Swedish massage is the most common type of massage in many countries, including Northern Europe and North America. It is often simply called massage here at home in Sweden. The term classical massage also occurs.
Clinical studies have shown that Swedish massage is an effective treatment method for reducing low back pain and for reducing pain and joint stiffness in knees affected by osteoarthritis. Like several other types of massage, Swedish massage can also reduce the amount of cortisol in saliva, a substance that is secreted in the body when we are stressed. Swedish massage can thus not only be used to treat pain and stiffness but can also help us deal with stress in everyday life.
The good effects of the massage
Makes tense muscles soft and elastic
Increases blood circulation in the muscles
Increases lymph circulation
Strengthens the immune system
Has a relaxing effect on the body
Gives a deeper and calmer breathing
Affects the body’s internal organs in a positive way
Provides increased body awareness
Counteracts scarring after damage to muscle tissue and other soft tissues
Has a good effect on training pain and strained muscles in sports contexts
Counteracts tension during pain
Has a calming effect on the nervous system
Increases our ability to concentrate
Increases the general well-being of the body
It is common to undress down to the underwear before a massage treatment, but it varies. There are people who prefer to be completely naked during the massage so that there should be no clothing at all that in any way restricts the movements. Many masseurs use large towels to cover the client’s body. With the exception of the part of the body that is currently being massaged, so that you do not freeze or feel left out on the massage table.
If you do not want to undress down to the underwear, it is often possible to carry out the massage treatment anyway, as long as you do not wear too restrictive clothes. However, wearing clothes does not work very well if massage oil is to be used and clothes can also mean that certain steps cannot be performed as intended.
Swedish massage is mainly based on slow, drawn-out and soft to medium-hard movements. Ironing, kneading and circular motions are usually included. Swedish massage is comparatively gentle and relaxing. You do not go down as deep as with deep tissue massage.
Sometimes relatively powerful movements are used, but not so powerful that it hurts. The goal is to get muscles to relax and release their tension.
Unlike in, for example, Thai massage, the masseur never uses his feet to massage with during a Swedish massage.
Swedish massage can be given with or without massage oil, massage lotion and the like. Using some form of massage oil, massage lotion or the like is very common because it makes it easier for the masseur to achieve the desired slow, soft and sliding movements.
The five basic movements
The five basic movements in Swedish massage:
What is effleurage?
Effleurage is a French word that roughly means “to skim” or “to touch lightly”. In Swedish massage, effleurage is a series of massage movements that are used to warm up the muscle before moving on to massaging it deeper.
Effleurage consists in Swedish massage of soothing stroking movements, mainly circular movements that are done with the palms. The upper finger joints can also be used.
Effleurage can be firm or light, and you usually do not pull on the skin. The movements go along the body’s long muscles.
Some masseurs always start effleurage by massaging the part of the body that is furthest from the heart, and gradually moving towards the heart. The idea is to encourage blood and lymph fluid to move back to the heart.
It is common for a Swedish massage treatment to both begin and end with effleurage, and effleurage can also be used as a transition between different parts of the massage treatment.
Massage oil or similar makes it easier to perform effleurage.
What is petrissage?
Petrissage comes from the French word pétrir, which means to knead. In Swedish massage, petrissage is massage movements with higher pressure than effleurage. The movements go deeper and compress the underlying muscles. It is not only kneading movements that can be included in petrissage, but twists and skin rolling are also common, as well as movements where you lift up and squeeze. The movements are slow and rhythmic.
The masseur uses both the palms and all five fingers during petrissage. Some masseurs not only use the insides and fingertips of the fingers but also massage with the help of the knuckles. The knuckles can be used to knead and lift in circular motions.
Scissors are also usually counted as petrissage in Swedish massage. Chopping is performed only over flat parts of the body and the pressure must not be as hard as during normal petrissage. The masseur uses only the index fingers and middle fingers. These fingers are placed opposite each other and then gradually work their way towards each other during a process where the masseur alternately lifts and alternately lowers again.
What is tapotement?
Tapotement consists of a rhythmic drumming or thumping that the masseur performs with different parts of the hands, for example with the fingers, with the fingertips, with the side of the hand or with a cupped hand.
Here are the five most common variants:
To drum with your fingertips
To strike lightly with a clenched fist
To strike / slap lightly with the fingers
Making chopping movements with the edges of the hands (little finger side)
To drum with cupped hands
The term tapotement comes from the French word tapoter which means to drum.
That we use the French word massage in Swedish is the merit of the Dutch physician Johann Georg Mezgers (1838-1909). The word was borrowed into Swedish in the 1870s after Mezger’s work with health-promoting massage had had a major impact in Europe. (However, the very concept of massage is much older than that.)
Mezger is also the reason why Swedish massage uses the French terms effleurage, petrissage, tapotement and massage a ‘frictions .
Some of the pioneers in the Swedish art of massage were the gymnastics teacher Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) and his disciples Lars Gabriel Branting and Emerentia “Emma” Georgi. They helped to spread the system for massage and muscle stretching that became what we today call Swedish or classical massage, based on models from other European countries.
Ling is usually called the father of Swedish gymnastics because he founded the Central Gymnastics Institute, which today is the School of Gymnastics and Sports in Stockholm.