Swedish Massage – A Swedish Conspiracy?

Ever watch an episode of your favorite T.V. show where the main character gets a comical massage involving the masseuse ‘chopping’ the character’s back in rapid movements with their hands?  This chopping technique (called a tapotement stroke) along with others are part of the phenomenon of Swedish massage.

Swedish massage is one of, if not the simplest and best known type of massage known across the world.  In most places it is simply referred to as a classic or normal massage, but in North America and some other places in the world it is still referred to as Swedish Massage.

What a great job by the Swedes right? Well, not exactly…it wasn’t actually invented in Sweden, or by a Swede.  It was actually developed by Johan Georg Mezger, a Dutchman.  So how on earth did these techniques end up getting incorporated into ‘Swedish’ massage? Well, it’s a short but understandable story.

First of all let me introduce you to Peter Henry Ling, a gymnastics coach who WAS from Sweden.  Some of you may see where this is going…even though Swedish massage was not part of his gymnastics regiment, it still somehow got attributed to Peter Ling and thus the name was born and carried through history.

Going back to Johan Mezger, the Dutch practitioner, it is known that he was the first to coin the French terms that you will see later in this article to describe massage techniques.

What is a Swedish Massage?swedish massage

The simplest definition is using a combination of basic techniques that incorporate stroking, kneading, striking, friction, and vibration in order to manipulate the body in a massage.

How to Perform A Swedish Massage

The video below is a basic introduction to what is a Swedish massage, there are much longer and in-depth ones in the ‘related videos’ section at the end of the video if you are interested.

Swedish Massage Techniques

As mentioned before there are 4 main Swedish massage techniques (5 if you count vibration) named after their French counterparts.

Effleurage – A primarily introductory technique used to relax a patient.  Effleurage consists of long gliding strokes using the hands from the upper body (shoulder/bottom of neck) to the lower torso(right around the pelvis to the bottom of the spine).  The long strokes work really well due to the large size of the back muscles.

Petrissage – The second type of main stroke is the Petrissage.  These are deep strokes, imagine lightly separating the muscles from the bone they are attached to.  After the initial ‘separation’ the muscles can be kneaded, rolled, or squeezed as needed.  This is a great technique for getting deep into a tight area and increasing circulation.

Friction – One of the primary techniques found in deep tissue massage.  Friction massage consists of using thumbs or fingers on the muscle across the run of the muscle.  Let me explain that clearer;  a muscle like the calve for example runs up and down, friction would consist of either circular or side-to-side movements because they oppose that up and down muscle.  This breaks down knots or scar tissue that may be affecting flexibility of the patient.

Tapotement – Last but not least of the Swedish massage techniques, tapotement is probably the most well known of any special massage technique, it almost looks like a karate chop motion.  You can use any part of your hand for this, the main focus is to provide some stimulation for muscles.  It is really effective on muscle spasms or cramps.

Swedish Massage Techniques

Swedish Massage Benefits

Here are two of the major benefits:

  • Relaxation: A good Swedish massage is extremely relaxation.  Clearly this is great for relieving stress and tension, but another subsequent effect of this is that relaxed muscles help facilitate proper functioning of you lymph system (how your body delivers nutrients and removes waste).
  • Joint Relief: A great Swedish massage benefit is that it helps loosen the muscles and tissues around joints, which in turn can relieve a lot of pain.  This is why Swedish massage is often prescribed as an initial treatment for joint pain.