A woman receives a Swedish massage.

Your Encyclopedia to Swedish massage

What is Swedish Massage?

Swedish massage entails the use of hands, forearms or elbows to manipulate the upper layers of muscle tissue to improve mental and physical health. It is the most popular form of massage in the United States and is used to relieve tensions, as well as promote blood circulation and increased range of movement, among other uses.

The Origin of Swedish Massage

Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish fencing instructor, invented the massage in the 1830s. He reportedly cured an injury in his elbow by using tapping strokes around the affected area. He later developed the technique into what we know Swedish massage to be today. Swedish massage was brought to the United States from Sweden by two brothers, Dr. Charles and Dr. George Taylor in the 1850s.

Swedish Massage Technique

The techniques used in Swedish massage involve the use of long gliding strokes, friction, kneading, and tapping on the soft tissues of the body. Sometimes passive or active joint movements are also used. Depending on the client’s preferences, a massage session may involve the use of several or all of the following basic techniques:

Effleurage
A free-flowing, gliding movement towards the heart, which traces the contours of the body using the palm of one or both hands. This stroke is used to warm up the muscles, relax the body, calm the nerves, improve blood circulation and heart function, and improve lymphatic drainage.

Pétrissage
This technique involves lifting, rolling, and squeezing the flesh under or between the hands as if kneading dough. It is designed to release muscle tension, improve blood flow, and increase lymphatic drainage.

Friction
The friction technique is a stroke that uses pressure to positively affect the deeper muscles of the body. Pressure is applied by the therapist, who transfers the weight of their body into the flat of their hand, their fingers, or the back of their forearms. The pressure is then slowly released in a sliding motion or alternating circular motions.

Vibration
The gentle shaking of the flesh with a hand or fingertips is designed to release muscle tension in small muscle areas, for example, on the face or along the spine.

Tapotement
A quick, tapping movement that has a stimulating or toning effect.

The following are variations of tapotement:

  • Cupping
    The therapist hits the flesh in quick succession while their hands are in the form of a cup. (Fingers straight, bending only at the lower knuckles, and the thumbs are kept close to the palms.)
  • Hacking
    The sides of the hands are used to make a chopping movement along the flesh.
  • Pummeling
    Loose fists are rapidly applied to the flesh over the thighs and buttocks.

The Benefits of Swedish Massage

There are numerous physical and mental benefits to Swedish massage:

  • Loosens tight muscles and joints
  • Stretches connective tissues
  • Relieves cramps and muscle spasms
  • Decreases muscle fatigue
  • Improves range of motion
  • Increases muscle strength
  • Calms the nervous system
  • Stimulates blood circulation
  • Firms muscle and skin tone
  • Relieves symptoms of disorders, such as asthma, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, myofascial pain, headaches, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  • Speeds up healing from injury and illness
  • Improves lymphatic drainage of metabolic wastes
  • Mental relaxation
  • Improves the length and quality of sleep
  • Reliefs stress, depression, anxiety and irritation
  • Increases the ability to concentrate
  • Provides an improved sense of well-being

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