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Swedish massage is quite different from other forms of massage such as Thai massage. This form of massage involved the use of pressure to sooth the muscles. Read more with our free massage guides.


A Swedish massage is actually the most common form of massage, one that sees the hands used to warm up the body, by kneading, rolling, and squeezing various muscles so as to
relieve stress and any aches.

Known as the ‘traditional massage’, the Swedish massage was developed in the 1820s by a Swedish doctor called Dr. Per Henrik Ling. Dr. Ling was a student of physiology as well as gymnastics and recognised the benefits of international massage techniques from the likes of China, India and Rome. Taking techniques from each of these methods, Dr Ling developed his only massage therapy, that today has become known as ‘the Swedish massage’.

The massage works by manipulating deep tissue layers in the body via a series of strokes, shaking, tapping and rubs with the hands. These methods, known as petrissage movements, aim to cause deep relaxation within the muscle and body tissue. Swedish massage is also adapted for each person, as no body is alike, so petrissage movements can vary in strength depending on your masseur.

Swedish massages are generally thought to focus on the back, but they are in fact used all over the body.  As a result, a Swedish massage can often last for up to an hour. During a Swedish massage session, you are generally covered in towels or a robe, with only the massage area on display to the masseur. Depending on your preference, parts of the body that are normally rubbed are the back, arms, legs, shoulders, thighs and the abdomen, ensuring a full body massage therapy.

The Basics – How to give a Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is characterized by long flowing strokes over the entire body, not all at one time but you work in areas and you petrissage, kneading and stroking that feels good to the client. Depp tissue work is not usually part of Swedish massage unless someone specifically asks for it.

It is best to make sure that the stokes are long, flowing and connecting. When you are looking for a Swedish massage from somebody, you do want something, you want something that is not real choppy, not really uncomfortable in anyway. This type of massage should be comfortable and relaxing. It should sooth and de-stress, help to get rid of tension and make the body feel good in a number of different ways.

When you give  a Swedish massage, give those long flowing strokes, a little kneading, a bit of cross fiber friction, which is going against the muscle fibers. It helps the muscles to relax and the body to open up. Swedish massage aims to relax the muscles by applying pressure on them against deeper muscles and bones, mostly rubbing in the same direction as the flow of blood that returns to the heart. The therapist uses his/her hands, arms and elbows to apply pressure. Swedish massage is the most widely spread type of massage in the Westerner world and it also known as classic massage.

History and Origins

Swedish massage was invented in the XIX century by Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839), a Swedish fencing master and gymnastics teacher, who founded the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute in Stockholm in 1813. This school was the first in the world to specialise in the training of gymnastics instructors. The Dutch practitioner Johann Georg Mezger (1838-1909) gave the French names to the basic strokes used in Swedish massage.

Benefits of Swedish massage

Swedish massage has many physical and psychological benefits, including:

  • Helping release toxins from the muscles
  • Increase the oxygen flow in the blood
  • Shorten recovery time from muscle strain
  • Improve blood circulation
  • Stretch ligaments and tendons
  • Relieve stress and tension
  • Stimulate the skin and increase its tone

Description of Swedish massage

In Swedish massage the receiving person lies undressed on a table, draped with a towel and only the massage areas are covered each time. Swedish massage is a usually a full body massage, unless specifically requested. The masseur can use scented or unscented oils during the massage. The massage session usually lasts up to one hour.

Massage techniques

Swedish massage involves the use of five basic techniques:

  • Effleurage – gliding. This is the first stage of the massage, when the therapist applies the oil and warms up the muscles and relaxes the receiver with gentle gliding strokes, with the palm of the hands moving towards the heart.
  • Petrissage – kneading. This Swedish massage technique resembles the kneading of dough and it involves the pinching, rolling and lifting of the tissue. Petrissage is relaxing and improves blood and lymphatic circulation.
  • Friction – rubbing. Friction involves applying pressure on the receiver’s muscles and this results in deep massage. The therapist uses his/her hand palms, thumbs, knuckles or the back of the forearms to apply pressure, which is then released slowly. The movement in friction can be sliding or circular.
  • Vibration – pounding. The therapist gently taps the flesh with his/her hands or fingertips. This movement is done on smaller muscle groups, such as the one in the face, to relax.
  • Tapotement – shaking. This phase of Swedish massage is the most invigorating, but for some people it can be too much. Also, it is better not to do tapotement for too long, as it can be over stimulating. Tapotement consists in quick and rhythmic percussions of the body. There are three types of tapotement:
    – Cupping: the therapist opens his/her hand flat, bending only the last knuckles of the hands and keeping the thumbs close to the palm. In this way the therapist taps the body of the receiver.
    – Hacking: the therapist taps the receiver’s body with the outer sides of the hands, like in a karate movement
    – Pummelling: the therapist loosens his/her wrists and with relaxed hands taps the receiver’s body.


Swedish massage is a very good treatment for the body, but there are some instances when it is better not to receive it. You should not have a Swedish massage if you suffer from, for example:

  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • fever
  • broken bones, fractures or dislocations
  • unhealed sores or wounds
  • body areas that are inflamed, swollen or bruised
  • varicose veins
  • recent surgery
  • high blood pressure or heart problems
  • certain kinds of cancer

In any case, if you have any other diseases or use some types of medications, check with your doctor before having a massage.


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