What is Swedish massage?
Swedish massage is a manual oil therapy conceptualized in the 19th century by fencing master Henrik Ling. In this article, you will discover this massage in more detail, its principles, its techniques, its history, its benefits, how a session takes place, how to become a therapist, and finally, contraindications.
Often considered the most classic form of body approach, Swedish massage is a dynamic massage technique that aims to dissolve tension and firm muscles and joints. It’s toning and relaxing effect promotes blood and lymphatic circulation and the elimination of toxins, and helps the body regain its natural balance.
The main principles
Swedish massage is a very classic oil massage that requires fluid and long movements (see techniques below). The theoretical springs of this discipline are numerous: its creator, P.H. Ling was inspired by the knowledge of physiology, anatomy, and concepts of physical education of the Nordic peoples.
He also used his experience of movement as a fencing master and his knowledge of the ancestral massage techniques used by gymnastic doctors in Greco-Roman times. One last element came to complete the basic rules of his approach: the power of thought on the body.
Swedish massage techniques
The technique includes several basic maneuvers that have remained the same for generations:
- Effleurage: This maneuver often takes place at the beginning and end of the massage. It consists of performing slow and rhythmic movements towards the heart in order to relax and prepare the individual for other maneuvers.
- Kneading: performed using the pulp of the thumbs and fingers, this maneuver aims to improve blood circulation and relax the muscles. The flexible tissues of the body are stretched and kneaded deeply.
- Friction: Friction is the most powerful part of the massage. It aims to soften the tissues while breaking the knots. Here, the masseur presses the tissues of the massage using his hand, fingers, or thumbs via a circular motion.
- Percussion: Percussion is rhythmic blows made with the hands, fingers, and fists. Starting slowly, the strokes accelerate over the course of the massage and then slow down.
- Vibration: vibrations stimulate nerve endings via very gentle pressure of fingers and hands-on tissue. This pressure causes rapid tremors that act on the nervous, muscular, and lymphatic systems.
These maneuvers make it possible to solicit all the muscles and to work them in depth. Performed in a specific order, they create effects similar to those obtained by gymnastics.
The benefits of Swedish massage
Many clinical trials have been carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of Swedish massage. Unfortunately, several of them have been published only in Swedish, which prevents us from taking them into account in the research.
On the other hand, some studies published in English indicate that this type of massage could have effects on different specific conditions. In addition, many studies confirm the effectiveness of massage in general to relieve various ailments. For more details, see the Massage therapy sheet.
Reduce back pain
In 2009, a systematic review evaluated the effect of massage in the treatment of low back pain. According to the authors’ conclusions, Swedish massage may be beneficial in patients with acute (4 to 12 weeks) and chronic (more than 12 weeks) low back pain. Note that this type of massage would be more effective in combination with exercise or education programs.
Reduce postoperative pain and distress
A clinical trial was conducted to determine the effect of Swedish massage on postoperative symptoms following laparotomy (abdominal incision). On the day of the operation, and then over the next 2 days, 146 women received standard care or the same care accompanied by a Swedish massage, or care and vibration therapy (low-frequency sounds and vibrations).
The results show that Swedish massage would have had a small effect on postoperative pain and distress, but that it would not be greater than in the case of the other 2 interventions.
Contributing to well-being during bone marrow transplantation
In a clinical trial, the effects of 3 types of intervention were evaluated (Swedish massage, therapeutic touch, and friendly visit). Participants received an average of 15 treatments of 30 minutes.
Physiological complications remained the same between the 3 groups. However, patients in the massage group found it easier to rest, and communicate with their families and felt less depressed and anxious.
Reduce pain and tension in nurses
A pilot study has shown that it is possible to integrate massage therapy into the hospital setting and that it helps to reduce perceived pain and tension. To this end, 10 nurses and 2 supervisory staff received 4 to 8 15-minute Swedish massage sessions, averaging 9 days apart.
In addition to reduced pain and tension, an increase in the degree of relaxation and an improvement in overall mood have been reported. However, the lack of a control group limits the scope of this study, as a 15-minute rest session may have been sufficient to produce the same results.
Relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee
A pilot study evaluated the effectiveness of Swedish massage in 68 subjects with osteoarthritis of the knee. The results show that these treatments could lead to improvements in range of motion and functional capacity, and reduce pain. The authors conclude that Swedish massage appears to be a safe treatment, particularly in addition to conventional treatments.
Swedish Massage – In Practice
Swedish massage specialists may belong to different fields of profession. Indeed, this type of massage is widely used in beauty centers, tanning, and hairdressing salons as well as in resorts. Swedish massage is also practiced in private practice, health centers, as well as in medical settings.
Proceedings of a session
A Swedish massage session usually lasts 1 hour. At the first meeting, the massage therapist performs a health check to ensure that there are no contraindications to the treatment. Swedish massage is practiced on a massage table on a naked person or in underwear, or on a massage chair while remaining dressed.
The therapist strives to be guided by the breathing of the person being massaged. He uses oil or lotion and performs the movements continuously. The massage usually ends with a rest period of variable duration to fully taste the benefits. Swedish massage focuses mainly on muscles and joints but also has effects on the nervous and circulatory systems.
Contraindications of Swedish massage
Although massage is generally considered quite safe for most individuals, it is not always without risk and there are some contraindications to consider. For example, some studies indicate that massage can increase blood pressure and lower heart rate and should be preceded and followed by an assessment of these parameters when performed on patients sensitive to these changes.
In the case of circulatory disorders (phlebitis, thrombosis, varicose veins), cardiac (arteriosclerosis, hypertension, etc.), and diabetics, it is better to get medical advice. In addition, it is strongly discouraged to practice massage at the site of an infection, a recent or healing wound, acute inflammation, or bruising.
A short history of Swedish massage
Swedish massage was developed by the Swede Per Henrik Ling1 (1776-1839), who was a doctor, teacher, and poet. Ling, however, is best known for his method of so-called “Swedish” gymnastics (Svenska Gymnastikens). He taught it at the first gymnastics school he founded in Stockholm in 1814, and directed until 1836, the Royal Gymnastics Central Institute.
It wasn’t until 1900 that Swedish massage gained worldwide recognition, thanks in part to his son Hjalmar who continued his teaching. But above all thanks to the British doctor Mathias Roth who opposed Ling’s detractors by publishing the first book in English on the foundations of his method.
P.H. Ling considered the term “massage” too general to describe his technique and, if we had listened to him, it would be called today “passive exercises of the patient”. Swedish massage took root in America around the beginning of the twentieth century, wherever Scandinavian immigrants settled. Nowadays, this massage is the most popular type of massage in the United States and Europe.
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