by Nick Lakoff, Certified Massage Therapist
If you go to Sweden today and ask for a Swedish massage, you might still get a funny look from the local practitioners. Indeed most Swedes have no idea that one of the most common massages practiced on the planet is named after their homeland. In fact, other than in English-speaking countries, Quebec (Canada), and Holland, it is often referred to as “Classic Massage”. Pehr Henrick Ling an 18th century Physical Therapist, teacher of medical gymnastic and a fencing master invented a system of gymnastics known as the “Swedish Movement Cure” (aka Swedish Movement System and Swedish Gymnastics Movement System). Ling elaborated this method after he found that his regimen of fencing exercises had cured him of all his physical ailments. Within his system was a subset involving massage techniques gleaned from a Chinese friend who introduced him to Tui Na (Chinese massage) and martial arts. Years after his death, the Dutch practitioner Johan Georg Mezger accidentally discovered the link between Tui Na and Lings massage techniques. Based on Lings work, Mezger coined a condensed set of maneuvers and techniques “Swedish Massage”. It was Mezger, not Ling, who gave these their French names still in use today: Effleurage, Petrissage, Tapotement, Friction, and Vibration. Afterwards, in the mid to late 19th century, Swedish massage made its way to the United States where it gained great popularity in the sanatoriums of the day and soon spread to resorts and the rest is history.
You should seek out this form of massage for relaxation, and for more therapeutic reasons, since it is a very flexible approach. Swedish massage is generally performed on a table, using massage gels, oils and/or creams. Starting with the basic five techniques elaborated by Ling and Mezger, today’s modern Swedish massage uses 13 main types of techniques. Theses are used in a certain sequence to gradually achieve depth and intensity. These are:
- Effleurage (long, gliding strokes)
- Foulage (winshield wiper like movements with the thumbs)
- Talonade (Deep strokes using the heel of the hand)
- Petrissage (lifting and kneading the muscles)
- Friction and cross friction (firm, deep, circular or side to side rubbing movements)
- Tapotement, now generally referred to as percussions (brisk tapping or percussive movements) These include finger drumming, tapotement, hacking with finger tips, hacking with cubital edge of hand, Asian Hammering, cupping
- Rolled palpations (Pinching and lifting of large sections of skin and sliding forward)
- Scratching (Cautious superficial stroking with fingertips and nails)
- Vibration (rapidly shaking or vibrating specific muscles)
- Shaking (moving a limb to and fro so as to make the muscle relax)
- Articular Mobilizations (Manual manipulation of limbs in their natural range of motion)
- Traction/Compression (traction/compression of limbs and articulations)
- Drainage (Long gliding superficial strokes intended to help interstitial liquid move towards the lymphatic system)
Work can be very global and sweeping, or it can be very specific and focused, or a mix of the two. Commonly, one area of the body is worked on at a time, but you can cover a few at the same time such as back, neck, arms, and head. Motions are usually, but not exclusively, centripetal (toward the interior/center/heart) in nature. Typically, you are draped between two sheets and only the part that is worked on is exposed. Intimacy and warmth are protected by using a technique called “drapage” to position the sheets. The practitioner should give you the option of keeping or taking off your undergarments. The bra for women is normally removed for access to the back and in order not to stain it with massage gels, oils, or cream. A good Swedish massage practitioner rarely breaks contact with the client during the length of the session, makes maneuvres fluid, and uses full contact with their hands and forearms.
Nick Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.