Deep Tissue? Or is it Swedish Massage?


It all should feel good!

no matter what kind of treatment you get

Swedish Gymnastics

Have you ever wondered about the difference between Swedish and Deep tissue massage? You are not the only one.  Deep tissue has become a prominent term used for massage therapy yet is often used incorrectly.  The term has a distinct technique which many properly trained therapists apply in their treatment rooms.  However, many people use it to describe deeper pressure which is actually accomplished by a Swedish technique.  Swedish Medical Gymnastics and Movement was developed by Henrik Ling (1776-1839). A Swede from Stockholm who is considered the father of Swedish massage.  He created this system of physical rehabilitation by combining his knowledge of gymnastics, and physiology from Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman techniques.  

Ling’s techniques were introduced to the U.S. in 1858 as “The Swedish Movement Cure”. Today, it is simply called Swedish Massage.  Today, all well trained massage therapists in the United States learn basic Swedish massage strokes to apply in their treatment rooms.  Some people call them “hello and goodbye” strokes, or “warm up and flush out” strokes.  Whatever they are called, these techniques facilitate an essential connection to the clients body by the therapist.  We all love a good knot pressed on and worked out, but just how the body’s internal system reacts to it is the key to creating and sustaining an effective release. A person who has regular massage will react quite differently from someone who has had very few, or very intermittent, hours on a massage table.  There are a lot of variables to consider before jamming your finger under someone’s shoulder blade.  Swedish techniques are invaluable when gauging tissue mobility and tenderness.  

Petrissage - lifting and kneading the tissue

Petrissage - lifting and kneading the tissue

What are the Swedish techniques?  Well, there are basically 5 techniques that are all integral of a Swedish massage.  To begin with, the “hello” stroke is called Effleurage.  It is a smooth stroking movement, usually in the direction toward the heart.  It can be long or short and is generally used to apply varying types of lubrication such as oil or lotion to help the therapist avoid pulling on the clients skin and hair strands.  Effleurage is usually applied with hands and forearms.  As the therapist strokes up and down the body with the intent of soothing the circulatory and parasympathetic systems they are also gauging the integrity of the tissue beneath their hands.

the hands are having a conversation with tissue

A therapist call tell a lot about the body on the table with just this stroke.  Is the tissue pliable or rock hard?  Does it move or is it stuck to underlying structures?  The depth the therapist can go depends on the response of the tissue.  The hands are having a conversation with the tissue at this point and will tell the therapist when it’s safe to go deeper.  It is at this point where the confusion about depth of this Swedish technique as opposed to “deep tissue” comes in.  The conversation about Deep Tissue is lengthy and will have its own blog, so stay tuned.

The next stroke or movement is called Petrissage which comes from the French word, pétrir, meaning 'to knead'. Petrissage generally has a deeper effect on soft tissue than effleurage, and includes kneading, squeezing, lifting, shaking, wringing and rolling. Petrissage prompts the movement of  cellular debri by creating space between the myofascial layers and ground substance and can create movement between the many layers of skin and the underlying structures.  It can help remodel scar tissue and soften adhesions.  Petrissage has been used to help circulate adipose tissue and facilitate increased circulation; stimulate synovial fluid in joints; and generally move fluids and structures around to promote a healing.

rhythmic tapping

Three more classic Swedish techniques called Tapotement, Friction and Vibration are next. Each is typically applied after the previous two.  These techniques affect the tone and circulation of the soft tissue.  Tapotement is a rhythmic tapping, drumming or cupping of the tissue.  Hacking is a type of tapotement where the side the the hand is used in a rhythmic hacking motion and is frequently applied to athletes limbs before sporting events to increase circulation to the area. Tapotement administered for a short duration is rather stimulating while a longer session can actually produce fatigue in a muscle or group of muscles. Many therapists use tapotement at the end of a massage to wake the client up and give them an invigorated feeling for the rest of their day.  Other therapists use tapotement for longer periods on certain clients where it softens up the tissue enough to make it more malleable and workable and creates a sedating effect. There are cautions with Tapotement. You don’t want to accidently hit bones, or pound over the kidneys.  It’s always best to get informed consent before beating away at a clients limbs.  Therein lies the fear of actually “hitting” a client which could be taken wrong.  

tapotement (1).jpg


This is called "hacking"

Friction massage is typically done using the ball of the thumb or a pointed object. It is a deep pressure massage done in small circular, or cross-fiber movements to penetrate deep tissues. The technique involves pressing on the tissue and rubbing it back and forth over the underlying muscle. Vibrations are a massage technique in which tissues of the body are pressed and released in an "up and down" movement. This often takes the form of a fine trembling movement applied using the palm of the hand or the fingertips of either or both hands. Some of the benefits of vibrations include relaxation, improved nerve function and muscle relaxation. It can affect superficial body parts as well as deeper internal organs. Vibration as a massage technique, is an efficient way to stimulate deeper tissues and organs.

Deep Pressure

With these techniques, nerve endings are stimulated, which produce tiny muscular contractions, resulting in an overall increase in muscle tone. This is thought to happen because of the stroke pressure being registered by the muscle’s mechanoreceptors in the fascia and Golgi tendon organ. A reflex action follows, resulting in the contraction of both voluntary and involuntary muscles.  I hope this helps identify Swedish massage as an avenue for varying degrees of pressure which is typically what a client is asking for with the term “Deep Tissue”.


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