Massage therapy

History, benefits & Techniques of Swedish / Holistic Massage

The famous Swedish massage has been a vision of what a massage really is for many years. Portrayed on the television as a large, muscular person thumping, pounding and karate chopping at your body until you can take no more. This is not a Swedish massage! In fact, a deep tissue massage is considerably stronger than a Swedish one as the Swedish technique concentrates on the soft tissues of the body while the deep tissue technique digs deeper. So, if you have braved the deep tissue therapy, you can definitely enjoy the Swedish.

If you expect it to be as soft and gentle as an aromatherapy massage then you would also be wrong. Although oils are uses to help the hands to glide over your soft tissues, the strikes, techniques and experience is very different.

With over 80 massage techniques that are named and practiced today, why would you chose a Swedish one over the others?

The history of the Swedish massage

The Swedish massage was developed from a chance encounter with healing. A fencing instructor named Per Henrick Ling, caused an injury to his elbow that was getting in the way of his work. Sat down at a table, Ling began tapping his elbow on the wood and as the strokes continued, his pain eased. In the 1830’s Ling realised that his injured joint would become the start of something impressive, a practice that would change the life of clients for centuries to come. During the 1850’s Dr Charles and his colleague; Dr Taylor, spent some time with Ling, learning and perfecting the method and then took the technique to the United States.

Unlike many inventions that are provided with the name of their founder, the reason for the name… it originated in Sweden.

During the early 1900’s this technique became bigger and bigger. A whole system was created around it including physiotherapy, movements and manipulation. It even went as far as to include hydrotherapy and electrotherapy.

As with other massage techniques, science began to outweigh traditional concepts of natural healing. Medications were chosen as a quick fix to injuries instead of the massages because they were considered to be fast and effective without the work. Unfortunately, it did not take long for patients to realise that when the tablet runs out the pain is still there because the cause has not been dealt with.

It most definitely did not help when ‘massage parlours’ and ‘sauna’s’ became known for other pleasure services. With the stereotype that men were getting sexual services instead of healing interventions, clientele avoided the businesses for fear of a shameful reputation and practitioners could no longer afford to complete with modern medicine.

When massages were revived in the 1970’s due to the relaxation and aromatherapy techniques taking root, the Swedish practitioners found a way back into the market. As clients remembered or newly experienced the benefits of this non medicated pain relief, the practice became one of the most popular massages requested today.

Research conducted by the American massage therapy association found that 89% of their respondents were getting massages because they found it to be an effective pain reliever. The association also concluded that 61% of primary doctors have recommended a massage to their patient for alternative treatment, with or without medical intervention.

Although the Swedish massage can be vigorous compared to aromatherapy or Thai fusion techniques, many people enjoy the low and medium intensity, describing it as stimulating and reviving. Always discuss with your therapist, what intensity you would prefer and if at any point during the session you feel that it is too gentle or too rough, let the practitioner know.

Techniques used in Swedish massage

Within Swedish massage there are five main techniques that are used. Each provides a different sensation and supports a separate part of the healing process.

  • Effleurage

This is a stroke that is most often experienced during a session. It involves oil being applied to the area that is being concentrated on and the therapist using this to glide over the contours of your body. The therapist will usually use the palm of their hand to slide along the body, always in the direction of the heart. The pressure is of low or medium force and constantly applied.

The effleurage stroke is a muscle warming technique that supports your relaxation, calms your nerves and improves the circulation of the blood, heart and lymphatic systems.

  • Petrissage

The petrissage technique is similar to kneading the dough that you use to make bread. This method includes lifting the flesh, rolling it and squeezing it either beneath or between the therapists hands.

This practice is a tension releasing skill which will relax the muscles and improve both blood flow and lymphatic drainage.

  • Friction

The friction rub is as deep as the Swedish massage gets. By applying the pressure of the therapists weight on the flat of the palms and the pads of the fingers or forearms, the pressure is slowly released. Working on deeper tissues, the movement will be continuously sliding or alternating in circles so that the pressure is spread evenly across the tissue. Although this technique crosses the muscles, the weight is spread through the whole of the hand, unlike in a deep tissue massage where the pressure s concentrated through the knuckles.

  • Vibration

The vibration technique is a gentle shaking or trembling of the flesh. This can be completed using either the hand or the fingertips. As the smaller muscles are manipulated in this way, the tension is released. This practice is usually used on the face, along the spinal column and in any other area that is bony or sensitive to firm touch.

  • Tapotement

This is the technique that is often portrayed on the television as painful and intense. Remember that the intensity used is at your request and the therapist can be lighter or firmer depending on your requirements.

Using a quick and rhythmic movement, the tapping stimulates and tones your muscles.

Within a Swedish massage, tapotement can take a cupping form. This is where the therapists hands are cupped to bend only at the lower knuckles. The flat of the hands then come into contact with the body in a quick, rhythmic fashion. Hacking can also be used. Instead of cupping the hands and using the palms, the therapist will be using a chopping movement. Finally the pummelling stroke is performed with the fists of both hands over the thighs and buttock areas.

I know, tapotement sounds scary but remember that the friction technique was the deepest stroke so although this looks like the uncomfortable part, the rhythmic movements can be quite relaxing.

What are the benefits of a Swedish massage?

