Swedish massage is the most common type of Western massage therapy and uses a combination of five principle massage strokes; effleurage, kneading, friction, stretching and tapping.
It’s based on a Western approach to anatomy and physiology rather than the flow of energy in the body, which is often the focus of Asian massage techniques.
Only trained licenced massage therapists should give a Swedish massage, and the massage itself can be slow and gentle, or vigorous and bracing, depending on the therapist's personal style and what he or she wants to achieve.
Some say that Swedish massage was first developed in the 19th Century by the physiologist, Per Henrik Ling at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. Ling developed a technique for improving joint mobility by combining gymnastics and massage.
Others people believe that Johann Georg Mezger was the true creator. Mezger was a Dutch therapist who formalised a system for massage and named the five basic strokes that make up the Swedish or classic massage.
The strokes used in Swedish Massage
A range of massage strokes are used to warm up the muscle tissue, release tension and gradually breaking up muscle "knots" or adhered tissue (called adhesions). The following strokes are all commonly used during a Swedish massage.
Effleurage uses long, gliding strokes to help relax the muscles and increase circulation and blood flow.
Petrissage (from French pétrir, "to knead") movements include; kneading, wringing, skin rolling and pick-up-and-squeeze. They are performed with the padded palmar surface of the hand, the surface of the finger and also the thumbs.
Tapotement is the tapping motion made by the hands in different shapes such as cupping, slapping and chopping. It is less relaxing than other techniques and is often used at the end of a session to reawaken the client.
Vibration or Shaking helps to loosen up the muscles by using a back and forth action of the fingertips or the heel of the hand over the skin. The muscles of the body are literally shaken to loosen and relax.
Friction seeks to create heat to bring about relaxation of the muscles. Applied after effleurage and petrissage, this massage stroke allows the muscles to generate heat as they are rubbed together.
The Anatomy of a Swedish Massage
A Swedish massage will generally last from an hour to an hour and a half. The therapist will start with a consultation about your current health and any areas where you may be experiencing discomfort. They will also take note of your posture, how you move and also may look at how you breathe.
The therapist will leave the room to allow you to undress (you can keep your underwear on if you prefer or if you are comfortable you can be naked). You will cover yourself with a sheet or a towel and when you are ready, the therapist will re-enter the room to start the massage.
Only exposing the area that they are working on, using a technique known as draping, the therapist will start the massage targeting all the major muscle groups.
As described above, Swedish massage involves a combination of five principle massage strokes (effleurage, kneading, friction, stretching and tapping) to warm up and soften the muscle tissue to release any tension.
Massage oil, usually plant-based oils such as grape seed oil or almond oil, will be used to lubricate your skin for easy smooth movement over the skin. The therapist will put about a teaspoon full onto his or her palm and rub her hands together to warm up both the oil and his or her hands.
Most massages start with your back and the back of each of your legs. The massage therapist will then ask you to turn over before they massage the front of each leg, both arms and then your neck and shoulders. You can request more work on any area that is giving you particular trouble as well as requesting a lighter or heavier touch.
You may be offered music or the therapist may chat during your massage to help you relax. If you would prefer silence feel free to mention this. Afterwards, you should feel very relaxed and possibly a little sleepy, so it is worth taking your time to recover rather than rushing back to your normal pace of life. It’s also likely that you will feel thirsty and it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water to flush out any toxins that have been released.
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