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Holistic Health: The Basics of Swedish Massage

Updated on July 5, 2011

Making Massage Accessible

When the average person hears massage mentioned, the first images that usually come to his or her mind are of what we would call the Swedish modality: on a table, with oil or lotion for lubrication, professionally draped with a sheet so that only the body part being worked on is exposed, perhaps with a blanket for warmth. S/he might envision a 50-minute session filled with long, gliding strokes, soft music playing in the background, and an overall atmosphere of calm and relaxation. All this is true. However, most first-time clients do not know much, if any, of the history or technical aspects of Swedish massage.


The long, gliding strokes most commonly associated with this modality are called effleurage. They give continuity to the session; strokes toward the heart promote blood flow, strokes away from the heart are calming nerve strokes.

Petrissage, the second Swedish stroke, consists of kneading or compressing the tissue, and has numerous benefits, including increasing local circulation and the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the muscle, as well as softening adhesions and decreasing overall tension.

Friction strokes involve the use of fingers, palms, or a soft fist in small circular motions, breaking up local adhesions and scar tissue, stimulating local circulation, carrying away toxins and metabolic waste, and hydrating the tissues.

The next stroke, vibration, is a fine, tremulous movement, sinking into the tissue. This stimulates nerve activity and sometimes even internal organs, and adds variety to the work.

The final stroke is called tapotement, and utilizes a drumming or patting motion, either with fingertips, with a soft fist, the ulnar side of the hand, cupped hands, or even with a plucking motion. In addition to stimulating the nervous system, tapotement tones muscle and softens tissue, increasing blood flow to the area.


The terms effleurage, petrissage, and tapotement were coined by Johann Mezger, who is credited for bringing massage into the medical field, in the late 19th century. Swedish massage was fathered by Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish physiologist who combined movement and massage to promote overall wellness and health, and lived from 1776 to 1839, doing his work at the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics, which he founded. It was not until 1856 that two brothers, George and Charles Taylor, introduced Swedish massage to America, by writing a textbook on the subject. The 1980's began the rise of accredited massage schools, and by the 1990's it had become more accepted by the medical profession.


The overall benefits of massage have long been understated. They include relaxation and the relief of tension, in addition to improvement in muscle tone and circulation. Also, massage can help prevent or delay muscle atrophy from forced inactivity in the elderly or invalid.

Swedish massage can aid in lymphatic circulation, speeding up the elimination of toxins, and help the movement of waste in the intestines, reducing constipation and promoting regularity. There are also more immediate benefits, such as stretching muscles and connective tissue, increasing the range of motion of joints, reducing pain and inflammation, and preventing the formation of adhesions.

Emotionally, the physical touch involved in these sessions can help lower the sense of isolation a person might feel, increase their comfort level with their bodies, and over all give a person a sense of calmness and serenity, which is all too rare in our fast-paced society. Swedish massage is a wonderful tool to promote wellness and happiness, for any kind of person.


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    • restrelax profile image


      6 years ago from Los angeles CA

      Very informative hub. keep it up.

    • Full of Wit profile image

      Full of Wit 

      7 years ago

      Great hub. You're so right about the benefits being understated. Too often, people regard massage as only a form of relaxation and/or pampering, but there are truly a plethora of benefits that can result from massage.

    • theindiaphile profile image


      7 years ago from London

      Inspiring. I like chavutti myself but this looks most relaxing

    • Todd Cunningham profile image

      Todd Cunningham 

      8 years ago from Bloomingdale, NY

      Maddie this is an excellent hub very well written accurate and informative a great service to massage

    • lindaadams37 profile image


      8 years ago

      Call it by any other name but Massage definitely has its benefits and difficult to be replaced by any other treatment whatsoever.

    • HealthQuote profile image


      8 years ago

      this has to be the best massage you can get if you have back problems

    • Lamme profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting. I've had several massages, but never understood the basics. Now I really want a massage!

    • pathannaziya1 profile image


      8 years ago from nadiad

      thank you

    • Kclark09 profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub! Very precise explanation of basic Swedish massage. I like the emotional aspects you included as they are such a important and commonly overseen part of massage.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am definnetly going to use this massage sometime!

      Good job with this hub!

    • Gemynii profile image


      8 years ago from Texas

      Great hub!

    • shareitt profile image


      8 years ago

      I suggest your own massage chair then you can get a massage anytime!

    • paulthomley profile image


      8 years ago from north alabama

      All too often, when we specialize in a certain area, meanings of words become so commonplace that we take for granted everyone knows their meanings. I appreciate your not doing that in this case, and explaining the different techniques in detail. As a chronic pain specialist, I would prescribe weekly massage for at least 75% of my patients, if only insurance would cover it fully. Nice Job! Thank You!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      The words paint a visual. I want a massage now

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very nice hub. You have captured the essence of Swedish massage and its benefits. I think many first time clients would be interested in your information. I am going to have to check out your other hubs.

    • WaynePoole profile image


      9 years ago from America

      Great hub, I know you put a lot of time and effort into it. Thanks.

    • JPSO138 profile image


      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      Very interesting. I love reading your hub and learning from it. Keep them coming.

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 

      9 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      nicely done hub, thanks for expalining the brief history of massage and its health benefits.

    • massagetherapy profile image


      10 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Hi there Maddie,

      Really enjoyed your massage hub. Very well written and informative.

      A nice overview. Well done!

    • raintree profile image


      10 years ago

      Hi Maddie,

      Thank you for this clear and interesting explanation of massage.


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