If you've ever visited a massage therapist before, chances are you've had a Swedish massage. The most common form of Western massage, the Swedish massage focuses on lightly manipulating tissues to increase circulation, relieve pain, and improve one's range of motion.
If you've ever wondered whether Swedish massage is right for you, you've come to the right place. In this brief guide, we'll go over the basics of Swedish massage, the many benefits of the practice, and why it's so useful for treating pain and chronic injuries.
Swedish Massage 101
For hundreds of years, Swedish massage has helped countless people from all walks of life achieve a higher state of health and well-being. Developed by a Dutch massage practitioner named Johann Georg Mezger, the Swedish massage involves five essential strokes. The five hand strokes make up the foundation of the practice, and they include the following:
- Effleurage (gliding and sliding)
- Tapotement (tapping in rhythm)
- Friction (crossing fibers with fibers)
- Petrissage (skin kneading)
- Vibration (gentle shaking)
Interestingly, the term "Swedish massage" is exclusive to the English, Hungarian, and Dutch-speaking world. In other parts of the world, the Swedish massage is merely referred to as the "classic" massage technique.
How Swedish Massage Works
Many people visit a massage therapist to treat chronic pain (in the body) or stress (in the mind). When you experience stress, there is a buildup in your body of the stress hormone cortisol. These elevated cortisol levels come with a range of negative health consequences.
Swedish massage uses gentle hand techniques to manipulate the body using the five basic hand strokes. The Swedish hand strokes restore the circulation of blood to various regions of the body, which feels quite pleasant for the patient. In turn, the pleasure that the patient experiences results in a sharp decline in the hormone cortisol.
When a massage patient's cortisol levels fall, a deep sense of relaxation follows. It is this sense of relaxation that "hooks" the Swedish massage patient, and keeps them coming back for more treatments. In short, the feeling of being relaxed is the main attraction of the Swedish massage.
What the Science Says
Although Swedish massage has been around for years, modern science has studied the phenomenon closely. Recent clinical studies1 have shown that Swedish massage is effective for treating chronic fatigue and long-term pain.
In particular, the scientists recommended that Swedish massage be used on older people due to its gentle nature.
A 2012 study2 was conducted on a group of 125 adults with osteoarthritis (OA) above their knees. The researchers found that an eight-week Swedish massage regimen was effective for treating pain caused by OA for up to 24 weeks. It was also noted that Swedish massage helped the participants walk farther than they previously could.
When treated with Swedish massage therapy, patients with chronic spinal cord injury3 (SCI) experienced reduced pain and fatigue. In this 2017 study from Australia, the researchers discovered that a Swedish massage therapy program "significantly" reduced pain in those who were chronically injured.
Benefits of Swedish Massage
There are many benefits of Swedish massage, and all it takes is one 30-60-minute session on the massage table for you to realize them. Below, we've listed a handful of the most common health benefits associated with this type of massage therapy:
- Chronic and acute pain relief
- Muscle tissue relaxation
- Increased circulation
- Lymphatic drainage
- Reduced stress
- Muscle tension relief
Unlike other forms of massage such as Shiatsu bodywork, Swedish massage is entirely supported by modern science. Swedish therapeutic massage does not posit the existence of qi or meridians. Instead, the theories that back Swedish massage are proven by scientific observation. If that's important to you as a patient, then you may find Swedish massage more appealing than the alternatives.
While Swedish massage will not improve muscle tone or help repair muscle-related injuries, it can help in countless other ways. Healing from chronic injuries or mental stress often requires a holistic process of multiple therapies at once, and Swedish massage can play a central role in that process.
Swedish Massage vs. Deep Tissue Massage
Swedish massage is often compared with deep tissue massage. Although they are similar, and both highly popular in the West, they have important differences. The main difference between Swedish and deep tissue massage is that the latter focuses on tissues that underlie your muscles within the body.
Deep tissue massage therapists apply a lot of pressure on the body in long strokes to "knead" out tension and stimulate deep muscle tissue. Unlike Swedish massage, deep tissue therapy can cause some acute pain due to the tremendous amount of pressure that needs to be applied. By comparison, Swedish massage is a gentle and relaxing experience.
Finding a Therapist for You
To get started with Swedish massage, your first task is to find a qualified massage therapist who is licensed and well-versed in therapeutic massage techniques.
The positive effects of massage are numerous and should be taken seriously by anyone interested in healing and maintaining long-term health and wellness. All it takes is one or two Swedish massage therapy sessions to start seeing major differences in your sense of well-being. In other words, there's no harm in trying it!
If you're recovering from an injury or need to de-stress from your busy lifestyle, give Swedish massage a try. A time-tested form of physical therapy, Swedish massage can offer life-changing benefits in a supportive and relaxing clinical environment.