Massage Techniques Explained

There isn’t a lot of clear material on massage techniques online, most just focus on different types of massage.  What I would like to do in this article is look at the actual massage techniques used in various types of massage, how they are performed, and what effect they have.

Massage Techniques #1:  Effleurage

The first technique is a basic stroke used in many types of massage as part of a ‘warm-up’.  Effleurage roughly translates to a light stroking motion.  It can be applied to any part of the body and is great for increasing stimulation to a particular area before deeper work is applied.  Typically effleurage is performed with the palms in a circular motion, but depending on the massage therapist and area of the body the finger tips can be used as well.

Massage Techniques #2: Petrissage

Petrissage is a great technique to loosen up the different layers of tissue.  It’s really a combination of sub-techniques put together, encompassing kneading, rolling the skin, and some squeezing.  Kneading is the main technique associated with Petrissage, and it’s performed exactly how you would picture it being done (like baking bread if you have ever done so).  All these three sub-techniques use the underside of the hand, the palms, and the padded parts of fingers.

Alternatively, and I think this is worth grouping together, there is knuckling.  While it doesn’t sound as pleasant the intended effect is the same.  The massage therapist uses their knuckles in circular motions to knee the tissue.

Massage Techniques #3: Friction

Friction is a great massage technique for breaking up clustered tissue, this is why it is a main component of deep tissue massage.  Friction is performed using any part of the hand, usually a palm or the finger tips, to apply pressure either back and forth or in a circular motion that opposes the direction that the muscle runs.  Friction is the best technique for breaking up scar tissue after a traumatic injury.

Massage Techniques #4: Tapotementswedish massage techniques

Tapotement is a very rhythmic massage technique using the edge of the hand in some way or another.  Sometimes the end along the pinkie finger is used, finger tips could be used as well, and sometimes the masseuse prefers to use cupping motions.  Much like Effleurage, tapotement is mainly a warming-up technique used to stimulate the different systems of the body.

Massage Techniques #5: Vibration

Vibration is a technique with a two-fold purpose.  First of all it is great for relieving tension and stress, but at the same time patients usually find that it stimulates them and they feel very awake and alert after.  For these two reasons vibration is often used by sports massage therapists as part of a pre-game or training massage.  Vibration is performed usually with two fingers, and by contracting the forearm the fingers will vibrate.  These fingers are then run along the area of interest while vibrating.

Massage Techniques #6 : Deep Pressure

Deep pressure massage techniques can use a combination of the above techniques, but the application is different.  The purpose of deep tissue muscle massage is to break down scar tissue and accumulated fuzz between the tissue layers.  In order to do this hard pressure has to be applied.  Due to the difficulty of applying a lot of pressure, techniques need to be modified slightly.  The strokes first and foremost must be applied slowly, and are typically hard strokes performed using the forearm.  Other common strokes used are direct pressure using fingers and elbows, and also fractioning, which can be performed with fingers, knuckles, or palms.

Summary of Massage Techniques

If you’ve read or trained for certain massage types, especially Swedish or deep tissue massage some of those names of techniques will sound really familiar.  This is because most massage types use these techniques as the core or their structure.  There are some lesser used massage techniques that I have not included, but for any basic massage these are the main ones.

I encourage you to read about specific types of massage from here if you are interested, you can find a list of these posts here.

If you felt I missed something or massage techniques or have any questions or comments I would love to hear from you, just leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

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