Types of Strokes in Massage Therapy

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  • 0:04 Swedish Massage
  • 0:46 The Five Basic Strokes
  • 3:43 Practical Scenario
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cara Sherman

I have a master's degree in Science. I have taught Anatomy & Physiology, Kinesiology, Medical Ethics, Resume writing, Cultural Diversity, and Medical Terminology.

In this lesson, you'll learn the various types of massage therapy strokes that make up a Swedish massage routine. You'll also learn about the differences between each of them and when they are used.

Swedish Massage

When you want to relax and reduce stress, what do you think of? Do you think of a nice hot bath? Do you think of reading your favorite book in a quiet setting? Have you ever considered meditation? Have you ever thought of receiving a massage? Massage is one way that you can reduce stress and increase relation.

Swedish massage is the use of five basic strokes put together in a sequence that will benefit the client. The strokes of Swedish massage generally begin broad and gradually become more specific if the massage therapist deems it necessary. Pressure with a Swedish massage generally will begin with light movements and increase gradually (within the client's tolerance) to medium to deeper pressure, and then returning to a lighter pressure to end body work on that specific area.

The Five Basic Strokes

Let's take a couple of moments to look at the five basic strokes involved in massage therapy one at a time, as well as look at an example or two:

1. Effleurage


  • This type of massage stroke is a long gliding stroke. This picture shows the practitioner using both hands to deliver a long gliding stroke from the base of the lumbar region towards the shoulders and neck.
  • This stroke can be done using the practitioner's one hand, both hands, palms of hands, knuckles, and/or forearms. This would depend on the specific body part that is being worked on.
  • This stroke is used to apply and deliver the massage lotion/oil and also to evaluate the soft tissue that is being worked on. You can determine if there is tightness or trigger points that will need to have additional work done.
  • This is usually the first stroke when starting a new body part. It can be used in between other more specific strokes and is usually the last stroke on a body part before moving on to the next area to be worked on.
  • As the practitioner works on an area and the pressure of the strokes is increased, it provides a stretch to the muscles which will result in increased relaxation.

2. Petrissage


  • This type of massage stroke is often described as one in which the practitioner is kneading, rolling, wringing, and lifting the soft tissue being worked on.
  • This picture shows petrissage being done to the upper trapezius muscle. The practitioner is lifting and squeezing the muscle.
  • This stroke usually occurs after effleurage and once the practitioner determines what type of massage stroke should come next.
  • Petrissage is used to help free up knotted and tight muscles and soft tissues. It also helps increase blood and lymphatic flow to the area, which assists in the healing process.

3. Friction

  • Friction is a warming stroke that is used on specific areas of the body that the practitioner determines needs deeper work. This stroke will generate heat in order to warm up the area that is to be worked on.
  • This stroke can be done by applying pressure to the client's tolerance and either going in the direction of the muscle fibers, going against the direction of the muscle fibers (cross-fiber friction), or going in small circular movements.

4. Tapotement

  • This type of massage stroke is a percussive stroke in which the hand action is rhythmically applied to an area being worked on in order to stimulates nerves, muscles, and circulation.
  • This can be achieved by such hand positions as cupping your hands, with flat palms, using soft fists, and/or the practitioner's fingers interlaced.


As you can see in this image, this demonstrates the massage practitioner indeed using her hands in a cupping motion to apply tapotement to the upper back region.'

5. Vibration

  • This category of strokes usually refers to as rocking, shaking, or trembling movements.
  • Vibration can be done to a specific area, like an arm or leg, or can be done to the entire body.
  • These movements can be done slowly or rapidly depending on the outcome the practitioner is looking for.
  • The goal of this type of stroke is to decrease tension in an area while increasing relaxation.

Practical Scenario

Patrick comes into Lisa's office for a massage. This is his first massage, and he is unsure what he would like and/or need.

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