Swedish massage is a great introductory massage for many reasons, number one being that it involves firm, yet gentle strokes. You are placed on a flat elevated massage table with a cutout for your face. Beginning on your stomach, the massage therapist will begin long, firm brush-like strokes along your back and eventually over your shoulders, and arms, then down to your lower back and legs. Halfway through the appointment, you will be asked to turn over, finishing the second half face up for the treatment of your upper shoulders, arms, and front legs. Massage therapists usually use either the flat palm or heel of their hand or a grouping of fingertips to deliver pressure to tight spots and also help loosen and lengthen muscles. Unlike strictly pressure-point styles of massage like Shiatsu or stretching techniques such as Thai massage where a masseuse manipulates you while on the floor, Swedish massage is designed specifically to enhance circulation and blood flow to the large muscle groups, says Kathleen Jensen, director of operations for Massage Envy Spa in the San Diego Region.
Benefits of Swedish Massage
Relaxation and Increased Circulation
Swedish massage's main benefit is the overall relaxation that it provides. A standard Swedish session lasts for 30 or 60 minutes and addresses most major muscle groups of the body. The session is usually performed on a soft massage table, in an environment that is meant to relax the recipient. The strokes of the massage relax individual muscles, while the overall experience eliminates mental stress, but they also replicate the movements of the circulatory system. By performing the strokes toward the heart, Swedish massage drains metabolic waste from the limbs of the body. Some of the strokes used in Swedish therapy increase blood flow, which further quickens the removal of bodily waste.
Swedish massage is also used as an integral part of pain management protocols for sports injuries and chronic pain. Sessions can target specific areas of pain like a sprained ankle, or they can be used to help manage the chronic pain that comes with conditions like arthritis. By using strokes that improve circulation and increase body-wide relaxation, the massage therapist can help make many painful conditions more bearable. I personally relied heavily on Swedish and therapeutic sports massage for more than 15 years as I battled an ongoing deterioration of my right hip due to congenital dysplasia. Born with a misaligned hip socket, each year the muscle tightness in my leg and low back worsened due to overcompensation from the stressed large muscles of my leg. Only the regular strokes of a professional massage therapist released the tightness that even deep stretching could not affect. Regular Swedish massage effectively managed the pain before my eventual hip replacement to correct the malformation.
Massage for Fatigue, Depression, and Anxiety
One of the latest studies examines the correlation between Swedish massage and the reduction in fatigue for cancer patients. In March 2015, Emory University announced a continuation of its clinical trials relating to the biological benefits of massage therapy. The Emory University announcement reads: "Previous research… has already shown that massage therapy can boost the immune system and decrease anxiety for people who do not have cancer… We believe that there are many positive effects to be gained by therapeutic massage and we hope to prove that, among other biological advantages, massage may diminish the incapacitation that cancer-related fatigue can cause for our patients." Massage therapy is also being investigated as an aide to patients with more neuromuscular disorders.