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Massage Technique : Strokes and Pressure

There are various massage techniques to address different problems of the anatomy and help you de-stress. A registered massage therapist can be most trusted to render the massage with the knowledge and expertise of various techniques. But how do you differentiate between the various techniques that exist, you may ask? The answer lies in how you give a massage- the differing hand strokes used on the body and the varying pressure applied in each stroke distinguishes one technique of massage therapy from another. Interesting?

Here is a little touch of history that will help us understand better the strokes and pressure that make a massage technique: In the 19th century, the many different strokes of massage and their unique physical and psychological benefits were rationalized by Swedish Professor Henry Ling. Ling’s classical strokes define massage as a combination of three movements: Effleurage, Petrissage and Kneading, and Percussion.

Massage technique today entails a combination of Effleurage, Petrissage and Kneading, Percussion, Friction and Vibration. A brief description of these strokes gives us an insight to what a registered massage therapist would be certainly equipped with to give a massage:


  • Effleurage (stroking): Soothing, long, gliding strokes made with the entire flat surface of the hands that may be deep or superficial. The major purpose of this movement is to heighten circulation and increase depth of relaxation.
  • Petrissage (kneading): Firmly but gently grasping the skin and surface muscles with thumb and fingers, and rolling, squeezing, or wringing them, and dropping them back into place. It allows detailed work on the body. Petrissage is recommended on children and older adults.
  • Percussion: Stimulating, rapid alternate movements using both hands in: 1. tapping - using fingertips; 2. hacking –using chop movements with stretched fingers; 3. cupping - using cupped hand movements; 4. Slapping - using flat, open palms; or 5. pounding - using both fists;6. Tapotement- the lightest percussion-using drumming movements with fingertips .It is stimulating to the muscles and may be stimulating or calming to the nerves. 
  • Friction: May be long, slow, firm stroking movements or rolling circular movement in which the hand is kept in contact with the skin and the superficial tissues are moved over the deeper underlying ones. Used in treatment of joints and around bony prominences to break down adhesions, clear out congestion and toxic waste build-up. It raises local temperature and should be followed by effleurage.
  • Vibration: Very rapid back and forth shaking or trembling movements performed by the whole hand or the fingers; used on the upper back, buttocks and thighs. Has a stimulating effect upon the nervous system by acting on the nerve centers or terminal nerve branches.

Pressure - can vary from light to moderate to heavy depending on the type of massage and the objective of the massage

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