Category Archives: Massage Types

Swedish Massage in a nutshell

A question I get at least once a week is about the differences in massage types. In this post I’ll break down Swedish massage and how I use it.


Swedish massage wasn’t originated in Sweden nor was it discovered or created by a Swede. What Americans call Swedish massage is called Classical massage throughout the rest of the world. A Dutchman (Johan Georg Mezger) was responsible for systemizing the basic strokes (more on that later) of the massage system we know as Swedish massage today.

Purpose of Swedish massage:

This type of massage is specifically designed to relax muscles by applying pressure to them against deeper muscle or bone. The strokes flow in the direction of the blood stream (toward the heart). Other purposes are to increase oxygen flow in the blood, release toxins from the muscles, and stimulate circulation.

Basic Strokes and how they may feel to you:

Sliding and gliding strokes are called effleurage strokes-along bigger areas of muscle.  Kneading would be considered petrissage-I usually use this on the quads or thigh muscles.  It is literally like kneading dough or trying to wring out a wet towel. That can sound daunting to those of us who would rather not jiggle or be wrung out on the table.  I tend to use jostling for more athletic folks who need post-workout/race/event relief.

Friction would be either in same direction (parallel to muscle fibers) or cross-wise (against the grain of the muscle).  This to me just feels good- it is usually only applied in small areas of tightened muscle.  Friction is effective around the shoulder blades. Cross-fiber friction is commonly used for the bottom of the foot and I use it on the sides of the thighs.

Vibration is shaking or jostling larger muscle groups, like the hamstrings or calves or quads.  As a runner I really liked having my legs jostled- it relaxed them and stimulated blood flow. Again, this is a technique that I don’t normally use for the more relaxation oriented sessions.  Vibration is a good technique for the more athletically inclined.

Tapotement is a very stimulating use of percussive striking of palms, fingers or the outside of the hand on muscles. The pressure can be firm but the intent is to stimulate circulation.  This I find to be strangely relaxing and energizing at the same time.  I generally don’t use this technique unless there are knots or tightened areas that aren’t responding to anything else or there was a specific request from the client not to be sleepy after the massage.  Tapotement will definitely wake you up in a good way.

It’s also a good tool for someone who is suffering from a respiratory ailment.  The drumming can help break up some of the stuff that might be caught in the lungs.

So when you request a Swedish massage…

You should expect firm pressure that glides and kneads.  The strokes should be relatively slow, although these strokes, when combined with a far bit of speed and a shorter stroke distance, can be very stimulating.  Specific work on troubled areas is generally not the norm for a Swedish massage.  It’s a total feel good experience.  Relaxation and enhanced well-being are major by-products of this type of massage.

Swedish massage is an excellent partner for deep tissue massage for a session because…

You receive the relaxation, “feel good” experience with the knowledge that some of your higher tension areas are being helped too. The best of both worlds!

Most of the massages I do are a combo of Swedish massage intention (relaxation) and deep tissue concentration (specific work). The ease of muscles from the Swedish techniques seems to facilitate deeper work without the added owies- a clinical term for areas that can be sore to the touch with deeper work.

What if you’re not sure what type of massage you need...all of my sessions are customized based upon a client’s needs so once we have our pre-session discussion about what it is you want and need from your massage, Swedish massage (or a combo of other modalities) techniques may be the way to go.