Sep 2014 06

General massage techniques

By: Dave Wheeler

‚ÄčWhatever type of massage you like - whether it's a Swedish or Sports massage, there are some basic techniques that all massage therapists have in common.



The word effluerage is French for skimming.

In massage it means a gliding stroke - the massage therapist glides or skims her hands (or elbows, or thumbs or fist) gently across the skin, usually along the length of the muscle fibres.

The strokes of effleurage can be applied with different degrees of pressure:


pic by Ambro @


  • superficially - this is the most gentle of the effleurage strokes and the most relaxing
    • it targets the fascia (the layer of tissue between the skin and your muscles)
    • the smooth rythmical stroking calms the sensory receptors of the central nervous system in the skin and subcutaneous layers, promoting both relaxation of the muscles and general relaxation


  • more deeply - slower firmer strokes are applied
    • the deeper layers of muscle are reached
    • bundles of muscle fibres and adhesions between them are loosened so that they 


The effect of effleurage

For hundreds of years, it was assumed that the gentle stroking of effleurage encouraged the pumping of blood through the muscles.

Within the last decade it's been recognised that that explanation can't be right: it's the heart that pumps blood around the body through the veins; stroking muscles can't do that.

What effleurage does do, though, is to encourage micro-circulation at a cellular level - encouraging the process of osmosis (the exchange of chemicals at a cellular level) to get rid of toxins.


Cross-fibre effleurage

Though effleurage is normally carried out by stroking along the direction of the muscle, sometimes it's used cross-fibre.

Stroking across the direction of the muscle fibres can help loosen fascia and and unbind 'stuck' bundles of muscle fibres.


Effleurage and Oedema

Patients who suffer with oedema (or in American, Edema) which is fluid retention in the body can benefit from very light gentle effleurage strokes.

The flow of lymph through the lymphatic system which returns proteins through the circulatory system (amongst other things).

Carefully stroking towards the lymph nodes can help reduce fluid retention.




The word Petrissage is French for kneading.


Pic by satit_srihin @


Petrissage is just like kneading bread. 

It's great on the muscles of the upper trapezius - between the shoulders and the neck - and on other large muscle areas.

Like effleurage, petrissage is good for stimulating the micro-circulation, but it's also great for warming up areas of muscle and softening the soft tissue.



Friction is applied to very small areas of muscle by deep rubbing - usually using a finger or thumb.

Friction is really useful for breaking down scar tissue which develops when muscles get damaged.

This friction needs to be followed by deep precise effleurage stroking along the fibres to help realign the muscle fibres.



Tapotement is rhythmic drumming.

This drumming is most useful in stimulating weakened (atrophied) muscles that have inhibited function.

In Swedish massage, gentle tapotement is often used towards the end of a therapeutic massage session to help waken up the client who might be very relaxed after an hour of effluerages strokes.


Massage strokes and treatment

In Swedish massage the various strokes of effleurage, petrissage, friction and tapotement are usually applied in a set routine.

In remedial sports massage these techniques, and others, are used as necessary to treat specific needs and problems.

As ever, if you think I can help, give me a call.