Swedish massage is defined by four or five (somewhat familiar) techniques, which have French names: effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (rhythmic choppings), and friction (rubbing). Some therapists now incorporate advanced techniques that have rehabilitating effects and stretches for improving your range of motion. But the ultimate goal here is relaxation. As the default Western massage, Swedish massage is an extremely popular, simple, soothing touch therapy. For more, read our Guide to Swedish Massage.

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According to the American Massage Therapy Association, up to 25 percent of American adults had a massage at least once during 2016-2017. And, they have a wide range of reasons for doing so. More and more people -- especially baby boomers -- recognize the health benefits of massage. They choose from among many massage styles to get relief from symptoms or to heal injuries, to help with certain health conditions, and to promote overall wellness.
Reflexology (or foot reflexology) is a therapy based on the principle that there are small and specific areas of innervation in the hands and feet that correspond to specific muscle groups or organs of the body. In this system, the nerve endings in the extremities provide a “map” of the rest of the body. Examples are the base of the little toe representing the ear, or the ball of the foot representing the lung. Through the application of pressure on particular areas of the hands or feet, reflexology is said to promote benefits such as the relaxation of tension, improvement of circulation, and support of normalized function in the related area in the body.

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The therapist may utilize some Swedish techniques to warm up the tissues (kneading, friction, percussion), softening the superficial layers so that he or she can access the deeper ones more easily. Then, with little or no lotion, the therapist utilizes the hard surfaces of their hands and arms — surfaces such as fingers, knuckles, forearms, and elbows — and employs a very slow, sustained type of stroke.
This is not only an inaccurate and potentially harmful picture of this type of therapy, but such misguided practices can bruise muscles, elicit a defensive reaction in a client’s body, and worsen pain cycles. Properly executed deep tissue work should not cause the client to grit their teeth in agony as the therapist coerces the body into submission! If you find yourself clenching, shortening or holding your breath, or gritting your teeth, then it’s TOO DEEP. Even when it gets intense, it should not go above about a 7 on the pain scale: enough to “hurt so good,” but not enough that you want to leap off the table (and never come back).
While there are numerous benefits to this branch of massage, elementsmassage.com reminds you that it is important to keep your expectations for the treatment reasonable. While Deep Tissue massages use more pressure to reach deeper muscle tissues and often yield immediately noticeable results, asking your therapist to apply more pressure and gritting your way through pain will do more damage than good. If you are in pain, your muscles will begin to contract, making the therapist’s efforts moot. Applying more pressure will not speed up the process. Like any treatment, Deep Tissue massages need time to be effective. Keep in mind that the injury or muscle tension that you are hoping to get resolved has had a great deal of time to form; it will take time to undo the damage. Like any treatment, often the therapy will not be enough; including other changes to your lifestyle, such as exercise, relaxation techniques or working on posture in addition to your massage appointments will help move the process along and help you see faster and longer lasting results.

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Adequate recovery is also a major factor in avoiding the over-training syndrome. Over-training is characterized by irritability, apathy, altered appetite, increased frequency of injury, increased resting heart rate, and/or insomnia. It occurs when the body is not allowed to recover adequately between bouts of heavy exercise. Therapeutic massage helps you avoid over-training by facilitating recovery through general relaxation, and its other physiological effects. 

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Referred pain basically just makes trigger point stimulation feel bigger, more important. Press on a small spot … feel it down your entire arm. Wow! Impressive! Even though it’s just a thumb on a trigger point, it feels as though that “itch” is being scratched throughout an entire region. Referred pain amplifies the good pain effect — or the bad pain effect, if the pressure is too intense!
Swedish massage is done with the person covered by a sheet, where each part of the body to be worked on is exposed in turn and then re-covered. The massage practitioners use kneading, stroking, friction, tapping and even shaking motions. Oil is used to reduce or eliminate friction and to facilitate making long, smooth, kneading stokes over the tissue and muscles of the body.

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BC 500 Jīvaka Komarabhācca, also known as Shivago Komarpaj, the founder of Traditional Thai massage (Nuad Boran) and Thai medicine.[citation needed] According to the Pāli Buddhist Canon, Jivaka was Shakyamuni Buddha's physician.[citation needed] He codified a healing system that combines acupressure, reflexology, and assisted yoga postures.[citation needed] Traditional Thai massage is generally based on a combination of Indian and Chinese traditions of medicine. Jivaka is known today as "Father Doctor" in Thailand.[citation needed]
Area of focus. Deep tissue massage targets the inner layers of your muscles. It’s used to treat muscle and tendon injuries, pain, and stiffness in your major muscle groups and joints. Swedish massage targets the superficial layers of muscle and focuses on the parts of your body that tend to hold the most tension, such as your neck, shoulders, and back.

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Rubbing deep muscles and relieving pressures has been shown to improve blood flow. New research further explains there is an improvement in circulation in both athletes and non-exercisers, suggesting the benefit beyond the realm of exercise and correlated muscle injury and soreness. Blood pressure and heart rate can also be lowered following deep tissue massage.
Sports medicine A Western massage that addresses specific needs of athletes Components Swedish massage, cross-fiber friction massage, deep compression massage, trigger point therapy Timing During training, before or after events, to enhance performance, or promote healing postinjury. See Massage, Traditional European massage; Cf Deep tissue massage, Manual lymph drainage massage, Neuromuscular massage, Swedish/Esalen massage.
As mentioned above, reflexology has been known to open neural pathways, and this sort of free-flowing neural activity results in a more relaxed state in the body. For this reason, reflexology can flood your system with relaxation, inducing a state of calmness throughout your body and mind. In this same vein, reflexology is commonly used to cure sleep disorders. Insomnia can be a very troubling condition to suffer through, but reflexology helps your body relax and get back to its normal, healthy circadian rhythms.

