Basic Massage Techniques

Updated: May 21


  • Stationary contact

  • Touch is placing hand, finger, ore forearm on the client WITHOUT movement in any direction

  • Touch constitutes the first & last contact with the client

  • The pressure exerted may vary from very light to very deep depending on the intention (superficial touch or deep touch)

Superficial (Light) Touch

  • Evenly distributed weight

  • Soothe & provide a comforting, healing connection

Deep Pressure Touch

  • Performed with one finger, thumb or several fingers or entire hand

  • Can also be used is heel of hand, knuckles or elbow

  • Deep touch is calm, anesthetize or stimulate the body

There are 5 basic Swedish Massage Techniques

Effleurage or Gliding

  • Varying amounts of pressure or contact according to the desired results

  • Pressure becomes firmer as the hand slides smoothly over the surface of the body

  • Generally, the first & last technique used on the area of the body

  • Used to asses superficial & deeper tissues

  • 4 classifications of this stroke

Petrissage or Kneading

  • The skin & muscular tissues are raised from their ordinary position & squeezed, rolled or kneaded with a firm pressure

  • Happens in a circular direction, on large areas of the body

  • 2 classifications of this technique


  • Continuous trembling or shaking movement to a fixed point or along a selected area of the body

  • Nerve trunks & centers are chosen as sites for application of vibration

  • Typically used on larger muscles

  • Rate of vibration should range from 5-10 times per second


  • Several massage strokes designed to manipulate soft tissue

  • One layer of tissue is moved over or against another

  • Makes muscles more pliable

  • There is 2 categories of friction movements

  • There are 3 types of movements with friction

  • There are 7 friction techniques

Percussion or Tapotement

  • Movements are made from the wrist with two hands in alternation

  • The muscles first contract & then relax as the fingers, or the part of the hand applying the technique(s) are removed from the body

  • Stroke the muscle transversely

  • 5 types of percussion

Four Classifications of Effleurage or Gliding

Ethereal Body or Aura Stroking

  • This is done with long, smooth strokes

  • Glide the length of the body, coming very close to but NOT actually touching the body's surface

  • Usually done in one direction

  • Intention is to affect energy fields that surrounds or permeate the body

Feather (Nerve) Stroking

  • Movements are very light pressure, with long, flowing strokes

  • Usually done from the center outward

  • 2-3 strokes have a slightly stimulating effect on the nerves

Superficial Gliding

  • Generally applied prior to any other movements

  • Conforms to the body so that equal pressure is applied

  • Slow, gently, & rhythmic movements

  • Allows therapist to asses the body area being massaged

Deep Stroking

  • Uses enough pressure to have a mechanical effect on the body

  • Applied with the thumb, braced fingers, knuckles or forearm

  • Most valuable when applied to the muscles

  • Strokes follow the direction of muscle fibers

  • Deep gliding helps to palpate deeper muscles

Two Classifications of Petrissage or Kneading Movement

Skin Rolling

  • Used in specific areas, where you pick up an entire section of muscle or muscle group and roll it between the thumb and fingers

  • Only the skin & subcutaneous tissues are picked up

  • Stretching the underlying fascia

  • Effective for identifying taut bands of muscle fibers & there embedded trigger points

  • Sift through the fibers to find any tension or restrictions


  • Grasp the tissue & gently lift & spread it out

  • Helps make more space between the layers of tissue or muscle fibers

  • Softens the superficial& deep fascia

Categories of Friction

Superficial Friction

  • Brisk effleurage-like stroke using a quick back & forth movement

  • Intended to warm the area

  • Stimulate superficial circulation

  • Performed with the thumb over a small area or the palm of one or both hands over a larger area

  • Creates heat & warms the superficial tissues

Deep Friction

  • Moving more superficial layers of flesh against the deeper tissues

Types of Movements with Friction

Circular Friction

  • Fingers or palm of the hand move the superficial tissues in a circular pattern over the deeper tissues

  • Intended to produce heat & stretch & soften fascia

  • Used to warm the area in preparation for more specific or deeper work

  • Valuable for palpating an area when assessing the condition of the underlying tissues

Cross-Fiber Friction

  • Applied in transverse direction across the muscle, tendon or ligament

  • Applied with the tips of the finger or the thumb directly to the specific of a lesion

  • Broadens & separates the fibrous tissues

Longitudinal Friction

  • Hands move in the same direction as the tissue fibers

Friction Techniques


  • Rhythmic pressure movements directed into muscle tissue

  • Done prior to deeper work, being done to help prime, or warm up the tissue & muscle that is going to receive the deeper work


  • Rapid back & forth movement with the hands

  • The flesh is shaken & rolled around the axis of the body part


  • Back & forth movement in which both hands are placed a short distance apart on either side of the limb & working in opposite direction

  • This resembles that of wringing out a washcloth

  • Stretching & twisting the flesh against the bone

  • Stretch & warm the connective tissue


  • Involves the flesh being grasped firmly in one or both hands & moved up & down along the bone

  • Series of quick movements along the axis of the limb


  • Gently shaking a relaxed body part so the flesh flops around the bone

  • Shaken laterally or horizontally

  • Observe where the body moves freely & where it seems to be stiff


  • Grasping the entire muscle, lifting it slightly away f rom its position & shaking it quickly across its axis

  • Most effective after muscles have exerted themselves (workouts or competitions)

  • Done when the muscle is in a shortened & relaxed position


  • This is a push & release movement

  • The body is pushed away slightly & allowed to roll back completely at a rhythmic rate

Types of Percussion or Tapotement


  • This is the lightest, most superficial

  • Mainly used for the face & sensitive areas

Slapping (Spatting)

  • Rhythmic, glancing contact with the body

  • Applied with a flattened palm & fingers

  • Produces a crisp smacking sound, when done correctly

Cupping (Clapping)

  • Used by respiratory therapist to help break up lung congestion

  • Most often employed over the rib cage

  • Form a cup by keeping fingers together slightly flexed & thumb help close the side of the palm

  • Hollow popping sound


  • Rapid striking movement that can be done with one or both hands

  • When both hands are used, the hands can strike alternately or together

  • Quick, glancing strike is made with the little ginger on the ulnar side

  • This causes a slight vibrating effect


  • This is the heaviest & deepest form of percussion

  • This is done over the dense muscular areas of the body

  • Hands are held in a loose fist, making contact with the ulnar aspect of the hands

  • This is done either together or alternately

  • The result is a rebounding whiplike action of the hands & wrist

Other Massage Strokes & Stretches