Swedish massage is easily the most common type of massage throughout the world and is the basis for most other massage techniques.
There are five distinct types of movements or strokes that make up this method:
- Effleurage – This is a sliding or gliding stroke along the muscle, done with the palm, thumbs or hands. Typically, this movement is used at the beginning of your massage session and is done to warm the muscle up.
- Petrissage – Also known as kneading, this movement rolls the muscle with the hands, similar to kneading dough. This is done with a slow movement to loosen the tight muscles.
- Tapotement – This is a gentle rhythmic taping or percussing of the muscle, done with the edge of the hand, cupped hand, or fingertip. It is done to work on the deeper musculature.
- Friction – In this stroke, the upper muscle layers are rubbed back and forth over the deeper underlying muscle or bone. Friction can be done in the direction of the muscle fibres or across the muscle fibres.
- Vibration – A gentle rocking or shake of the muscle, done either one or two handed. This is done to increase circulation to the muscle.
All of the above movements are done in the direction of blood flow returning to the heart. Combined, these movements warm the muscle, reduce muscle tension, and break down adhesions between muscles. Along with this, your discomfort is relieved..
Development of the Swedish massage technique is often incorrectly attributed to Pehr Henrik Ling (1766-1839).
Ling did introduce physical education to Sweden, founding the Royal Gymnastics Central Institution. He has been called the Father of Gymnastics and is credited as creating Calisthenics. He was not, however, the developer of Swedish massage. Although not the creator of Swedish massage, Dutch physician Johann Georg Mezger (1838-1909) coined French names to the five stokes that he said made up the Swedish massage system. The technique is only known as “Swedish massage” in English and Dutch speaking countries and in Hungary. Elsewhere, it is known as classic massage.
Research is showing the health benefits of Swedish massage. A 2010 study and follow-up 2012 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed Swedish massage reduced the level stress hormones cortisol and arginine vasopressin. The relaxation hormone, oxytocin, was increased. The later study also revealed a boost in the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells.
A 2012 study published in the journal PLOS One performed a weekly 60 minute Swedish massage for eight weeks on patients that had osteoarthritis of the knee. After the eight weeks, the patients had significantly improved pain and function.
Another study published in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine (2011) showed that a weekly one hour massage resulted in less medication use, improved daily activity, and less days bed ridden.