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Massage Technique

How To Learn the The Basic Massage Techniques


Woman Receiving Tibetan Massage at Sunset
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Massage technique is made up of massage strokes that primarily derive from Swedish massage, the most commonly offered and best-known type of massage.

If you're familiar with these massage techniques, you can better appreciate what the massage therapist is doing during a professional massage at a spa.

Knowing basic massage technique can also help you experiment with at-home massage with your partner. Basically all you need is massage oil, which facilitates the glide of your hand over the skin, and a sheet you don't mind getting oily to put over your bed or some blankets on the floor.

The Most Basic Massage Technique

The most basic Swedish massage technique is a smooth, gliding stroke called effleurage. These hand-over-hand strokes can take place over large surfaces like the back, arms, legs, chest or small surfaces like the face, throat and hands.

Massages usually begin and end with superficial effleurage, which is light, slow and soothing. It accustoms the body to being touched.

Deep effleurage uses more pressure, stretching and broadening the muscle tissue and fascia. It's a good massage technique for warming up the muscles for even deeper work.

If you're doing this at home, you would want to intersperse the two types, as too much pressure will wear you and the your partner out. At the spa, notice how the therapist uses this stroke and how they vary speed and pressure.

Also, some massage therapists naturally work faster and deeper, while others have a lighter style. Notice what style of massage you like best and ask for someone who fits your style. And remember, harder is not always better! Sometimes the muscles just harden up against too much pressure. You also want someone who is sensitive to what works on you. And don't expect 100% relief in one massage session, no matter how deep the therapist goes.

The Massage Technique of Kneading

Another commonly used massage technique is petrissage, or kneading, where the therapist squeezes the muscle tissue between their thumb and fingertips. It's generally done rhythmically, first one hand and then the other. This can be done on big curved muscles like your thigh muscles, the upper arms, shoulders and the buttocks (though the last one is not usually done in a spa).

The Massage Technique of Friction

Friction is a massage technique where the therapist works at a specific knot (called an adhesion) with their thumb or fingers. It's more targeted, and the therapist goes in more deeply to try and separate the adhered tissues. The movement or targeted pressure can be circular. It can go along the band of the muscle, tendon or ligament fibers. Or it can go across the muscle, called cross-fiber friction.

This is the part of the massage that "hurts so good" and is a feature of deep tissue massage. If you're not a professional, be careful experimenting with this. You don't want to hurt yourself or your partner.

The Massage Technique of Stretching

The massage technique of stretching is when the therapist moves your arms or legs into different positions and stretches. This is very commonly used in Asian massage styles like Thai massage and a western style called Trager. It can be used in Swedish and deep tissue massage but is not that common, especially in a day spa or resort spa setting.

The Massage Technique of Percussion

Percussion movements are quick and striking -- the classic example would be "chopping" with the side of the hands(called hacking) -- that you might see in an old movie. This massage technique is stimulating to the body. Other percussion massage techniques are tapping with the tips of fingers (usually lightly on the face), slapping with the flat of the hand, and beating with clinched fists on big muscles like the thigh.

These percussion techniques have fallen out of favor because most people expect massage to be relaxing, not bracing.

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