Swedish massage is the most common and best-known type of massage in the West. If it’s your first time at the spa or you don’t get massages very often, a Swedish massage is the perfect massage for you.
If you want deeper work and can tolerate more pressure, or even momentary discomfort, to get relief from muscle pain, it’s better to book a deep tissue massage, which is another form of Swedish massage.
Swedish massage and other types of therapeutic massage are performed by trained, licensed massage therapists.
A Swedish massage can be slow and gentle, or vigorous and bracing, depending on the therapist’s personal style and what he or she wants to achieve.
Swedish massage is based on the Western concepts of anatomy and physiology, as opposed to energy work on “meridians” or sen lines in Asian massage systems. Most people get a 50 or 60-minute Swedish or deep tissue massage, but 75 or 90-minutes gives the therapist more time to work the muscle tissue and achieve results.
What Happens During A Swedish Massage?
In all Swedish massage, the therapist lubricates the skin with massage oil and performs various massage strokes that warm up and work the muscle tissue, releasing tension and breaking up muscle “knots” or adhered tissues, called adhesions. Swedish massage promotes relaxation, eases muscle tension, and creates other health benefits.
Before the massage, the therapist should ask you about any injuries or other conditions that he or she should know about. Things you would want tell a therapist include areas of tightness or pain, allergies, and conditions like pregnancy. You can also tell them up front if you have a preference for light or firm pressure. It’s best not to get a massage if you are ill.
After the consultation, the therapist instructs you how to lie on the table — face up or face down, and underneath the sheet or towel — and then leaves the room. He or she will knock or ask if you are ready before entering.
The Nudity Factor
During a Swedish massage you are generally nude underneath a towel or sheet. The therapist uncovers only the part of the body he/she is working on, a technique called draping. If the nudity gets you out of your comfort zone, you can keep your underwear on, and many newcomers do.
You usually start by laying face down with your head in a u-shaped face cradle so your spine stays neutral. The therapist generally starts by works your back, using various massage strokes that include effleurage (gliding), kneading, friction, stretching, and (sometimes) tapping.
When the massage therapist is finished with the back, he or she works the back of each leg. When done with the back side, he or she holds the sheet or towel up and looks away while you turn over onto your back and scoot down; then he or she quickly covers you again. The therapist then massages the front of each leg, both arms, and generally finishes with your neck and shoulders.
Some therapists work in a different order, and all have their own style and techniques. If you only have 50 minutes, you can also ask them to spend more time on a certain area. If the pressure is too light or too firm, you should speak up and ask the therapist to adjust it. Swedish massage usually includes some deeper work on areas of specific muscle tension, but if you truly want deeper, more intensive work and firmer pressure, book a deep tissue massage.
Why It’s Called Swedish Massage
Swedish massage is based on the Western concepts of anatomy and physiology as opposed to energy work that is more common in Asian-style massage. Both Swedish massage and physical therapy were pioneered by a Swedish physiologist, Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) at the University of Stockholm.
In the early 19th century, he developed a system called “Medical Gymnastics” which included movements performed by a therapist. These became the known as “Swedish movements” in Europe and “the Swedish Movement Cure” when they came to the U.S. in 1858. Today it is simply known as Swedish massage. Swedish massage is the foundation for other types of Western massage, including sports massage, deep tissue massage and aromatherapy massage.