Check out any massage teaching website or text book on massage techniques and you will come across a myriad of different massage strokes. For many newcomers, this can be confusing and daunting although once you realise that much of the confusion is the result of using different terms for the same strokes then you will begin to feel more comfortable with understanding and practising the various strokes. For example, one therapist may refer to trigger point therapy, another to acupressure and another to shiatsu. Yet they are all effectively talking about the same physical technique of applying static pressure to a specific point.
This article will just introduce some of the possible static massage strokes that are available. It is suggested, however, that if you do wish to learn and use them that you should enrol at a suitable massage teaching establishment so that you can understand in a safe and proper learning environment.
When we use the term static massage strokes, we are referring to the fact that the body part that is being massaged is stationary. We will discuss technique where passive and active movement is incorporated into the strokes in a later blog.
Effleurage strokes are the most common technique used by massage therapists and they are simply the flowing, gliding stroke along the length of body. It is used to spread lubricant (either oil or lotion), to warm up the muscles and to relax the recipient. The pressure applied and the speed of the stroke can vary considerably although it is rarely the case that effleurage strokes should be painful for the recipient. Generally the massage therapist will use their palms to perform the stroke although fingers, thumbs and forearms can be used depending on the particular body part being massaged. The strokes are performed along the length of the muscles, parallel to the muscle fibres.
Petrissage strokes are kneading techniques whereby a therapist will pick up, squeeze or wring soft tissue. For example, Petrissage of the calf muscle at the back of the lower leg is often used to warm up and relax the muscle. The therapists will use two hands and gently knead the calf with flowing action.
Static compression is simply the action of applying pressure at a particular point on the body without any movement from the therapist. Any massage “tool” (fingers, thumbs, knuckles, forearms or elbows) can be used to apply the pressure depending upon the specific body part and the amount of pressure required. Generally this stroke is performed to deactivate myofascial trigger points and pressure can be applied for as little as a few seconds or for as long as a couple of minutes depending upon how long it takes to achieve the desired therapeutic response.
Healthy muscles need to fully elongate and contract. With contraction, comes a broadening of the muscles as the sarcomeres within the muscle fibres overlap. A compression broadening strokes attempts to mimic this action (on a macroscopic level). To perform this stroke then you apply pressure to the relevant muscle using two massage tools and then slowly move the tools apart as you simultaneously stretch and compress the muscle. It is important not to have too much lubricant for this stroke as the objective is not to slide over the muscle.
As an example, the flat of the fists are often used on hamstrings muscles to perform a compression broadening stroke. The therapist will apply pressure with both fists side-by-side on the belly of the hamstring and then slowly move the fists apart across the muscle fibres.
This technique utilises a slow long gliding stroke parallel to muscle fibres in an effort to increase the length and elasticity of the muscle fibres. The pressure required should be sufficient to grip the muscle rather than glide along the superficial layers and can be bordering on the uncomfortable for the client. Any massage tool can be used to perform longitudinal stripping strokes and if you require more pressure then the tool chosen will use a smaller contact area.
The critical factor is the speed of the stroke. If the therapist works too quickly then the bodywork will be more painful and less effective.
Friction strokes can be a little confusing for the new massage therapist but once mastered then generally easy to perform and most remedial massage therapists would incorporate them at some stage during a session. A friction massage stroke moves adjacent superficial tissues in relation to the underlying soft tissue with a repeated forward and back or circular action. Any massage tool, fingers, knuckles, thumbs, elbows, etc can be used to perform the stroke and the important factor for the therapist to be aware of is that there is no movement of the massage tool relative to the skin. There is no gliding and the tool used maintains contact with the skin and moves it as the stroke is applied.
These strokes are typically used by massage therapists and physiotherapists for treating soft tissue injuries particularly where there may be scar tissue. The intention is to break cross-fibre bonds with the shearing nature of the stroke. However, it should be mentioned that research supporting the effectiveness of friction strokes is limited and some question whether it does achieve this goal.