Swedish massage is the most traditional form of Western massage, and for many in the United States, it’s the image associated with massage. Swedish massage, or classic massage as it called in some countries, is a relatively gentle massage form focused on the body’s superficial layers. It is provided to promote general relaxation and well-being and sometimes for relief for symptoms associated with health conditions. Swedish massage is known to promote circulation. Among the areas of research: the potential of massage to improve blood pressure and other vital signs. In short, it’s gaining a reputation as more than just a stress-buster.
There are five basic strokes: effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction, and vibration. Petrissage refers to kneading motions, effleurage to stroking – the massage technique one may associate most strongly with Swedish massage and with the accompanying relaxation.
Swedish massage is generally practiced with the client or patient lying on a massage table with draping in place of outer clothing. Massage therapists use massage oils and may incorporate elements such as aroma to contribute to relaxation and wellness. Swedish massage may be practiced in spa settings or clinical settings. Many massage therapists provide sessions in their own homes and/ or travel to clients’ homes. Franchises are another common setting. Sessions are often an hour in length. Sessions performed for health benefits may be significantly shorter.
Many massage techniques are based in part on Swedish massage, so it provides a foundation even if career goals will require multiple modalities. For example, from Swedish massage, one may progress to deeper massage focused on the muscles of different parts of the body. Chair massage can use the Swedish massage technique, adapted for practicality. Prenatal massage is often based off Swedish massage, but is designed to maximize symptom relief as well as ensure safety. Another variant is a hot stone massage where hot basalt stones are incorporated into the session.
Massage itself is an ancient practice. The practice of codifying it is more recent. While the name used widely in the United States pays homage to Sweden, a French vocabulary is used – and it may be more appropriate to credit the codification to a person of Dutch ancestry (https://www.amcollege.edu/blog/dutch-origins-of-swedish-massage-amc-miami).
Research on the benefits of Swedish massage is varied. One recent study focused on blood glucose in children (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22052142). Others have focused on the effects of Swedish massage on blood pressure in adult populations.
Researchers at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have demonstrated that Swedish massage can alter biological markers of the immune response as well as hormones associated with stress (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100908094809.htm).
Still other research focuses on the potential of Swedish massage to decrease anxiety or increase well-being during specific situations – like when patients are facing the stress of the ICU (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28750965).