Massage Movements (Techniques)

In terms of therapist training, Swedish Massage is a "basic building block" therapy in that it is usually a course taken early in a therapist's career then either used as a complete stand-alone treatment, or as an educational 'stepping-stone' to the study of further therapies such as aromatherapy, sports massage or hot stone massage, to mention just some of the most popular therapy and beauty therapy treatments of the early 21st century.

The massage techniques listed here are not new but are the same or very similar to those taught in Sweden from at least the 1920s onwards. For an English Translation, see for example "The Technique, Effects and Uses of Swedish Medical Gymnastics and Massage" (1927) by Dr J Arvedson (author) and Mina L Dobbie (Translator), which is illustrated albeit with extremely dated images, and contains some expressions unexpected today such as e.g. "The length of the massage séance must depend ..." [bold added].

Dr. Arvedson defines massage as (in English translation):

" Manipulation of the soft tissues for therapeutic purposes by movable pressure in the form of stroking, rubbing, squeezing, kneading, as well as beating or striking."

Swedish Massage Manipulations:


Effleurage involves stroking centripetally in the direction of circulation (i.e. towards the heart). This technique may be carried out using a wide range of styles depending, in part, on the part of the body being treated. Effleurage may aid the flow of blood and lymph.

More information about Effleurage.


Friction movements involve pressing tissues against a supporting surface using a repeated rubbing action. Frictions should not be continued for too long and should never be performed over recently strained muscles or scar tissue, or over any type of inflammation.

Circular Frictions - Using the tips of fingers or thumbs to apply pressure and some circular stationary manipulation, circular frictions often involve the pressure being gradually increased over a short series of 3-4 circles before pressure is released and the movement repeated.

More information about Circular Frictions.

Transverse Frictions - The tips one or two fingers are moved backwards and forwards across the structure being worked such that there is no movement between the therapist's fingers and the client's skin - but rather movement between the structures being worked and the overlying tissues/skin.

More information about Transverse Frictions.


There are a range of pétrissage techniques in which the tissue that is being worked on is lifted from or pressed against a supporting structure at the same time as being compressed by squeezing or rubbing.

Lifting - Tissues are compressed against their underlying structure/s, then lifted, squeezed, and released.

More information about Lifting.

Kneading - Skin and its underlying structures are moved in a circular rotating motion on the underlying structures. Tissue is lifted and rolled away from the bone, and then back towards the bone with a squeezing compressive action.

More information about Kneading.

Skin Rolling - Skin is lifted and rolled between the fingers and thumbs of both hands. This technique is often used on the abdomen, thighs, and back.

More information about Skin Rolling.

Muscle Rolling - This advanced technique involves applying pressure to compress muscles laterally - such as to stretch muscles and/or stimulate circulation in the muscles being treated.

More information about Muscle Rolling.

Wringing - Soft tissues are compressed against their underlying structures before they are lifted. The lifted tissue is then pulled gently away from the underlying structures using the fingers of one hand, while the thumb of the other hand gently pushes the tissue back towards the underlying structures.

More information about Wringing.

Tapotement (Percussion)

Tapotement is the general word for manipulations that have a striking or blow-like character. Some older texts use slightly different words than modern books, for example 'clapping' and 'beating', while omitting 'pummelling' and 'pounding'. However the range of manipulations is largely unchanged, the greatest differences being in the terminology.

Tapping - Much lighter than the other tapotement movements (below), tapping may vary from gentle to a firmer action, also performed at a range of frequencies as appropriate to the tissues being worked on.

More information about Tapping.

Cupping - The palmer side of each hand is shaped into a "cup" by slightly flexing the fingers and closing the hand by adducting the thumb to meet the index finger. Loosely held in this form, the hands softly strike the tissue in a loose rythmic action from the wrist.

More information about Cupping.

Plucking - Using outstretched fingers, tissue is picked-up between the thumb and fingers using a motion in which the thumb closes onto the fingers firmly enough to lift tissue but gently enough to leave no marks on the skin. Both hands are used quickly yet briefly - in alternate, rapid, succession.

More information about Plucking.

Hacking - With hands held outstretched, fingers and thumb outstretched from the arm and in loose contact with each other, the hacking action comes from the therapist's wrists and involves both hands being used to strike the tissues alternately and rythmically - the two hands remaining only a short distance apart so working the same area of tissue.

More information about Hacking.

Pounding - With hands are loosely formed into fists, thumbs upper-most and flat against the clenched index fingers, the pounding action comes from the therapist's wrists and involves both hands being used to strike the tissues alternately and rythmically (approx. 6-10 contacts per second) - the two hands remaining only a short distance apart.

More information about Pounding.

Pummelling - Similar to "pounding" in that the hands are loosely clenched into fists with thumbs resting flat against the index finger, but with the hands rotated so that the thumbs face are opposite each other on the inside of the pair of hands rather than upper-most. The motion involves a more "rolling" technique in which the hands make a circular motion briefly lifting up the tissue with each contact - rather than compressing it from above (as for "pounding").

More information about Pummelling.

Shaking - The part of the body being worked-on is grasped or surrounded and shaken from side to side or from the surface toward the deeper parts.

More information about Shaking (not available).

Vibrations - Tissues are pressed and released in an "up and down" movement that may take the form of a fine trembling movement applied some of the finger tips.

More information about Vibrations.

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