abs!)
These are the Swedish massage full body techniques:

  • Effleurage
  • Petrissage
  • Tapotement/Rhythmic tapping
  • Friction
  • Vibration/Shaking

Effleurage

Effleurage is one of the most prominent techniques in Swedish massage and is used to warm the muscle and prepare it for petrissage.

There are two types of effleurage:

  • Superficial
  • Deep

How To Perform Superficial Effleurage

This consists of long, circular, sweeping strokes applied to multiple areas of the body. The therapist will use their palm to distribute oil onto the skin and assess the conditions of the tissues to decide which technique is more appropriate for the client.

How To Do Deep Effleurage

deep effleurage

Often used in sports massage, this type of effleurage has more depth and pressure. It’s used to stretch and expand muscle tissue and fascia. The therapist will perform a long, deep stroke using their thumbs.

Using the right pressure and movement, the therapist will break up the adhesions and separate the fibers. This technique should be performed in the direction of muscle fibers centripetally.

When it comes to tendons and muscle attachment, it’s performed in the direction of the belly of a muscle, to expand the tendon and relax the muscle. (1)

Watch the Video

The channel, Community College, also has effleurage demos for other parts of the body like the neck, legs, and arms.

Swedish Massage Level 1: Effleurage for the Back

Health Benefits of Effleurage

Superficial Effleurage

This technique uses light-medium pressure to induce a general relaxing sensation. This soothes muscle tissues, relaxes clients who are fatigued, anxious or suffer from recurring headaches.

Deep Effleurage

Deep effleurage contributes to muscle rehabilitation caused by injuries, using deeper pressure. It unties any possible knots, muscle tension, and soreness. It also enhances fluid movement, relaxes the muscles, and stretches the tissues and tendons, with results improving muscle recovery. (2)

Petrissage

petrissage

How To Perform Petrissage

After warming the muscles with effleurage technique, petrissage stretches and loosens the muscle fibers.

Petrissage focuses on the deep fascia, also known as the layer that surrounds all individual muscles. There are five specific movements to petrissage: (3)

  • Skin Rolling: The therapist will lift the skin and roll it between their fingers. It’s also used as a method to assess the tonus of the muscle and fascia.
  • Lifting: The tissues are lifted and squeezed with the thumb and two fingers and then released.
  • Wringing: This is often performed for the legs, hands and lubricated back. The therapist will push the tissue with the thumb of one hand and pull it with the fingers of the other hand simultaneously.
  • Kneading: As if kneading dough, the masseuse will grab as much muscle as they can and squeeze it with moderate pressure.
  • Milking: A specific form of kneading, the masseuse will grab a large muscle group with both hands and squeeze with one and then the other rhythmically. This technique is used for upper arms, thighs, calves, and shoulders.

Watch the Video

This demo walks us through the different movements.

Petrissage Techniques

Health Benefits of  Petrissage

Petrissage helps stretch and loosen the muscle fibers — this will consequently reduce muscle spasms and relieve pain, with impressive results on reduced muscle fatigue. It’ll also enhance the circulatory system and increase the range of movement. (4)(5)

Tapotement or Rhythmic Tapping

How To Perform Tapotement

Also known as drumming or pounding, the name of the technique is taken from the French word “tapoter,” which means “to tap.”

Tapotement involves percussive tapping, such as pounding. There are five types of tapotement:

  • Beating: Performed with a closed fist to hit the area gently.
  • Slapping: A gentle slap with the fingers.
  • Hacking: A gentle drumming with the edge of the hand on the pinky side.
  • Tapping: Performed with the fingertips.
  • Cupping: Cupping the hand and tapping the area gently.

Watch the Video

Tapotement Techniques

Health Benefits of Tapotement

This technique has hyperemic benefits as it enhances the local blood circulation. Tapotement also stimulates nerve endings, which results in muscle tone enhancement. (6)

When combined with other massage techniques, tapotement can help get rid of fat deposits. Tapotement is also advised for certain respiratory problems, so be sure to point out any respiratory conditions to your therapist—they’ll adjust the massage session accordingly.

