What Is A Swedish Massage

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Swedish massage is one of the most popular and widely trusted forms of massage as it is proven to reduce stress, increase blood flow, ease sore muscles, and boost your overall health, among other benefits.

What is a Swedish Massage?

Swedish massage is a type of massage that utilizes long stroking movements on the body’s superficial muscles, along with rhythmic tapping and other techniques. It was pioneered by Swedish medical-gymnastic practitioner, Per Henrik Ling. This 60-120 minute experience is the most common massage style practiced and enjoyed by millions of people every year. Swedish massage practitioners are specially trained for this type of therapeutic treatment, and there are a number of short- and long-term effects.

Swedish massage employs four common strokes or hand movements, namely:

  • Effleurage (smooth stroke for soft tissue relaxation)
  • Petrissage (the rolling or kneading motion used after effleurage)
  • Friction (deep, probing strokes that rub tissues and boost circulation)
  • Tapotement (rhythmic tapping with a finger or cupped hands)
Portrait of a young woman in spa undergoing Swedish massage

A young woman undergoing Swedish massage therapy. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Benefits of Swedish Massage

The primary benefits of Swedish massage include reducing stress, boosting the immune system, improving blood flow, eliminating muscle soreness, and increasing flexibility.

  • Muscle soreness: Many people enjoy Swedish massage when they have specific areas of pain, tightness, or soreness. The repetitive stroking motions can loosen the muscle tissue and increase blood flow, thus eliminating the pain and discomfort, as shown in a study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. Further, it may also help relieve fatigue according to a 2016 study published in the Spinal Cord journal.
  • Back pain: Research suggests that Swedish massage may help in providing relief from lower back pain in older adults.
  • Stress: The setting for a Swedish massage is usually a warm, quiet room, perhaps with light music and scented with aromatherapy. The entire experience is intended to relax your mind and help your body release its tension. In combination with the actual effects of massage, such as reductions in cortisol levels, the act of getting a massage is a tried and tested stress reduction technique for all ages, from children to geriatric patients.
  • Flexibility: By loosening muscle tension and increasing oxygenation of the muscle tissues, it is possible to boost your flexibility through a Swedish massage. If you combine massage therapy with regular stretching, you can significantly improve your range of motion.
  • Blood flow: The strokes involved in Swedish massage are intended to stimulate blood flow to specific muscles. This, in turn, can speed up the removal of toxins from the body, in addition to delivering essential nutrients and oxygen to the muscles themselves.
  • Immune system: The effects of a massage extend to your immune health and overall wellness; Swedish massage is able to reduce chronic stress hormones by inducing relaxation. This has been shown to protect and strengthen the immune system from attack and exhaustion, according to a study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
  • Repair and rehabilitation: Following an injury or surgery, Swedish massage is often recommended as it can speed the healing process by stimulating blood flow to the muscles.

Note: Great care must be taken following an accident or surgery, so be sure that your massage therapist is aware of any health issues or injuries.

Swedish Massage vs Deep Tissue Massage

Both, Swedish and deep tissue massages, are the most popular forms of massage. Let’s look at the main differences between the two.

  • Type: Deep tissue massage is a more intense form of massage. If you have chronic pain or long-term injuries. then this type of massage can handle deeper levels of tension and discomfort. Swedish massage, on the other hand, would relieve usual fatigue, lower back pain, and stress.
  • Technique: Similar techniques are used in Swedish and deep tissue massage, but the later works on a deeper level between muscle tissue and fascia.
  • Pressure: Deep tissue massage practitioners may also employ their elbows and forearms to increase the pressure and penetrate to the root of your problem.

Preparation

There are a number of ways you can prepare for a Swedish massage, both mentally and physically.

  • Find a good therapist: The preparation begins with identifying a good massage therapist.
  • Take an appointment: It’s best to seek an appointment when you are mentally free as you would need some more time after the therapy session to yourself for resting.
  • Time management: It is usually recommended that you arrive early for the appointment, so you aren’t rushing or stressed about getting there on time.
  • Light meal: You should eat only a light meal before getting a massage, as you will be on your stomach for all or most of the time.
  • Comfortable clothing: Wearing loose and comfortable clothing is essential so you can fully relax and ease into the treatment.
  • Speak to the therapist: Make sure to speak to the therapist about any medical history, chronic pain, fatigue, and discomfort.
  • Turn off your mobile: To ensure stress relief, turn off your phone so it won’t be a distraction during the massage.
  • Enjoy the massage: Try to give yourself some time following the massage to relax and enjoy the sensation before diving back into work and your normal pace! Also, make sure to tell the therapist in case you find the intensity very low or high.
  • Things to do after the massage: Take a shower post the massage and do hydrate yourself with water and sip some green tea to rejuvenate your body.

Caution/Side Effects

While there are clearly many benefits of Swedish massage, there are also some potential side effects that some people experience.

  • Soreness: Due to the very nature of the massage, and the pressure and force being applied to your muscles in a unique way, there can often be some soreness, but this should fade within a day or two.
  • Bruising and headaches: Lying facedown on the table while pressure is applied from above is a somewhat strange experience, and your body may not initially appreciate it. Headaches and bruising on the body, while rare, can happen to some people. Mention this to your massage therapist before your next massage, so they can adjust their intensity.
  • Nausea: A sensation of nausea is quite common during a Swedish massage, and maybe the result of toxins being flushed from the body due to increased blood flow. This should pass within an hour of your session, but you still may want to mention this to your therapist, whose primary concern is delivering a helpful, soothing and therapeutic experience.
  • Allergy to oil: Make sure that you do not have any allergy to the oil or ingredients of the oil that is used for the massage to avoid any side effects.
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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