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Swedish Massage, A Short History and Background

Most massage textbooks credit Henri Peter Ling for developing the Swedish massage techniques in 1812 at the University of Stockholm. However, a Dutch practitioner (Johan Georg Mezger) is the one generally credited as the person who adopted the French names of the basic strokes used for Swedish massage therapy (also know as Classic massage).

It does not really matter who developed it because the strokes are based on massage techniques from around the world. By the 1890s, almost everyone thought they were experts on the techniques of Swedish massages and many physicians and non-physicians had published books with details and illustrations. During this time period, in this short but helpful history of massage, Swedish massage was used extensively in many sanitariums, the precursor for the modern day massage spa. Swedish massage uses gentle but firm pressure to improve circulation and ease muscle tension and pain.

Swedish massage is generally what’s considered a full body massage, as it usually works on all major muscle groups in the body. (Some areas such as breast massage are not offered by all therapists.) Swedish massage can increase one’s flexibility because it stretches the ligaments and tendons, and Swedish massage is specifically designed to relax the muscles. It also helps flush the body tissues of uric and lactic acid and other metabolic waste. Massage oil or lotion is used to ensure the smoothness of the strokes. The Swedish massage is best while lying naked on a massage table but partially covered by a sheet. The Swedish massage techniques are the basis for other types of (Western) massages, such as aromatherapy and sports massage.

The Top 5 Swedish Massage Therapy Techniques

Effleurage massage strokes In Swedish massage, the effleurage strokes include long gliding strokes that go from the neck down to the base of the spine and/or from the shoulder to the finger tips. All of these strokes should always go towards the heart to aid blood and lymphatic flow. These long strokes are done to the entire body (limbs, back, etc.) The masseur or massage therapist will use his or her whole hand or thumb pads to do this stroke, it is sure to relax anyone.

Petrissage massage strokes In Swedish massage, the Petrissage massage stroke goes deeper, and is meant to gently lift muscles up and away from the bone. Then the muscles are gently rolled and squeezed. The kneading and compression motions are to stimulate circulation deep in the muscles. By increasing the circulation this stroke helps clear out toxins from the muscles and nerve tissue.

Friction massage strokes The friction massage stroke in Swedish massage therapy is the deepest penetrating stroke. The masseur or massage therapist will make deep circular and/or transverse movements with their thumb pads or fingertips. This stroke is used near joints and other bony areas such as the side of your spine. When a muscle heals the muscle fibers bond together causing knots (also called adhesions). The friction from this stroke breaks down the adhesions, thus reliving pain and improving the flexibility of your muscles and joints.

Tapotement massage strokes In Swedish massage, the tapotement strokes are better know to ordinary people as the karate chop, since you use your hands to alternately strike or tap the muscles for an invigorating effect. There are variations to this stroke, though the variations are just how your hand is when you strike: Open or closed fist, with the side of the hand or fingertips. It is a good stroke to use on tense, spasming or cramping muscles. Shaking or vibration stroke is not really a stroke, but that is what they call it.

Masseurs or massage therapists will press their hands on a spot they want to massage and start shaking with pressure for a few seconds. The shaking stimulates blood flow, this makes it good for spasming and tense muscles like the tapotement stroke. It is mainly used on people that suffer lower-back pain. It is very important to remember that when giving (or getting) a Swedish massage the strokes should always go towards the heart, if you do not you will not get the full benefits of the massage.


ria singh from NEW DELHI on January 06, 2018:

very nice

Mezger or Ling? on December 29, 2016:

I'm studying for MBLEx but confused. Some sources say it's Ling, others say Mezger. But the sources that say it was Mezger only say that he gave it French terminology. They say nothing about him actually developing the techniques. However, Ling apparently never write about the actual specific strokes so it seems like the actual developer of these strokes is unknown. Mezger may have coined the name of the style, but he was obviously taking some of his strokes from somewhere else, hence why he named it Swedish, not Dutch massage.

vanny on September 03, 2015:

some more info would have done me better

christine on April 24, 2012:

thanku this was very helpful.

restrelax from Los angeles CA on February 01, 2012:

Great hub. I like it.

sam on November 29, 2011:

his name is PEHR HENRIK LING get it rite

kay on February 02, 2011:

5. Vibration refers to rocking, shaking and trembling movements applied to one limb or to the entire body. These movements, which can be done slowly or rapidly, are designed to reverberate through the surrounding tissues in order to break postural holding patterns and to facilitate a momentary release of tension in the muscle being worked on.

kay on February 02, 2011:

why are there only 4 strokes???

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