Deep tissue massage is a therapeutic technique that relieves deep-seated muscle tension and soothes chronic tightness. During a deep tissue massage, a trained therapist delivers intense pressure through slow strokes and targeted fascial release. This technique is often used to treat repetitive-stress injuries, posture problems, and sports injuries.


Some research has shown that massage therapy can be effective during pregnancy due to its anxiety-lowering effects, and women who receive massages before and during labor tend to experience decreased depression, anxiety, and leg and back pain. Results from one study found that women who received massages prior to and during labor had significantly less pain, plus their labors were on average three hours shorter and required less need for medication.

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During most full-body massages the expectation is you’ll be undressed. Your massage therapist will ask you to undress for your massage while they wait outside. It’s up to you whether or not to keep your underwear on. Your massage therapist will drape a sheet over your body, which they will pull back and adjust as they work their way around. You will be covered most of the time.
In this particular study, published in Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, therapeutic massage included techniques of tapping and friction, while DTM used “oblique pressure and a combination of lengthening and cross-fiber strokes.” All sessions were 30 minutes long and preformed daily, and all participants did not receive any other treatments during the course of the study. After 10 days, participants treated with DTM reported significant improvements in pain (lower back pain in this case) compared to those treated with therapeutic massage, based on scores using the Modified Oswestry Low Back Pain Disability Index, Quebec Back Pain Disability Scale and Visual Analog Scales. (4)

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Now for some benefits that are not supported by research. The ability of sports massage to help the muscles get rid of lactic acid is not supported in research studies. Many researchers feel this is linked to the fact that sports massage does not increase blood flow to muscles. For example, a 2010 study found that blood flow was actually mechanically impeded by massage and that was a possible reason that lactic acid removal was impaired. A quicker recovery after sports massage is not yet supported by the research. Studies do support that active recovery (low-intensity exercise after work-out) is the best method of decreasing the amount of lactic acid that builds up after exercise and speeds recovery.
The pressure from Swedish massage is ideal for relieving muscle tension, like the kind that builds up from hunching over a computer all day. This tension can sometimes result in knots: trigger points of extremely tense muscle fibers that form tiny nodules. Massage therapists are trained to feel for these knots, and Swedish-massage techniques are ideal for gently coaxing them away.

Although reflexology isn’t directly connected to curing cancer, it has been known to ease the side effects of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. It helps cancer patients get a sound sleep by reducing anxiety and also reduces the chances of vomiting or other commonly experienced indigestion issues. The more general effects of reflexology, such as clearing neural channels and increasing circulation help patients.

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Swedish massage is now gaining acceptance from the medical community as a complementary treatment. Studies have shown that massage can relax the body, decrease blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce stress and depression. It may also provide symptomatic relief for many chronic diseases. Many doctors now prescribe massage therapy as symptomatic treatment for headache , facial pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, other chronic and acute conditions, stress, and athletic injuries. Many insurance companies now reimburse patients for prescribed massage therapy. As of 2000, however, Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for this form of alternative treatment.

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Raizelah Bayen is a California Certified Massage Therapist, currently employed as the Spa Services Manager at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, California.  She has been practicing massage for over 25 years, and teaching T’ui Na, Acupressure, Sports and Pregnancy Massage in massage certification programs for 15 years.  Raizelah is an approved CEU Instructor by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), offering trainings in Freestone, California and on-site training at your massage school or spa.  For more information, connect with Raizelah Bayen on LinkedIn.
Deep-tissue massage helps ease stress and tension, which can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure. People who had a deep-tissue massage saw their systolic pressure drop by an average of 10.4 mm Hg and their diastolic pressure drop an average 5.3 mm Hg, according to a study cited by the University of Maryland Medical Center. Deep-tissue massage can help increase the body's production of serotonin, the hormone that promotes happiness and good feelings.
In this particular study, published in Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, therapeutic massage included techniques of tapping and friction, while DTM used “oblique pressure and a combination of lengthening and cross-fiber strokes.” All sessions were 30 minutes long and preformed daily, and all participants did not receive any other treatments during the course of the study. After 10 days, participants treated with DTM reported significant improvements in pain (lower back pain in this case) compared to those treated with therapeutic massage, based on scores using the Modified Oswestry Low Back Pain Disability Index, Quebec Back Pain Disability Scale and Visual Analog Scales. (4)

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Manipulative approaches to naturally treating pain and other health problems have been utilized for over 3,000 years, dating back to Ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilizations. Pressure massages were used to improve “Qi” (life force or energy), detox the body and promote better liver function — which today can be explained through the process of activating the lymphatic system.
The study involved 263 volunteers with an average age of 48.5. Overall muscle spasm/muscle strain was described as either moderate or severe for each patient prior to treatments, which consisted of a massage between 45–60 minutes in duration. Results demonstrated an average systolic pressure reduction of 10.4 mm/Hg, a diastolic pressure reduction of 5.3 mm/Hg, a mean arterial pressure reduction of 7.0 mm/Hg and an average heart rate reduction of 10.8 beats per minute following massage treatment. (6)
A satisfying sensation doesn’t necessarily imply successful treatment, unfortunately. Scratching mosquito bites feels great… but it’s not helping them! Trigger points may be like mosquito bites: it may feel terrific to massage those mysterious sensitive spots in soft tissue, but it may not be doing much to actually “release” or resolve them. It may be a purely sensory experience, the satisfaction of dealing with an “itch” that we cannot easily reach on our own.
I’ve worked in a variety of exciting environments, including the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, the Greece Paralympic Summer Games and on the road with the U.S. National Powerlifting Team. Plus, I have worked with collegiate, ABL and WNBA athletes. Currently, I travel with the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) as part of the sports science and medicine team. In my private clinic, I specialize in orthopedic massage.

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