The massage that originated in Sweden has a multitude of benefits that are induced through the anatomical and physiologically based practice. The research from AMTA found that 43% of patients were attending for the management of their pain and overall health. A further 29% had sessions to relive stress and encourage relaxation. The rest were unsure why they chose to have a massage but found themselves enjoying it.

The Swedish massage has received credit by many researchers for its ability to promote health and prevent disease. Barreto and Batista have concluded that regardless of your background, physical or mental make up Swedish massage is highly recommended as an alternative treatment to medication.

The physical benefits that have informed research include the improvement of fluid circulation throughout the body. This consists of the blood flow as well as the lymphatic fluid. By improving the lymphatic drainage, metabolic waste can be eradicated. Injuries and illnesses will also heal faster due to the enhanced movement of fluids.

It is one thing to get stressed occasionally and feel like you might burst a blood vessel, it is another if you suffer from hypertension on a daily basis. The relief that can be provided by some time spent on the massage table can relieve not only the physical symptoms but relax the mind as well so that stress is reduced and the client is able to cope if the pain begins to return.

You might be surprised to learn that research by Supa’at and colleagues proved that women who suffer with hypertension could be relaxed and the blood pressure reduced for the long term. In fact, blood pressure and heart rates were reduced when having a Swedish massage for one hour, once a week. These results were consistent and lasted for a considerably longer period than when rest alone was used.

The tight muscles that may be aching, uncomfortable and painful, can be loosened, and the tension removed from them. This gain is also applicable to the joints as an increased range of movement is often reported due to the connective tissues that have been slackened.

If you suffer from regular cramps and muscle spasms then the Swedish massage will ease these annoyances for you, while improving the muscle fatigue that may come with their experience. In fact, a Swedish massage will calm the nervous system as a whole, allowing complete relaxation.

A Swedish massage will improve your muscle tone, strength and skin tone! Who needs to run for miles when you can get a massage?! I know which one I would rather experience.

Moreover, the mental health benefits of this practice are monumental. Research and feedback has allowed researchers to conclude that a Swedish massage will support mental relaxation. This is achieved through the relief of stress build up. It has been proven that this massage can relieve not only stress but depression, anxiety and irritation while increasing your concentration. As mental well-being is being brought to the surface now through the media, charities and friendships, maybe this massage should be a requirement for every parent, employee and birthday present.

This Swedish born therapy has also been recommended for the management of many illness. Symptoms from asthma, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic pain, myofascial pain, headaches and athletic injuries are all known to be relieved through the practice.

Are there any side effects of Swedish massages?

Swedish massages, are thought to be safe for the majority of people. Although the majority of research says that you should go for it, there are precautions that should be considered and discussed prior to starting.

You will remember from the different techniques explained above that tapotement is the cupping or chopping rhythmic motion that stimulates and relaxes the muscles. There are varying intensities that can be used and you should speak to your therapist if it is too intense for you.

Even though it is a practice that invigorates you, it can lead to overstimulation and exhaustion. This is obviously not beneficial for you and it is every therapists desire to have you leaving energised and revived, not exhausted. There are people with firm, toned muscles that need an intense stimulation but then there are people like me whose muscles are deconditioned. For me, an intense pounding would hurt, but a low or medium intensity would be more suitable to create the stimulation.

As with the vindaloo curry, there are often people who believe that they are stronger and firmer than they really are, this massage is able to put that to the test. Maybe a couples Swedish massage will give you the truth about the pain threshold of that big brave husband of yours.

There are situations that make a Swedish massage unsuitable for obvious reasons. If you have broken bones, fractures or severe sprains, this vigorous therapy will be painful and prevent the growth of new bone attaching correctly. It is also not recommended to be practiced over varicose veins, areas with open sores or those that have been affected by frostbite.

As Swedish massages improve the circulation of blood, it is important that you do not have blood clots or be on blood thinning medication. This is because there is a risk of the blood clots becoming dislodged and being moved along with the increased blood flow. If you have a condition that means that you haemorrhage easily then this could also be an issue.

Other conditions to be aware of include jaundice, kidney disease, large hernias, severe pain, and whether you have had recent surgery. Each of these would need you to take advice from you primary doctor before undertaking a Swedish massage.

In addition to the above, it would not be recommended for nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea as to be honest, the therapist would rather not catch something that could be contagious. If they have to take time off of work then there will be a great deal of people who will no longer be able to benefit from the pian relief and relaxation. The nausea is unlikely to be helped by movements and pounding either.

Who should have a Swedish massage?

Although many people worry about the intensity of a Swedish massage, it is a gentle therapy that usually concerns the whole of the body. Due to the practice being based on treating the soft tissues rather than the deeper membranes of the muscles, it is a technique that is perfect for people who are new to receiving massages.  

The soft, rhythmic movements of the Swedish massage allow the client to fully relax during the session, so if relaxation is what you are looking for then this massage will do just that.

Just because it is gentle however does not mean that is unsuitable for pain relief. The Swedish massage can release knots within the muscles and ease tensions that are building within the body.

Those who are sensitive to touch because of pain, skin conditions or mental and emotional difficulties can find that the Swedish massage is ideal for them. By asking for a low intensity technique to be used the client can experience safe and positive touch without pain and fear while being supported to relax in sometimes uncomfortable situations.

Call us now