Swedish Massage - The Complete Guide

Swedish massage has become the standard in the massage industry, especially businesses that market themselves as places of relaxation, also known as spas.

What can you expect during a Swedish massage? What is the difference between Swedish massage and other types of massage? A Swedish massage involves long, flowing strokes, as well as kneading, tapping, and other rhythmic techniques with the goal of relieving muscle tension.

That’s pretty basic, so we’re going to dive into the history of Swedish massage, 5 hallmark techniques of Swedish massage, and answer any related questions you might have. 

First, let’s find out where Swedish massage came from. If you’re thinking Sweden, you are on the right track.

History of Swedish Massage - Swedish Gymnastics

Swedish massage wasn’t always called Swedish massage. First, it was called Swedish gymnastics, which was developed by Henrik Ling—a Swede from Stockholm.

Ling is considered the Father of Swedish massage because he created a system of physical rehabilitation by combining his knowledge of gymnastics and physiology from Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures.

Ling’s techniques were introduced to the United States in 1858 as “The Swedish Movement Cure.” Sounds pretty fancy, doesn’t it?

According to massagetoday.com, Ling's movements were "mechanical agencies directed either upon the whole system or a part of it, for the purpose of inducing determinate effects upon its vital actions, and generally having reference to its pathological state."

From there, it transformed into what we call it today: Swedish massage.  

Swedish Massage: Required For Massage Therapy School

All well-trained massage therapists in the United States learn basic Swedish massage strokes to apply during their massage sessions.

Swedish massage strokes are sometimes called “hello and goodbye” strokes because they signal both the initial and final connection between the therapist’s hands and the client’s body.

Some of us love deeper massage work, but prepping the body’s internal nervous system is the key to creating and sustaining an effective release of muscle tension—hence the importance of Swedish massage strokes, no matter the type of massage you’re receiving.

Swedish techniques are extremely valuable when a massage therapist is gauging tissue mobility and tenderness. It’s actually easier for your massage therapist to feel the tension in your muscles when applying lighter pressure.

Don’t let that fool you, though, as deep pressure can absolutely be applied during a Swedish massage. You might be surprised how powerful a Swedish massage can be!

The 5 Techniques of Swedish Massage

There are 5 hallmark techniques of Swedish massage:

1.     Effleurage

2.     Petrissage

3.     Tapotement

4.     Friction

5.     Vibration


Remember when we said Swedish massage techniques were the “hello and goodbye” strokes? Well, when we said that, we were really talking about effleurage.

Effleurage is a smooth, flowing stroke that is usually going toward the direction of the heart to stimulate blood flow.

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 (ouch).  

Effleurage is usually performed with the therapist’s hands and forearms.  

A massage therapist usually uses effleurage with the intent of soothing the circulatory and parasympathetic systems as they gauge the tension of your body’s tissue.

A massage therapist can gather a lot of information about a person’s connective tissue on the table with effleurage. Is the tissue pliable or rock hard? Does it move or is it stuck to underlying structures? The depth the therapist can go into your muscles depends on the response of the tissue.  

In other words, the therapist’s hands are having a conversation with your body’s connective tissue.


Once a massage therapist has a general idea of the state of your tissue with effleurage, they’ll typically transfer their techniques to include petrissage.

The word petrissage comes from the French word, pétrir, meaning 'to knead'.

Compared to effleurage, petrissage generally has a deeper effect on soft tissue, and includes kneading, squeezing, lifting, shaking, wringing and rolling.

These kneading strokes prompt the movement of cellular fluids by creating space between the myofascial layers and what is called “ground substance”—a gel-like substance that is found in everyone’s tissues—and can create movement between the layers of skin and underlying structures.  

Petrissage has also been used to:

·      help circulate adipose tissue,

·      facilitate increased circulation,

·      stimulate synovial fluid in joints.


So after your massage therapist has finished with effleurage and petrissage strokes, they’ll usually move toward more stimulating techniques (depending on the length of time that they are applied) that affect the tone and circulation of the soft tissue.  

One of these techniques is tapotement, which is a rhythmic tapping, drumming or cupping of the tissue.  

Hacking is a type of tapotement where the side of the hand is used in a rhythmic hacking motion on the body’s soft tissue. It 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 and feel very relaxing.

Many massage therapists will use tapotement at the end of a massage session 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.


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.

Friction is especially effective at remodeling scar tissue and softening adhesions.  


Vibration is 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 vibration 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.

Swedish Massage – Overview

In summary, the 5 types of Swedish techniques are effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction, and vibration, which all encourage circulation and the softening of connective tissue.

A well-trained massage therapist will be trained in Swedish massage during their schooling, since this is the most universal type of massage.

Massage therapists can go ahead and specialize in other types of massage after traditional massage school, but Swedish massage is a necessary skill to have before branching out to other modalities.

Related Questions

What’s The Difference Between Deep Tissue and Swedish Massage?

Have you ever wondered about the difference between Swedish and deep tissue massage? You are not the only one.  

Deep tissue has become an overused term in the massage world, and it usually used incorrectly.  

We love this video by Psyche Truth, a respected YouTube channel all about massage. We’re pretty sure this explains it better than we ever could. Check it out here!


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