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Massage: Swedish, Aromatherapy, Deep tissue..what's the difference?

Updated on July 18, 2011
Massage away your stress at 'Isle of Wight Massage'.
Massage away your stress at 'Isle of Wight Massage'.

Swedish, Aromatherapy, Deep tissue.......

Well I've lost count of how many times I've been asked..."So what's a Swedish Massage then?". The answer is always the same:

Swedish massage is the 'Mother' of all western massage routines. In the early 1900s a Swedish physiologist called Per Henrik Ling pioneered a series of massage therapy movements which he called 'Medical Gymnastics'. He believed that these movements were invaluable to achieving and maintaining the perfect structural balance and harmony between muscles and bones within the human body. Later these movements got nick-named the 'Swedish Movement' and then simply 'Swedish Massage' as it is known today. All western based massage routines including Aromatherapy, sports injury and deep tissue massage all use Swedish Massage movements.

Swedish Massage

This technique involves 5 main movements:

  • Effleurage- Gliding strokes towards the heart to aid lymphatic drainage and introduce the therapist's hands.
  • Petrissage. Firmer 'kneading' or 'wringing' strokes to encourage improved circulation deep within the muscles, helping to eliminate toxins.
  • Frictions. Generally very deep pressure using circular or transverse movements over adhesions in the muscles
  • Tapotement. A series of percussive movements to stimulate the muscles and surface tissues such as cupping, hacking and beating.
  • Vibrations.Shaking or vibrating over specific areas can calm nerve endings and reduce pain.

These movements are skillfully put together by the therapist in a routine which can be from half an hour to 90 mins long.The massage can be quite vigorous and stimulating depending on the clients needs. During this routine a massage medium is applied such as almond oil. The client lays naked or in their underwear under a sheet or towel and the therapist exposes each area to be worked on individually with a technique known as 'draping'. The area is warmed thouroughly and if the client needs deeper work then a series of static pressures can be applied (see: deep tissue massage).

Deep tissue Massage.

After the basic routine is underway the massage therapist should have a good idea where the main areas of tension are. If deeper work is needed then they may use a technique known as N.M.T (neuro- muscular technique). This is when a series of static pressures are applied with thumbs, knuckles, or even elbows directly on to the adhesion and held for up to 90 seconds. Then effleurage is used to drain toxins towards lymph nodes. The N.M.T works in several ways:

  1. It 're-programs' the neural messages in much the same way as turning off a computer and turning it back on!. The pressure interrupts the messages for a moment and can release any 'stuck' messages. In short your body sometimes forgets it's not in pain and needs to be turned off.
  2. The rush of fresh blood back into the muscle after the pressure is released brings new oxygen and nutrients encouraging the elimination of toxins, and releasing the built up tensions.
  3. The pressure and 'nice' pain experienced during this treatment releases endorphins which are the bodies natural pain killers.

Aromatherapy massage.

This routine is generally not as vigorous and stimulating as the others. It uses essential oils in with the massage medium which have an effect at a cellular level on the body.These oils are very potent and can bring about remarkable healing within the body. The technique is much smoother and lighter and includes various pressure points which are based on 'tsubo' points from the ancient art of acupressure.

All of the above therapies and more can be found at


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