Friction Technique

How To Perform Friction Massage

Friction is a Swedish massage technique that’s used to loosen parts of the body that are particularly tight and induce local heat to help relax the muscles.

The therapist will rub their hands together or into the client’s skin to generate the needed friction.

Watch the Video

The below is a demo of friction and percussion massage for the anterior leg.

Swedish Massage Level 4: Friction and Percussion for the Anterior Leg

Health Benefits of Friction Massage

Experts consider this technique to be the best solution for breaking apart and aligning muscle fibers. It’s been proven that deep friction treatment can heal muscle strains, tendinopathy, ligament lesions, and scar healing. (7)(8)

Vibration/Shaking Technique

vibration massage

How To Perform Vibration Technique

Vibration is a massage technique that involves gentle fine trembling movements conducted with fingers and the heel of the hands.

The masseuse will place the palmar surface of the hand on the specific body part and will proceed by vibrating the entire area rapidly.

If the therapist is carrying out a gentle treatment, it’s known more of a vibration treatment. For example, if they use their fingertips following a particular nerve.

This treatment is known as more of a shaking technique if a more vigorous massage is carried out.

Watch The Video

Swedish Massage Level 4: Percussion & Friction for the Posterior Leg

Health Benefits of Vibration/Shaking

The vibrations work as a stimulant for the nerve endings — to loosen up the muscles and relax them.

The therapist can increase the speed of the vibrations to revitalize the circulatory blood flow and loosen the viscoelastic component of the tissue, which improves the flexibility and reduces stiffness. (9)(10)

If you prefer a more visual representation of how these different techniques are performed, you can always check out Swedish massage techniques videos, such as the one below.

Video:

What You Can Expect During a Swedish Therapy Session

The overall atmosphere may depend on the place you receive the massage. Habitually, gentle music or soothing natural noises, such as flowing water or forest sounds, are played in the background.

Some spas may include aromatherapy, dim lighting, perfumed candles, and incense sticks.

Also, some therapists will ask you whether you’d like a specific kind of oil for the massage.

These smells, noises, and sights will help contribute to the relaxation of the client and deepen the effects of the massage techniques.

Swedish Massage Health Benefits

Swedish massage is distinguished for its countless health benefits. These include:

  • Increase flexibility and posture
  • Recovery from injuries
  • Regulates the tonus of the nervous system
  • Reduces stress and depression
  • Enhances blood circulation

Increases Flexibility and Posture

This massage technique elongates the muscles, decreases swelling and quickens the healing process. As a result, your body can move freely. After several treatments, you may also notice a straighter posture as this technique helps to ease any muscular tension that creates poor alignment. (11)(12)

A Swedish massage will also broaden the range of motion and flexibility, as it’ll allow you to attain certain exercises and stretches. (13)

Recovering From a Minor Injury

In the post-injury phase, doctors would usually recommend massages to fasten the recovery. Swedish massage is considered the best remedial massage for minor injuries — overworked muscles, strains, and overcompensating muscles. (14)

If you’ve been through a major injury or suffer from chronic pain, we suggest opting for a deep tissue massage. (15)

Regulating the Tonus of the Nervous System

Thanks to its varied pressure intensity, the nervous system can be stimulated in different parts of the body. The intermittent and repetitive techniques used will spur the nervous system and vitalize it, which relieves pain. (16)

Reduce Stress and Ease Depression

Stress builds up cortisol in our bodies, which can endanger our health and lead to a weakened immune system, weight gain, cardiovascular issues, and renal problems. (17)(18)(19)(20)

A Swedish massage will ensure a blissful relaxation that decreases the cortisol in the body that will enhance your overall wellness. (21)

Enhancing Blood Circulation and Stimulating Lymphatic System

Blood circulation is one of the most vital systems in our body since it transports nutrients and removes toxins. This particular massage is shown to improve blood pressure. (22)

Lymph drainage is necessary to detox the body, and it happens naturally when you move your muscles. If you don’t move your muscles enough, you’ll have a build-up of toxins, and this can block the nutrients and induce built-up lymph fluid. A Swedish massage helps to combat these residual toxins and cleanse your body. (23)(24)

Conclusion

Despite being considered a classic type of massage, a Swedish massage implicates various massaging techniques that have distinctive health benefits through effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement, and vibration.

