Swedish massage is the most popular type of massage in the United States. It involves the use of hands, forearms or elbows to manipulate the superficial layers of the muscles to improve mental and physical health. Active or passive movement of the joints may also be part of the massage. The benefits of Swedish massage include increased blood circulation, mental and physical relaxation , decreased stress and muscle tension, and improved range of motion.
Swedish massage was invented by a Swedish fencing instructor named Per Henrik Ling in the 1830s. When he was injured in the elbows, he reportedly cured himself using tapping (percussion) strokes around the affected area. He later developed the technique currently known as Swedish massage. This technique was brought to the United States from Sweden by two brothers, Dr. Charles and Dr. George Taylor in the 1850s. The specific techniques used in Swedish massage involve the application of long gliding strokes, friction, and kneading and tapping movements on the soft tissues of the body. Sometimes passive or active joint movements are also used.
Unlike drug therapy, which is often associated with many systemic and long-term side effects, massage therapy is relatively safe and has few contraindications. It also provides many benefits.
There are numerous physical benefits associated with the use of Swedish massage:
loosening tight muscles and stretching connective tissues
relieving cramps and muscle spasms and decreasing muscle fatigue
loosening joints and improving range of motion
increasing muscle strength
calming the nervous system
stimulating blood circulation
firming up muscle and skin tone
relieving symptoms of such disorders as asthma , arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome , chronic and acute painsyndromes, myofacial pain, headache , temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, and athletic injuries
speeding up healing from injury and illness
improving lymphatic drainage of metabolic wastes
Mental and emotional benefits
Mental benefits associated with massage therapy include the following:
improvement in length and quality of sleep
relief of stress, depression, anxietyand irritation
increased ability to concentrate
improved sense of well-being
In Swedish massage, the person to be massaged lies on a massage table and is draped with a towel or sheet. It is a full-body massage treatment, except in areas that are contraindicated or where the client requests not to be touched. Aromatic or unscented oil or lotion is used to facilitate the massage movements. Each session usually lasts 30-60 minutes. Depending on the client's preferences, a massage session may involve the use of several or all of the following basic techniques: effleurage, petrissage, friction, vibration, and tapotement.
Effleurage is the most common stroke in Swedish massage. It is a free-flowing and gliding movement towards the heart, tracing the contours of the body using the palm of one or both hands. Oil is applied with this stroke to begin the first stage of massage. The therapist applies a light or medium constant pressure. 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.
This technique resembles kneading dough. It involves lifting, rolling, and squeezing the flesh under or between the hands. Pétrissage is designed to release muscle tension, improve blood flow, and increase lymphatic drainage.
Friction strokes work on deeper muscles than the techniques previously described. The friction technique is a pressure stroke and is the deepest that is used in Swedish massage. The massage therapist applies pressure by placing the weight of his or her body on the flat of the hand and the pads of the thumbs, knuckles, fingers, or the back of the forearms, and then releases the pressure slowly and gently. This movement should be a continuous sliding motion or a group of alternating circular motions.
To effect vibration, the massage therapist gently shakes or trembles the flesh with the hand or fingertips, then moves on to another spot and repeats this stroke. Vibration is designed to release muscle tension in small muscle areas, such as those on the face or along the spine.
Tapotement, or tapping and percussion, is a quick choppy rhythmic movement that has a stimulating or toning effect. The following are variations of tapotement:
Cupping : The therapist forms the hands into a cup shape with fingers straight but bending only at the lower knuckles; the thumbs are kept close to the palms. The therapist strikes the flesh with the flat of the hands one after another in quick succession.
Hacking: This technique is similar to cupping. The therapist uses the sides of the hands with palms facing one another to make a chopping movement.
Pummeling: For this stroke, the therapist makes loose fists in both hands and applies them rapidly in succession over the thighs and buttocks.