What Does a Swedish Massage Therapist Do?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 07 May 2020
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A Swedish massage therapist uses specific techniques to manipulate the client's muscle tissues to promote relaxation, increase circulation, and reduce muscle adhesions. Techniques used by the Swedish massage therapist typically include effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction, and Swedish gymnastics. In many areas, a Swedish massage therapist must be specially trained, licensed, or certified in order to serve clients using these methods.

Regardless of the other techniques used in a particular massage session, a Swedish massage therapist will begin by warming the muscles by applying lubricating oil in long, slow strokes called effleurage. This technique, which can be light or heavy according to client preference, will initially use gliding motions to warm the muscle tissue. As the massage continues, the Swedish massage therapist might also employ a variation of effleurage using the knuckles for deeper pressure.

Other specific techniques can be used in combination with effleurage during a Swedish massage session. Petrissage describes the kneading, lifting, squeezing, or rolling of muscle tissues. Tapotement includes pounding, hacking, tapping, or cupping the muscles to increase circulation and gland activities. Various kinds of friction or vibration might also be applied to reduce muscle adhesions. The term Swedish gymnastics is used in reference to certain stretching motions done by the Swedish massage therapist, with or without the active assistance of the client.

In a Swedish massage session, the client chooses whether to be nude or clothed only in underwear. The client's body is covered with a sheet, and the massage therapist uncovers only the area of the body that is currently being worked on. In general, the massage therapist will begin with the muscles of the back and shoulder, then move to the back of the legs. Next, the massage therapist will work with the muscles of the front of the legs, the arms, the shoulders, and the neck.

Massage therapists undergo specialized training based on known concepts of physiology and anatomy. As of 2011, the work of a Swedish massage therapist required certification or licensure in many U.S. states and was government-regulated in France, Germany, India, and three Canadian provinces. A Swedish massage might take place at a spa, in a massage chain storefront, or at the office or home of a licensed or certified massage therapist. Short, clothed massage sessions can also occur in any location using a special type of massage chair.

Swedish massage is the most commonly used variety of massage in the U.S. and other Western countries. The term Swedish massage is used in English-speaking and Dutch-speaking countries, while elsewhere this technique is typically known as classic massage. Another variety of Western massage, called deep tissue massage, focuses on troubling areas of the body to help with muscle injuries or ongoing tension. Other popular options for massage include shiatsu, which uses pressure on the client's acupressure points; reflexology, in which areas of the feet are stimulated to affect other areas of the body; and neuromuscular therapy massage, a type of manipulation used in cases of chronic pain.


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