Swedish Massage – Effleurage

Definition: A succession of light or deep stroking or gliding motions following body contours, applied by passing the flat of the hand or other flat surface such as the forearm, over a portion of the body or body part.

Light effleurage is generally relaxing and has only reflexive effects.  Deep effleurage has more mechanical effects.

Effleurage dynamically affects the body mainly via its stimulation of the nervous system.  Deeper strokes can also positively influence circulation.

Applications:

Effleurage can be applied with full hands or parts of the hand or arm (fingers, fists or forearm) depending on the body part being worked on and the desired effects.

The surface applying the stroke must be able to conform to the body part and remain fully in contact of the body part being worked on..  You must be able to maintain the same contact and amount of pressure for the duration of the stroke.

Variations:

Light Effleurage – superficial touch, accessing the skin only.  Full hand contact with very little pressure.  No visible rippling of the skin.  No noticeable pressure to an observer’s eye or the client.  On the limbs, the stroke moves distal to proximal to assist venous return and lymphatic flow.  On the back, the stroke can be applied from shoulders to ilium or ilium to shoulders, but the stroke should follow a pattern.

   a.  continuous effleurage – full hand contact the entire length of the stroke – one hand following the other, ulnar side (little finger) leading.

   b.  V-shape both hands to conform to the contour of the legs or body part with one hand following the other

Deep Effleurage – access a deeper level to the subcutaneous layer of the skin, which is the fascia covering the superficial layer.  This stroke creates a very slight ripple of the skin.  If the muscle tissue moves, you have compressed too deep and have progressed to a friction stroke.

Technique -Fast, slow, long or short, depending on the desired physiological effect.  Faster and shorter are stimulating while slower and longer are more relaxing.

Use the palms, fingers, fingertips, full thumb and forearms in any of the following variations: horizontal, vertical gliding or stroking, shingling, thumb effleurage, t- stroke, bi-lateral tree stroking.  It is not the hand variation, but the depth and rhythm of the stroke that determines the effect of the effleurage.

Keep you hands soft and pliable.

Move hands towards the heart with gradually deepening pressure, using massage oil.  Then return the hands lightly keeping contact with the body.  

Gliding- applied lightly or deeply using full hand contact working side-by-side as on the large surface of the back.  Vary by having one hand following the other or reinforcing hand (one on top of the other) or some other surface such as the forearm.

Alternate Hand- light or deep applied alternately with one hand contacting the body as the other follows.
Shingling – one hand following the other while working longitudinally in an area such as one side of the back or leg.
Fanning- stroking outward in a three-stroke fan shape from a single point often used for draining after friction massage.
Tree stroking or branching – hands start at the center line and move outward, while creating the shape of a tree.  Alternate hand movements are generally more stimulating that gliding movements

Technique:

Place both hands on the part of the body that is closest to you.  Glide toward the center of the body toward the heart with gradually deepening pressure.  Apply oil before you assess the tissue or after.  Return hands to start and keep contact with the body. Repeat.

 

Effects of Effleurage can be reflexive or mechanical depending on the depth and rhythm of the application of the stroke. 

The effect can be relaxing or stimulating. In general, effleurage creates an over all muscle relaxation and assists in blood and lymph circulation.  It aids in the process of removing waste products from normal cellular metabolism.

Light Effleurage Effects:

Reflexive: 

  • initially a reflexive parasympathetic nervous system response that is relaxing due to being touched.

  • Decreases the sympathetic nervous systems contraction of the muscles in the walls of blood vessels, which results in vasodilatation and an increase in capillary apace in the surface layer of the tissue.  (The area may turn red.)

  • The parasympathetic nervous system slows the heart rate and lowers the blood pressure

  • Slows breathing rate

  • affects the nervous system’s pain sensors which results in lessening of pain (gate theory or counter-irritation theory which is based on the observation that stimulating an area of pain or adjacent to the pain will suppress the sensation of pain and therefore other sensations can over-ride pain.  There are other theories of pain reduction including release of endorphins.)

  • Reduces edema reflexively by the increased exchange of fluids at the capillary level and by the stretching of the lymph vessels

  • may enhance healing process (theories of increased macrophage migration, increased antibody presence and the positive effect on the immune system.

Deep Effleurage

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Reflexive Effects:

  • longer lasting capillary dilation

  • creation of deeper muscle relaxation

  • aids in pain reduction

  • surface heat caused by friction on the skin increases metabolism in the skin which results in increased peripheral circulation

Mechanical Effects:

  • Assists in the flow of venous blood and lymphatic fluid when applied in the direction of circulation.

  • assists in the renewed nutrition and removal of waste products

  • compresses and stretches the fascia layer between the superficial muscles and the subcutaneous layer of tissue

  • warms superficial tissue by friction of the hands on the clients body

  • assists in desquamation of dead skin cells

Nervous System Effects:  The effects of effleurage on the nervous system are what create the reflexive effects in the other systems.  Light effleurage stimulates the receptors of the parasympathic division of the nervous system, which results in a reflexive, generally relaxing response.  This autonomic response causes vasodilatation and an accompanying inhibiting of vasoconstriction.  It is generally accepted (but not scientifically proven) that these nervous system responses occur in a reflex arc, either in the central nervous system or in the local ganglion of the nerve receptors.

The effects of effleurage are generally related to the dynamic effect of touch on the body.  Depending on where the stroke is

 applied, how it is applied (light or deep, slow or fast), the effect can be relaxing or stimulating.  Effleurage creates overall muscle relaxation and assistance of blood and lymph circulation.  It aids in the process of removing waste products from normal cellular metabolism.

Light effleurage elicits only reflexive effects, while deep effleurage may elicit reflexive and mechanical effects.

Effects of light effleurage:

Initially there is a reflexive parasympathetic nervous system response that is relaxing due to the client’s perception of touch.  (Accessing the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system shuts down the sympathetic trunk.)

Secondary effects of relaxation include:

  • decreased heart rate
  • vasodilatation (increase in the circumference of the blood vessels due to relaxation of the smooth muscle that lines them, which can lead to decrease in blood pressure.)
  • decreased respiration
  • overall muscle relaxation and body relaxation

Light effleurage can also help relieve pain possibly through the gate theory or counter-irritation theory which is based on the observation that stimulating an area of pain or adjacent to pain will suppress the sensation of pain and therefore other sensations can over ride pain, increasing release of endorphins. 

Effects of Deep Effleurage

Assists venous blood circulation and lymphatic flow which may assist with the reduction of edema when applied proximal to the edema, with the strokes going toward the body’s core.

Increases arterial and capillary circulation, which increases the exchange of gasses and nutrients at the site and aids metabolism of the skin and superficial tissues.

Generates heat through friction of the skin resulting in an increased peripheral circulation.

Mechanical effect of deep effleurage:

Assists with the flow of venous blood and lymphatic fluid when applied in the direction of circulation.  Assists in renewed nutrition and removal of waste products.

Compresses and stretches the fascia layer between the superficial muscles and the subcutaneous layer of tissue.

warms superficial tissue due to skin friction.

Assists with desquamation of dead skin cells.

Effects on the nervous system:

Light effleurage stimulates the receptors of the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system, which results in a reflexive, generally relaxing response.

 

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