Effleurage is the most common stroke used in massage therapy. It is the principal stroke in Swedish Massage. Using the palms of the hands, knuckles, or forearms, the therapist uses long gliding movements over the skin. Strokes are typically done in the direction of the heart and are used to apply oil or lotion and to assess tightness, adhesions, or trigger points that may require more attention as the massage progresses. Effleurage strokes relax the recipient and begin to loosen, stretch and lengthen the muscles. These strokes not only prepare the muscles for more intense work that may follow but also promote the movement of lymphatic fluid through the body toward the heart where it eventually gets expelled from the body.
Friction is a stroke often used to warm the muscle. It is often used on an area of the body that the therapist has determined requires additional deeper work. As well as the usual benefits of increased circulation, friction strokes can also break up knots and adhesions. The friction may be applied in the direction of muscle fibers, across the muscle fibers (cross-fiber friction), or in small circular motions. These techniques can be used on muscle fibers, tendons or ligaments to help break down adhesions and scar tissue.
Kneading, wringing, knuckling, scissoring, lifting, and rolling are all petrissage techniques. The soft tissue of the body is compressed against itself, against the underlying bone, or between the therapist’s own hands. Petrissage is most often explained as a grasping, lifting, and squeezing technique used to separate the superficial tissue from the underlying tissues of the body.
Tapotement is a percussive massage stroke where the massage therapist rhythmically strikes the client delivering superficial blows in order to stimulate muscle tissue and nerves and to promote circulation. Tapotement is a massage stroke often used in Swedish massage or as a warm-up to a more intense Deep Tissue Massage. The therapist uses great care to ensure that the strokes are delivered in a gentle way and that the force is not so great as to cause pain. Tapotement is performed on areas of the body which do not have any bony protrusions or where the underlying tissue is not too sensitive. Hacking is a form of light, rapid tapotement where the therapist uses his/her hands in a “karate chop” motion. The force comes from the therapist’s wrists rather than the arms. Cupping strokes are accomplished with a slapping motion of the therapist’s alternating left and right hands.
Vibration strokes include rocking, jostling, shaking, or trembling strokes. Vibration strokes are often accomplished using rapid superficial movements performed with the hands, fingers or palms. They can, however, be done at a slower rate as is sometimes the case before an athlete engages in a sporting event to invigorate or energize the muscle. Vibration strokes are used to increase blood flow to a particular area of the body through friction. This improves circulation and increases cellular exchange in the tissue. Vibration can be done to a specific area, like an arm or leg, or can be done to the entire body. It can also be done using one or both hands.