What Is Swedish Massage?
Swedish massage is the Western-world standard for a reason: it’s gentle, it’s relaxing, and it can be tailored to anyone. But what exactly is a Swedish massage? Is it even Swedish? And what can you expect during a treatment? Our guide delves into what is inarguably the most popular form of massage today.
What happens during a treatment?
Swedish massage is rooted in Western practices of anatomy and physiology. To perform this type of massage, licensed therapists apply an arsenal of pressure styles that include stroking, kneading, striking, rubbing, and vibrations. Using massage oil to help their strokes glide, they focus the pressure along the muscles that run the length of the body.
What are the benefits of Swedish massage?
The pressure from Swedish massage is ideal for relieving muscle tension, like the kind that builds up from hunching over a computer all day. This tension can sometimes result in knots: trigger points of extremely tense muscle fibers that form tiny nodules. Massage therapists are trained to feel for these knots, and Swedish-massage techniques are ideal for gently coaxing them away.
Are there any other benefits besides looser muscles?
The whole Swedish experience is also a potential stress reliever, which is a benefit unto itself. Plus, it can improve blood flow, delivering more oxygen to cells. A lesser-known benefit—moisturized, glowing skin—results from the application of massage oils. Many therapists prefer to use sweet almond oil because it absorbs slowly into the skin, yet doesn’t leave clients feeling like they’re covered in grease. Other favorite oils include grapeseed (non-greasy, no smell) and jojoba oil (easily absorbed, mixes well with aromatherapy oils).
How long should it last?
Therapists commonly offer 30-minute, 50-minute, 60-minute, and 90-minute versions. A longer massage, though, gives the therapist more time to work on each muscle group or to focus on a particularly tense area.
Will it hurt?
No, because most therapists will customize the pressure of their strokes to suit your requests. According to Shannon Merten, a licensed massage therapist we interviewed about massage etiquette, communication is key. “I would rather my clients leave happy and satisfied than not, so if [the therapist] is doing something that is not enjoyable, a good ‘that’s a little too much pressure’ or ‘that area is too sensitive to be worked on’ should get you satisfying results,” she says.
Is it actually from Sweden?
There is some disagreement in academic circles about the origins of Swedish massage. Many sources trace the connection to Swedish physiologist Pehr Henrik Ling, who pioneered a series of gymnastic stretches known as the Swedish Movement System. Beyond that, the history gets murky.
According to Robert Noah Calvert, author of The History of Massage, what we now call Swedish massage was never part of Ling’s movement system. Swedish massage, as Calvert asserts, is defined by its system of stroking, kneading, and other bodily manipulations. These he credits to a Dutch practitioner, Johann Georg Mezger, who lived and worked in the late 19th century. As a result, what Americans know as Swedish massage is called “classic massage” throughout most of Europe.
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