Swedish Massage: What Is It?
When it comes to massage therapy, the method that is the most familiar in the west is the Swedish Massage. What is a Swedish Massage? This technique is one of the oldest types of Western massage techniques practiced today and the method involves five specific strokes: effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (striking), frictions (rubbing), and vibration (shaking). One basic Swedish massage definition is that it’s a classic massage technique which is meant to relax you and decrease your muscle tension, so you can deal with day-to-day life better. It is a technique practiced almost exclusively in Western countries.
A Dutch physician by the name of Johann Georg Mezger invented Swedish massage technique in 1868. It was he who originally invented the five moves in Swedish massage that are still in use today. Per Henrik Ling was a Swedish doctor and educator who is often mistakenly referred to as the ‘father of Swedish massage.’ He developed a system of ‘medical gymnastics’ based on his knowledge of physiology. It did involve some massage, as well as stretches and calisthenics, but no actual system was ever distinguished or recorded. Because Ling was credited as the inventor and he was Swedish, the system ended up being called the Swedish massage. In Sweden the same technique is referred to as the “classic massage.”1
Swedish massage had developed into a system of physiotherapy by the start of the 20th century, but it developed a bad reputation in the 1930s when it was mistakenly associated with prostitution. By the 70s it had made a comeback, eventually flourishing into the most popular type of massage in the Western world.3
Swedish Massage Techniques and Process
When you enter the massage therapy room, the practitioner will initially step outside for a couple of minutes. You’ll remove your clothing and lie flat on your stomach on the massage board under a comfortable sheet. If you are not comfortable being completely naked, you can leave on your underwear for the massage. The therapist will move a sheet or a towel around during the massage so the areas of your body that aren’t being massaged at that moment are mostly covered.
Before the massage begins, tell the therapist what level of pressure you like – strong, medium or light –which areas to work on, and which areas to avoid because they are sensitive, or you have an injury.
During a Swedish massage the therapist treats your entire body. You’ll start by lying on your back, and sometime in the middle of the treatment you’ll be asked to flip over. The therapist will begin the massage by spreading oil all over your back and shoulders because it leads to smoother and longer strokes. Throughout the massage, the practitioner will use five primary techniques. Here are the basic techniques of Swedish massage:1
Effleurage (stroking): This is a gliding stroke on both sides of the spine which usually begins the massage. It’s meant to relax you before the therapist massages deeper tissue.
Petrissage (kneading): The massage therapist kneads your back tissue between his or her hands to speed up your circulation and make the skin softer and easier to manipulate.
Frictions (rubbing): These are back compressions using a circular motion. The idea is to compress the muscle fibers on either side of the spine to stimulate your muscles.
Vibration (shaking): These are skin compressions on your back with a vibration movement added. This type of movement really activates the blood flow to that part of your body.
Tapotement (striking): Pounding back and forth on your back using a fist, a cupped hand, or a flat hand to ‘shock’ the blood to the surface.
Swedish Massage vs. Deep Tissue
Two of the most popular and well-known types of massage are the Swedish massage and the deep tissue massage. People get them mixed up all the time, and in fact they do have some similarities. Both are very effective at relaxing the body and treating sore, tense muscles. But there are also some big differences between these two forms of massage therapy. It’s worth discussing Swedish massage vs. deep tissue massage to look at the similarities and differences between them.6
While Swedish massage is a whole-body experience, deep tissue massage works best for specific injuries to the muscles or for long-term muscle damage. As the name implies, the system involves massaging deeper tissue and even pushing against the muscles with constant pressure until they relax. The deep tissue system is less relaxing than the Swedish massage, but it does treat some conditions better including bad posture, chronic spasms, and injuries due to sports.3
Swedish Massage Benefits
Swedish Massage is beneficial for the body and mind. Research has shown that Swedish massage can be used effectively in preventing disease.2
On the physical level, this method has many scientifically proven benefits:
- Improves your blood circulation and blood pressure. A 2013 study found that a group of hypertensive women who received Swedish massage for several weeks had a significant reduction in blood pressure compared to a control group that rested during the same time period.7
- Treats muscle pain, cramps and spasms, and the pain associated with conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, sciatica.
- Treats injuries to your muscles.
- Strengthens the immune system.
- Alleviates lower back pain.
- Improves your balance and flexibility.
- Gives you more energy because it provides the muscles with oxygen.
- Improves digestion by stimulating the lymphatic system.
- Some studies have investigated if massage can help stimulate testosterone production, however a natural testo support product like HexoFire Labs Delta Prime may be a better option.
There are also numerous proven mental health benefits to Swedish massage.
- Relaxes your central nervous system and lowers your stress and anxiety. A 2016 study by the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences found that Swedish massage effectively reduced anxiety in healthy women.5
- Effective remedy for depression as one part of a treatment plan.
Is Swedish Massage the Best Massage Therapy?
Some people do think Swedish massage is the best therapy, because it works on your entire body and it’s so deeply relaxing. But there are numerous distinct types of massage, and each method has its own unique approach and benefits. Different methods were often developed with a specific goal or purpose in mind. For example, sports massage focuses on treating injuries to specific muscles and preventing future ones, and trigger point massage works on treating pain. It’s impossible to say that any one method is better than another.4
Preparing for Swedish Massage Therapy
Before you get your first Swedish massage treatment, it’s really important to look for a therapist that makes you feel comfortable. Ideally you should choose someone who has an approach that is suitable for you and your reason for getting the treatments. It’s really important to inform the therapist what your goals are for the massage treatment and whether you have any injuries. If you have any other concerns about the treatment, talk with the practitioner beforehand so you can find a solution. Some people are uncomfortable with getting undressed, for example, and have to mentally prepare themselves for this in advance.
The most important thing is to relax and get the most out of the massage treatment as possible. And to enjoy it, of course!
- 1Acupuncture and Massage College (January 2018). How Did Swedish Massage Get Its Name? Acupuncture and Massage College, Miami, Florida. Retrieved online at View Reference
- 2Barreto, DM & Batista MVA (Spring 2017). Swedish Massage: A Systematic Review of Its Physical and Psychological Benefits. Av Mind Body Med, 31(2), 16-20. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28659510
- 3Brown, Anitra (2018). The Swedish Massage: Full Body Therapy. Retrieved at View Reference
- 4Cronkleton, Emily (June, 2018). What Are the Different Types of Massage? Healthline. Retrieved online at View Reference
- 5Gholami-Motlagh Farzaneh, Jouzi Mina, Soleymani Bahram (2016). Comparing the effects of two Swedish massage techniques on the vital signs and anxiety of healthy women. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 21:4, 402-409. Retrieved online at View Reference
- 6Osborn, Corinne O’Keefe (July 2018). What’s the Difference Between Swedish Massage and Deep Tissue Massage? Healthline. Retrieved online at View Reference
- 7Supa’at, I., Zakaria, Z., Maskon, O., Aminuddin, A., & Nordin, N. A. (2013). Effects of Swedish massage therapy on blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammatory markers in hypertensive women. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2013, 171852. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3759268/