The most common type of massage requested to reduce stress and increase relaxation is Swedish Massage, in which the therapist uses oil or lotion with several basic strokes that are applied with light to medium pressure, depending on the client's preference. The therapist determines the sequence of strokes that will best work for each client according to their needs, typically beginning with broad general strokes, transitioning to more detail specific strokes to address problem areas, and finishing with broad connecting strokes.
Swedish Massage is characterized by the use of five basic stroke techniques: effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement and vibration.
1. Effleurage consists of long, gliding, sweeping strokes administered with hands (both open palm and fists) and forearms. These strokes are smoothing strokes used for spreading lotion or oil on the body and to help the therapist evaluate muscle tension. As the pressure of the strokes increase, they provide a stretch to the muscles, thus allowing the client to relax.
2. Petrissage is typified by kneading, rolling, wringing and lifting strokes, which help free up knotted and bound muscles and soft tissue, stimulate nerve endings, and aid in increasing circulation, that in turn promotes cell repair and regeneration.
3. Friction is a warming stroke designed to both quickly generate heat, in preparation for deeper work, and as a way to effectively drive the therapeutic, healing properties of plant-based essential oils into the body. This stroke can be done by rubbing back and forth along the length of the muscle or across it by either using wringing motion or small circular movements.
4. Tapotement is characterized as a percussion stroke in which the hand action rhythmically stimulates nerves, muscles, and circulation. The hand position can be cupped or with palms flat, or it can be with fingers interlocked in either a palms together position or in soft fists. Used in chair massage and Shiatsu as well as Swedish massage, Tapotement strokes often signal the end of the previous stroke sequence and prepare the client to change from being positioned face down on the massage table to being face up.
5. Vibration refers to rocking, shaking and trembling movements applied to one limb or to the entire body. These movements, which can be done slowly or rapidly, are designed to reverberate through the surrounding tissues in order to break postural holding patterns and to facilitate a momentary release of tension in the muscle being worked on.