Swedish massage therapy was developed by Swedish doctor Par Henrik Ling in the late 19th century and involves the use of the hands, forearms and elbows to work the superficial muscles. It's designed to promote relaxation, increase oxygen flow in the body and rid the body of toxins.
Purpose of Swedish Massage
When most people think of massage, they're thinking of Swedish massage and it's the most common form of massage practiced in the West. Spas, fitness clubs and even salons typically offer Swedish massage as one of their services.
The purpose of Swedish massage is to bring relaxation to the body by manipulating the muscles with long, gliding strokes that follow the direction of blood that's returning to the heart. Lotions and oils are often used to minimize friction between the therapist's hands and the recipient and stimulate the skin. These movements help to increase blood oxygen levels, rid the muscles of toxins and waste products and increase overall flexibility while reducing tension.
Swedish Massage Techniques
Swedish massage is best known for its long, gliding strokes on the top layer of muscle, but there are a variety of other Swedish massage techniques that include kneading, vibration, percussion and active and passive movement. A typical Swedish massage using a combination of the following strokes, generally in order:
- Light effleurage strokes glide across and fan over the skin and are used to apply massage oil, transition from one stroke to another and evaluate the condition of muscles and tissue before moving on to deeper massage strokes.
- Deep effleurage strokes are similar to their lighter counterparts, but also involve the use of the therapist's knuckles. These strokes are usually performed with additional pressure and increase both the flow of circulation and the lymphatic system. They also help warm superficial body tissues and reduce edema.
- Petrissage strokes involve kneading, skin rolling (where tissue is actually lifted from the underlying muscles) and squeezing. Their purpose is to stretch muscle fibers, break up any adhesions and bring oxygen to weak or atrophied muscles.
- Friction strokes help spread muscle fibers wide and may also help break up any muscular scar tissue from injuries, accidents or surgeries.
- Vibration Gentle vibration of the skin and superficial tissues is used to relax the muscles and loosen the ligaments.
- Percussion techniques sound violent-they include tapping, slapping, cupping, beating and pounding-but are generally forceful, not aggressive. These movements stimulate tired muscles, the nervous and adrenal systems, and enhance muscle tone and skin appearance.
- Passive and active movements aren't really strokes at all, but the stretching and manual manipulation of your limbs in passive or active positions, meaning the therapist may assume the weight of your limb and move it for you, or you participate in the movement.
Benefits of Swedish Massage
Swedish massage is best known for helping people relax and for repairing overworked or injured muscles. Having regular Swedish massages will enhance your circulatory system, meaning that your muscles, tissues and other parts of your body will get more oxygen delivered to them each day. It also stimulates your lymphatic system, helping the body to rid itself of stored toxins and strengthening your immune system. The elimination of these toxins and metabolic wastes shortens recovery time after intense exercise. Your nervous system also benefits from Swedish massage, which is why it's so closely associated with relaxation and pampering. In fact, regular massage is often recommended as part of an overall stress management program.