People are always surprised to hear that there are over 100 different styles and techniques of massage. But, if one thinks of the development of massage through the years in a similar way to the development of language over thousands of years, it starts to make more sense.
Yes, massage has been around for about as long as civilizations have populated Earth. Cultures in the East, West, North, and South all had their own forms of massage.
So, where does Swedish massage come from, how is it unique, and what are the benefits of Swedish massage?
First, it’s interesting to note that Swedish massage is among the oldest and most common Western massage techniques offered and practiced today in spas and massage therapy practices. In addition, Swedish massage is almost always the first technique studied by massage students. The skills they acquire are integral to learning many other more advanced and specialized techniques.
Massage may be the oldest medical practice in history; however, it was not until the 1800s that specific massage techniques were structured into a particular style.
The Swedish massage technique was defined around 1868 by Dutch doctor Johann Georg Mezger. There is some controversy around this, though. Per Henrik Ling is often—and wrongly—credited as the founder of Swedish massage. This mix-up is not uncommon, and it’ll be fun to take a brief moment to review the lives of both men.
Per Henrik Ling
Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) was a Swedish educator and a pioneer in physical therapy. During his life, Ling suffered from frequent illnesses, including rheumatism, lung disease, and gout. He developed an interest in fencing and began noticing positive changes in his health, particularly in his arm gout due to this activity.
These improvements in his condition were a welcome surprise for Ling, and he decided to focus his life on physical fitness and health. He studied medical physiology, anatomy, and other forms of exercise. Through his studies, Ling eventually developed a system of exercise and gymnastics that he called medical gymnastics. This new program incorporated a series of movements, stretching, and even some massage techniques.
In 1813, he founded the Royal Central Gymnastic Institute, for which he became well known and received several impressive accolades. His legacy lived on, especially in the history of massage therapy, where some still think of him as the “Father of Massage.”
Johann Georg Mezger
The true founder of Swedish massage was the Dutch doctor Johann Georg Mezger. Mezger also had an interest in gymnastics, which he practiced regularly at the Gymnastics Institution in Amsterdam. The Gymnastics Institution was known for its work in treating scoliosis and other skeletal issues. Mezger was noted for being a skilled gymnast and for his detailed knowledge of human physiology. He took his knowledge and experience and decided to study medicine.
Later, as an advanced student, Mezger was permitted to practice French “friction methods” on patients with sprains. Before passing his doctoral exam, he wrote a 47-page dissertation entitled “The Treatment of Distorio Pedis with Frictions,” which would ultimately serve as the therapeutic basis for Swedish massage.
Using these French techniques that used friction, Mezger applied his knowledge to develop a system of five therapeutic techniques that form the basis of Swedish massage to this day.
The five strokes used in Swedish massage are:
- Effleurage: Long, smooth gliding strokes
- Petrissage: The dough-like kneading of the muscles
- Friction: Firm, circular rubbing motions that generate heat
- Tapotement: Cupping, tapping, and other percussive methods
- Vibration: The vigorous shaking of muscles
By 1871, Mezger was well known amongst European nobility, and his massage services were in constant demand due to the effectiveness of his technique in helping people feel better and recover from injury.
So there you have it—the origin story of Swedish massage!
Benefits of Swedish Massage
Now, here are some of the primary benefits of Swedish massage:
Relieving stress is one of the most popular reasons for people to seek Swedish massage. In addition to volumes of anecdotal evidence around the stress relieving benefits of Swedish massage, there have been many scientific studies done on the benefits of Swedish massage in combating stress, which show that those who receive massage therapy have lower stress levels (as measured by stress hormones like cortisol) and can handle challenging situations more calmly.
Stress relief and relaxation go hand-in-hand, and both are commonly known benefits of all types of massage. However, while stress is one undesirable issue that improves as a result of Swedish massage, there are other sources of tension that can be addressed as well.
Some people have physically demanding jobs that can cause muscle tension. Even if you aren’t stressed because of your job, pushing and straining muscles can cause prolonged muscle tension, which can negatively affect mobility and movement patterns and cause the familiar achy pain that comes from a tight muscle. Swedish massage improves the flexibility of muscle tissue and provides a sense of overall physical relaxation, which can, in turn, lead to mental relaxation and a significant reduction of anxiety and improvement in sleep quality.
The movements used in Swedish massage are similar to the way the body circulates blood through movement. The strokes of Swedish massage directly promote blood flow through muscles and connective tissues.
This increase in blood flow has a number of positive trickle-down effects, including helping the body remove metabolic waste more quickly and effectively. Better circulation helps you feel better and improves overall health since increased circulation and blood flow mean other organs can work more effectively in restoring a healthy balance in your body.
Another major benefit of Swedish massage is pain relief. As the muscles are relaxed, your mind lets go of stress, and circulation increases. Pain receptors also calm down, providing welcome relief.
Not only can Swedish massage be used to ease the pain as a result of an injury or chronic muscle tightness, but it can also be used to manage chronic pain that comes with a number of illnesses and conditions, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. By decreasing pain sensations, Swedish massage can help create states of deep relaxation, allowing both body and mind to recover and reestablish a healthy balance.
Complementary alternative medicine
Swedish massage is often used as part of a holistic treatment program for illness, injury, or disease. It is considered complementary alternative medicine because it is not medicine-based, as Western medicine often is, but it still offers significant health benefits.
In many cases, physicians prescribe Swedish massage to work in conjunction with medications or other treatments in order to help a patient recover and make more rapid progress toward health.
Ideally, Swedish massage is part of a holistic approach to a patient’s health, which helps address the mind, body, and spirit—in order to promote a deep and lasting healthy state.
Since massage and massage therapy have physical, mental, and emotional benefits, Swedish massage is an effective supplement treatment to traditional Western medicine.
Swedish massage, like many other types of massage, has many benefits that not only provide positive physical changes but mental and emotional changes, as well. Stress and pain relief, plus increased circulation and relaxation, are just some of the benefits of Swedish massage.
If you’d like to experience the benefits of Swedish massage yourself, you can quickly find and book professional Swedish massage therapists near you using the MassageBook directory of professional massage therapists.Book a Swedish Massage Near Me