What is a Basic Swedish Massage?

By | October 10, 2014

swedishWhen you imagine a regular massage, you are most probably thinking of the Swedish form or a derivative. Salons, spas, and health clubs typically offer this. You can also find it offered in many chiropractors.

A basic Swedish massage is the most popular type in the western world. A therapist will frequently have their own unique style based on the fundamentals from the school of the original form.

It’s approach classifies five different types of strokes:

  • Petrissage – kneading
  • Effleurage – gliding
  • Friction – rubbing
  • Vibration – shaking
  • Tapotement – pounding

Therapists focus most often on either client relaxation or invigoration, depending on how the strokes get combined. It also relies on the use of oils, lotions, and/or creams. Clients typically receive full-body treatment that lasts 60 to 90 minutes.


Pehr LingThe modern form developed in the western world in the 1800’s. A Swede, by the name of Pehr Henrik Ling, developed and marketed his own type of the therapy. He primarily classified the techniques used by the Greeks and Romans in ancient times. Ling’s system, which he called Medical Gymnastics, became more commonly known as Swedish massage.

In the UK, Pehr Ling is considered the “father of physical therapy”. Actually the treatment only constituted approximately 10% of the techniques used by Ling when providing treatments. [Ironically, there are many therapists native to Sweden, that trained in Sweden, and never heard of Pehr Ling].

Later, the Dutch physician Johann Mezger, promoted the therapy using a medical model. Most credit Mezger with introducing and popularizing the use of French terminology to describe the system.

Physicians in the UK used it and other manual therapies quite extensively into the 1930’s. However, with new advances in surgical techniques and pharmaceutical medicine, it slipped from the mainstream UK medical model. After World War II, the general population frequently associated it with prostitution.

Meanwhile, most other nations advanced physical medicine practices and integrated it with modern medical techniques. Big advances manual therapies have come from other continents, including Europe, Asia, and Australia. For example, the Russian Medical Community recognizes 3 schools of Western massage:

  • Swedish – Restored treatment to the arsenal of modern medicine. Introduced the Western general public to its benefits.
  • Finnish – First system of Sports Massage, originating from the Swedish form. Important in the development of modern neuromuscular therapy.
  • Russian – Began as traditional medicine among Slavic tribes in the 4th-5th centuries A.D. Recognized and used since the 1800’s as an effective treatment for disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Further developed in 1900’s as a result of research and development of medical holistic treatment methods in Germany, Russia, France, and England.

Although traditional medicine (i.e., allopathic medicine, biomedicine) no longer recognises it as a popular method of treatment, it has slowly been gaining recognition once again.

Modified Swedish techniques have now evolved into whole new systems of  therapy, mostly based on the combining, packaging and marketing of existing techniques.

The format of a session, not just the type of strokes, also differentiates modern techniques. Many of the newer techniques incorporate this holistic treatment with additional, ancillary strokes taken from other systems.