Swedish massage is a series of touches and movements of tissue and joints that causes relaxation, improved circulation, reduced muscle and emotional tension, improved flexibility, and easing of pain. While there is some controversy surrounding its origins, it is generally thought that Dr. Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) created a program of touch and movements that we refer to today as “Swedish Massage.” Dr. Ling was a lifelong scholar, whose extensive travels ultimately contributed to his poor health.
Ling suffered from a variety of ailments, including rheumatism, lung disease, and gout. It was because of his health that Ling pursued fencing in an effort to improve his conditions and ease his chronic pain. He soon realized, however, that fencing alone was not enough to relieve him of his pain, and he began developing a program which he referred to as “medical gymnastics.”
Very early on, Ling realized the value of touch, and the study of what he called “the body and psychological condition of man” led him to found The Royal Central Gymnastic Institute in 1813. Ling spent the rest of his life devoted to these studies, which came to be known in Europe as “Swedish Movements” and in the United States as the “Swedish Movement Cure.”
There is some controversy surrounding his designation as the “Father of Massage,” and many people assert that the techniques Ling used were borrowed from Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman practitioners of “medical touch” and massage.
What is not controversial, though, are the benefits to be gained from this type of massage therapy. According to medical dictionary.com, “…because the skin is the largest organ of the body, massage causes a chain reaction that produces a positive effect on all layers and systems of the body.”
Swedish massage typically consists of five basic movements performed on muscles and joints. The first movement, “effleurage,” is a series of long, gliding strokes going in the direction of blood flow to the heart. Usually, the massage therapist will start with the leg or the back; however, there are no hard and fast rules on which part of the body to start the massage.
Pétrissage involves rolling, kneading or squeezing of soft tissue. Typically, this movement follows effleurage; but, again, the order in which these touches occur are not set in stone and many therapists choose the order of touch in response to the subtle signals they receive from the body during treatment.
Tapotement, friction and vibration are movements used to help loosen, relax and energize the muscles. They can be done with a cupped hand, the fingers, or the edges of the hands and they are also helpful in reducing scar tissue and increasing blood flow.
As we already mentioned, Swedish Massage is the most frequently performed technique; however, it may be contraindicated for some elderly and frail clients, those who have recently undergone surgery, clients with excessively high blood pressure, or pregnant women who would find it too uncomfortable to lie on their bellies. As with any therapy, the most important part of the treatment is to discuss your medical history with your therapist.