Swedish is the most common style practiced among massage therapists.
The modern form was developed in Sweden around the beginning of the 19th century, though the origin is disputed. Many attribute the usual techniques to Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish gymnastics instructor who developed the style for athletes. Others give credit to a Dutch-born physician by the name of Johann Metzger.
But whoever should get the credit for this innovation, the techniques that are now practiced are largely agreed on. By contrast to most Asian styles, Swedish massage uses long, firm strokes and gentle tapping. Asian styles emphasize more focused pressure on specific areas.
The result is improved circulation, as muscles are encouraged to release trapped blood. Joints are made limber and tense muscles relax under the gentle but firm pressure. This is achieved by a combination of five different traditional movements employed by the massage therapist.
Effleurage is a gliding stroke, a movement in which the masseuse or masseur uses long arm movements with the flat of the hand to apply gentle pressure over large areas. In this way, long muscles receive a full range of attention and blood flow is evened out.
Petrissage is a complementary technique which kneads selected areas, but still with a larger surface than in Shiatsu. Compression strokes are used in conjunction. Pressure is the ratio of force to area. As the area is increased, for a given force, the pressure is lowered. This makes Swedish petrissage less intense than Shiatsu.
Friction, applied at the correct level, warms the surface of the body, which stimulates good circulation. It also invariably accompanies the gentle pressure that causes muscles to relax.
Tapotement is the percussive tapping or light pounding traditionally associated with a massage. The technique has been seen in a hundred films and TV shows and it helps loosen muscles and provides a gentle stimulation.
Vibration is often used in concert with the other techniques. A rapid, small-movement, shaking can help limber joints and relieve stress. This differs from the small rocking movements used in other styles in which limbs are grasped and moved as a whole.
Often, a traditional Swedish massage will be carried out using oil or lotion. Some clients find the decreased friction that results pleasurable and the aromas can add to the experience. Some specialty oils that heat on contact are sometimes used, though they aren’t part of the traditional technique.
Many forms of massage, such as sports massage, deep tissue massage and others use Swedish techniques as a starting foundation. It’s usually carried out while the client wears minimal or no clothing, covered with a drape that’s uncovered a section at a time.
Systematically proceeding through different sections of the body, the massage therapist provides an overall body massage that leaves the recipient feeling relaxed. The overall mood elevation that results is a commonly reported benefit.