Swedish Massage Techniques

Contrary to popular belief, Swedish Massage was not created by anyone from Sweden.  The History of Swedish massage by Robert Calvert describes where Swedish massage came from.  Per Ling a Swedish Physiologist and gymnastics instructor created something known as the Swedish Movements or Swedish Movement Cure (link to Massage Today Article: November, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 11 The Swedish Movement CureBy Judi Calvert, LMP ) but it was focused on movement which is only one component of Swedish Massage and not the basic techniques of efflerage, pettrissage and so on (see below).    Johann Mezger promoted Swedish Massage and helped make it more popular in the US.

Swedish Massage is one of the most basic techniques that are taught to professional massage therapists. It is the most common technique used at most of the relaxation spas.   The focus of Swedish massage is general relaxation, stimulation of circulation, enhancing muscle tone and is also therapeutic in reducing muscle tightness.  A good Swedish massage therapist will know how to apply the basic techniques to most any condition, injury or situation.

Basic Swedish massage is defined like this from Robert Calvert’s pages in history section on Massage Magazine:

Swedish massage is defined in large part by the original strokes that compose its method: effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (striking), and frictions (rubbing), with vibration added later. The French terms – effleurage, petrissage, frictions (massage a’ frictions) and tapotement – were never used by Peter Ling, by any of his successors nor by the Central Gymnastic Institute.

Dutch practitioner Johan Georg Mezger (1838-1909) is generally credited (by physicians such as Emil Kleen and Richard Hael, who researched the origins of massage and gymnastics) as the man who adopted the French names to denote the basic strokes under which he systemized massage as we know it today, as Swedish or classic massage.

The basic techniques of Swedish massage are:

  • Effleurage  – a long flowing, relaxing stroke used to assess the skin and muscles, spread lotion/oil, connect with client.  Efflleurer – to flow or glide: French
  • Pettrissage – usually follows effleruage; rhytmic lifting and squeezing of the muscle.  Petrir – to mash or to knead: French
  • Friction – usually follows Pettrissage; rubbing of two surfaces : frictio – to rub.  Latin
  • Tapotement – a repetitive striking of the hands.  Taper – light blow: French  Taeppa – to tap, Angol Saxon
  • Vibration/Nerve strokes – Rapid shaking, rocking.  Shaker- Latin
  • Swedish gymnastics – active, passive and resisted movements

Best Massage Theory and Practice Text books

There are a few variations of each of these strokes an each of these strokes has different uses and different effects on the body.   Learning to do Swedish Massage is a combination of knowing your muscles and anatomy along with how these various strokes can affect the body.  There is both a scientific basis and art to doing massage.   Intention is often a very big influence on the results that you get with each session.  Learning to do massage is a matter of practice and working on as many people as you can until it becomes second nature.  Your hands will get to the point where they instinctively will know what to do.  Learning to apply the right amount of pressure at the right time will come with practice.  It is also a matter of speed, duration and the direction that you work the muscle tissues in.

You will also need to learn when to NOT use these types of Swedish Massage Strokes.  These are referred to as contraindications and endangerment areas of the body.

It somehow has become the standard place to start in massage school and many techniques build off of the basic Swedish Massage Strokes, but is by no means the end.  There are hundreds of different types of massage.  

 A chart summarizing the Swedish massage strokes and what they do can be found here.

Swedish Massage Glossary of Terms

Practice Test Questions for Exams 1

Massage Tests 2

More on Endangerments/Contraindications