Swedish Massage, The Leading Form of Therapeutic Massage

Swedish massage currently represents the western "standard" for massage therapy. Also commonly known as "therapeutic massage", Swedish Massage represents a general massage system that focuses on increasing circulation and promoting relaxation.

When you picture massage, you're probably thinking of Swedish massage or a derivative. Spas, salons, and health and fitness clubs typically offer this form of massage. Consumers can also find Swedish massage offered in many chiropractic offices.

Most often, massage therapists receive initial training in Swedish massage techniques as part of their certification and licensing process. To maintain professional certification, therapists must take continuing education courses, and may elect to progress to more advanced forms of Swedish Massage or learn additional techniques.

Swedish Massage represents the most common form of massage in the United States. Therapists frequently develop their own unique styles of massage based on the fundamental moves from the Swedish "school" of massage.

The Swedish massage approach classifies 5 types of strokes:

  • Effleurage - gliding
  • Petrissage - kneading
  • Friction - rubbing
  • Tapotement - pounding
  • Vibration - shaking

Each type of stroke offers different benefits.

Swedish massage therapists focus most often on client relaxation using this technique, relying mostly on gliding and kneading strokes, as well as oils and lotions. Clients typically receive a full-body Swedish massage that lasts 60 to 90 minutes.

Swedish Massage Background

Modern U.S. massage began to develop in Europe in the 19th century. A Swedish physiologist and gymnastics instructor, named Pehr Henrik Ling, developed and promoted his own system of massage thus being Swedish massage. He primarily classified the massage techniques used by Greeks and Romans in ancient times. Ling's system, which he called Medical Gymnastics, became more commonly known as Swedish massage.

In the United States, Pehr Ling is also considered the "father of physical therapy". Massage only constituted approximately 10% of the techniques used by Ling when providing treatments. Ironically, I have met massage therapists native to Sweden, that trained in Sweden, and never heard of Pehr Ling.

Later, a Dutch physician, named Johann Mezger, promoted Swedish massage using a medical model. Most credited Mezger with introducing and popularizing the use of French terminology to describe the system. Swedish massage represents one form of Western methods of massage.


To learn more about Swedish Massage and its history:

The History of Massage and Bodywork