Generally, the session will last 50 to 90 minutes, during which the therapist will start with general strokes that cover the entirety of the body, to then focus on specific areas.

Swedish massage offers heaps of health benefits: relieving soreness, muscle cramps, minor pain, muscle knots, stress, enhancing the circulatory system, promoting flexibility and widening the range of motion.

References

  1. Skeletal Muscle Structure, inside.ucumberlands.edu
  2. Brummitt, J. (2008). The role of massage in sports performance and rehabilitation: current evidence and future direction. North American journal of sports physical therapy: NAJSPT3(1), 7.
  3. Gatt, A., Agarwal, S., & Zito, P. M. (2019). Anatomy, Fascia Layers.
  4. Ogai, R., Yamane, M., Matsumoto, T., & Kosaka, M. (2008). Effects of petrissage massage on fatigue and exercise performance following intensive cycle pedalling. British journal of sports medicine42(10), 834-838.
  5. McKechnie, G. J., Young, W. B., & Behm, D. G. (2007). Acute effects of two massage techniques on ankle joint flexibility and power of the plantar flexors. Journal of sports science & medicine6(4), 498.
  6. Massage Stroke Review Part 3: Tapotement, integrativehealthcare.org
  7. Warpenburg, M. J. (2014). Deep friction massage in treatment of radiation-induced fibrosis: rehabilitative care for breast cancer survivors. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal13(5), 32.
  8. Sharma, P., & Maffulli, N. (2005). Tendon injury and tendinopathy: healing and repair. JBJS87(1), 187-202.
  9. Cochrane, D. J. (2011). Vibration exercise: the potential benefits. International journal of sports medicine32(02), 75-99.
  10. Imtiyaz, S., Veqar, Z., & Shareef, M. Y. (2014). To compare the effect of vibration therapy and massage in prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR8(1), 133.
  11. Rakel, D., & Faass, N. (Eds.). (2006). Complementary medicine in clinical practice: integrative practice in American healthcare. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
  12. Willison, K. D. (2006). Integrating Swedish massage therapy with primary health care initiatives as part of a holistic nursing approach. Complementary therapies in medicine14(4), 254-260.
  13. Arabaci, R. (2008). Acute effects of pre-event lower limb massage on explosive and high speed motor capacities and flexibility. Journal of sports science & medicine7(4), 549.
  14. Cowen, V. S. (2005). A comparative study of Thai massage and Swedish massage. Arizona State University.
  15. Deep Tissue Massage, treatwell.co.uk
  16. Aourell, M., Skoog, M., & Carleson, J. (2005). Effects of Swedish massage on blood pressure. Complementary therapies in clinical practice11(4), 242-246.
  17. Kirschbaum, C., & Hellhammer, D. H. (2000). Salivary cortisol. Encyclopedia of stress3(379-383).
  18. Espelid, S., Løkken, G. B., Steiro, K., & Bøgwald, J. (1996). Effects of cortisol and stress on the immune system in Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salarL.). Fish & Shellfish Immunology6(2), 95-110.
  19. Björntorp, P., & Rosmond, R. (2000). Obesity and cortisol. Nutrition16(10), 924-936.
  20. Whitworth, J. A., Mangos, G. J., & Kelly, J. J. (2000). Cushing, cortisol, and cardiovascular disease. Hypertension36(5), 912-916.
  21. Cowen, V. S., Burkett, L., Bredimus, J., Evans, D. R., Lamey, S., Neuhauser, T., & Shojaee, L. (2006). A comparative study of Thai massage and Swedish massage relative to physiological and psychological measures. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies10(4), 266-275.
  22. Aourell, M., Skoog, M., & Carleson, J. (2005). Effects of Swedish massage on blood pressure. Complementary therapies in clinical practice11(4), 242-246.