Swedish massage is a type of relaxing massage that offers the added benefit of improving your circulatory system and reducing muscle soreness. In fact, these massages are so good for your health that it’s worth adding them to your health and fitness regimen alongside a proper diet and exercise.
Although these massages are relatively well known, they’re poorly understood. All we know is we want one.
We’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know about Swedish massage so that you might better understand the benefits of these incredible therapies.
What Is Swedish Massage?
When many people think of massage, they think of Swedish massage. And it’s no surprise – the term is applied to a number of techniques that involve the basic movements of rubbing muscles along with the flow of blood to relax them.
That’s why SW massage may vary between masseuses. The differences aren’t related solely to their skill or training but to the techniques they’ve chosen.
Where Does Swedish Massage Come From?
Did the Swedish massage originate in Sweden? Well, despite bearing this moniker, the Swedish massage is about as Swedish as the Swedish Chef.
There’s some evidence that the technique was developed in Sweden in the 1700s by a man named Per Henrik Ling, a gymnast. But that explanation isn’t widely accepted. Instead, it’s often now recognized as a way of saying ‘classic’ massage without any real reference to Sweden whatsoever except, of course, by name.
If the massage was developed in the Scandinavian country, one might also expect for the techniques used also to be developed in Sweden or at least carry names from the country’s national language. Again, this is not the case. Most of the strokes used in this system of massage were developed by the French and then appropriated by a Dutchman, John Georg Mezger, who formalized what we now recognize loosely as Swedish massage.
Of course, if you just want a relaxing rubdown, the origins of these techniques don’t matter so much. But if you’re wondering why the treatment may vary between spas, cities, and countries, it’s because it generally refers to massage that was derived from many different places. Thus, unlike shiatsu or reflexology, the practice of the massage is prone to diverge.
The Best Swedish Massage: Choosing the Right Strokes
Despite the massage itself emerging from a vague history, the strokes it employs are well known. Choosing the right strokes at the right time is the key to a great massage.
In many cases, this healing massage therapy follows a straightforward pattern of strokes across the session, which typically lasts an hour.
The massage begins with effleurage. These strokes are gentle and performed with palms or fingertips to warm up the body and prepare for a more vigorous movement later in the session.
After the warm-up, the masseuse will use petrissage. Petrissage are the kneading movements performed with the hands, fingers, or thumbs that are replicated in massage chairs and other devices. This is often the step we’d all wish they’d skip to during effleurage because it’s where the masseuse begins the process of relaxing the muscles.
Petrissage may last for up to half the session, depending on the massage length and whether you’ve chosen a full body, lower body, or upper body massage. It’s not just relaxing. The technique also stimulates the skin and improves muscle tone in your body.
From here, the masseuse uses a technique called friction. By now, your muscles are warmed up and well on their way to relaxation. Adding friction, which is a circular pressure made with the palms, adds deeper pressure to the underlying muscle, allowing the masseuse to break up adhesions that may cause tension or pain in your muscles.
Your masseuse will know where to apply friction after they’ve identified tender sports during petrissage.
Once you reach the vibration phase, you’re coming close to the end of the massage. Vibration is straightforward: it includes movements that vibrate or shake your body without the therapist’s hand leaving your skin. Unlike other phases, it doesn’t require lotion or oil, and it’s of a milder intensity than friction or petrissage.
A Swedish massage is finished with a technique called hacking, which involves the therapist using their hands to perform karate-style chops across your body. Hacking is a revitalizing movement that stimulates muscles when they’re tired, such as after a massage.
Why Visit a Swedish Massage Spa?
Swedish massages are one of the most universally loved types of massage therapy – even a bad Swedish massage still feels good.
But you might wonder – is there a purpose beyond feeling good?
Yes, massages have a medical purpose and can be an important part of any health regimen.
The basic goal of this massage is to improve the level of oxygen in your blood while also releasing toxins hidden away in your muscles.
Here’s how it works:
By rubbing both the skin and muscles, massage encourages circulation through the pressure added by the massage therapist’s hands. This is particularly effective in otherwise congested areas where blood may have a hard time moving.
The pressure builds up the blood. When the pressure is released, it causes new blood to flow in.
Massage also improves the removal of waste. Squeezing and pulling on the skin and muscles pulls the lactic acid built up in your muscles. Because the blood is flowing freely, the acid is carried away.
Lactic acid is built up after vigorous exercise. The build-up causes irritation and causes soreness in your muscles, which is why massage therapy is so common among amateur and professional athletes.
Improvements in circulation caused by massage also encourage your body to dump the lymph fluid, including metabolic waste, so that it doesn’t hang out near your organs or muscles. Getting rid of metabolic waste efficiently results in improved overall body function and lower blood pressure.
Is There Scientific Evidence?
The impact of healing massage therapy on your circulation and overall health are widely accepted by the medical community as well as natural therapists. Despite this acceptance, few studies have been performed to measure the effect of massage on health.
Still, there is some peer-reviewed evidence to back up the claims made by the massage community.
In a study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, researchers attempted to see whether massage applied after exercise could (a) improve circulation and (b) reduce muscle soreness by carrying away lactic acid – the promises Swedish massage makes.
Participants in the study were asked to use a leg press machine as a form of exercise. After they completed the task, half were given a Swedish massage while the others were left to suffer on their own. All participants were asked to rate their muscle soreness.
Both groups were sore immediately after using the leg press – it doesn’t take a team of researchers to determine that leg day hurts. However, the group that received massages felt far better 90 minutes after their treatment. Those without a massage limped around for at least 24 hours after using the leg press.
Why do scientists think this happened?
Muscle injury caused by exercise reduces blood flow, thus damaging circulation. Because massage therapy improves blood flow, those participants who enjoyed only an hour-and-a-half of soreness saw their blood flow improved not only in their legs but across their entire vascular system.
The Benefits of Adding Swedish Massage to Your Health Regimen
Circulation and the release of toxins are two of the proven benefits of massage. But there are plenty more.
In addition to better blood flow, regular massages can also provide you with:
- Reduced stress (including physical and psychological symptoms
- Supple tendons and ligaments
- Pain relief from muscle tension
- Feeling relaxed and energetic
- Lower blood pressure
- Greater flexibility
- Less stiffness and joint pain
Many of these benefits are created through development of a better circulatory system. In fact, massage can also relieve some of the symptoms of poor circulation.
Do you have poor circulation? Here are some signs:
- Cold hands and feet
- Numbness or tingling in hands, fingers, feet, and toes
- Cold limbs or ears
- Low energy or fatigue
- Dry skin
- Swelling in legs, feet, hands, or fingers (edema)
You’re also more likely to have poor circulation if you have an underlying cause such as arterial issues, diabetes, heart conditions, or obesity. If your poor circulation is caused by a wider health issue, it is important to treat that issue first and then tackle the symptoms.
Visit your doctor to talk about your circulatory problems and see whether you’re a candidate for massage therapy in conjunction with other remedies as a treatment for poor circulation.
Swedish – French – Whatever, Just Get a Massage
Swedish massage is an amalgamation of techniques and tips that have been developed over hundreds of years. But the important thing is that they work.
Not only do you leave the table feeling like a new person, but they have an important impact on your vascular system, meaning you’re happier and healthier after a message.
Do you get regular messages? Share the biggest benefits of massage in your life in the comments below.