Day Spa Services 2: What’s a Swedish Massage?

by Glenn Reynolds

A Swedish or Relaxation Massage is one of the core services offered at Day Spas. Here is a guide to the performance of this kind of massage…


Swedish Massage is used for a number of desired outcomes:

  • relaxation,
  • reduced muscle tension,
  • increased range of movement,
  • stimulation of nervous system.

There is not one set routine, as Swedish Massage is defined by a range of particular techniques that are used in a sequence designed by the practitioner. Such techniques can be used to affect specific areas or employed in a general routine to cover the entire body.

Massage manipulations that you may experience during Swedish treatment:

1. Superficial stroking (“effleurage”)

  • This is a stroking or gliding movement on the surface of the skin, similar to the caress of a loved one or petting of an animal.

  • Used for
    • starting and ending treatment,
    • relaxing the client
    • and helping the process of moving fluid through the skin and lymphatic system.

2. Kneading or squeezing (“petrissage”)

  • In this category are many techniques including lifting, rolling, stretching, compressing, squeezing or kneading underlying tissue.
  • These movements are to
    • relieve muscle fatigue,
    • painful conditions,
    • encourage blood flow
    • and reduction of swelling.
      It may be useful in unusual muscle contractions or where the soft tissues are adhering to each other under the skin.

3. Tapping or percussion (“tapotement”)

  • Here, repeated, rhythmical striking is used to stimulate underlying tissue, and induce a relaxing response on the whole body.
    Techniques include:
    • ‘cupping’ (curved fingers of the hand),
    • pummelling (base of clenched hand),
    • and chopping (side of hand).
  • Tapping manipulations are used to increase nervous stimulation, and may increase the alertness of the client. It is often used on athletes before competition.
  • Due to this stimulating effect, tapping techniques may be omitted during a purely relaxation routine.

4. Friction

  • During this treatment, superficial tissue is moved over the underlying structures using repetitive, non-gliding techniques, designed to improve mobility, increase local blood flow and decrease pain.

  • They usually begin superficially, and gradually progress to deeper structures in order to increase the effectiveness of the technique.

5. Vibrations

  • This is a group of techniques that incorporate movements such as rocking, vibrating, shaking and jostling tissue. These are rhythmic and oscillating in nature, applied by using the whole hand, fingertips or even a mechanical device.

  • The difference between these and tapping techniques are that here, the hands usually do not break contact with the skin.
  • These techniques are used for inducing a sense of relaxation.

A well-designed Swedish routine will use all or most of these treatments. On advice from the client, the practitioner may choose to focus on a specific area of the body for extensive treatment, but usually a routine will cover the most areas of the body.

The best Swedish therapists will work through the routine with their hands (almost) always in contact with the body, moving seamlessly from one technique to the next and from one region to the following. This allows the client to feel more secure and relaxed during treatment.

Feel free to let your therapist know of any areas that need attention, and whether the pressure is to your liking. They would be more than happy to adjust their routine to meet your expectations.

Source: Tuchtan, Charles et al, (2004) Foundations of Massage, Elsevier, Marrickville.

Next article – Day Spa Services 3: Body Wraps & Scrubs

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