display | more...

It is useful know the following terms if you want to take giving massage seriously. I have noded them to make references in my massage nodes a little clearer...


This is the most basic move in Swedish-style massage, and is a broad stroking movement made with one or both hands across the surface being massaged. Effleurage always aims towards the heart, the aim being to increase lymph flow. In reality, the main benefits are in relaxing the person you're massaging and warming up their tissues ready for deeper moves. In good effleurage your hands should never leave the skin - use firm, comfortable pressure on the stroke towards the heart, and much lighter pressure on the way back. Make all your moves slow and firm (this feels nicer and is less ticklish...).


This is a deeper massage technique, and is done using the balls of the thumbs or fingers, and sometimes the palms. It is used on tissues that have bone beneath them, the aim being to knead lactic acid and similar compounds out of the muscle. This is a particularly good way to get rid of knots, especially on the back and shoulders. Small circles are made with the thumbs in the muscle, working harder to a point that is comfortable to the person being massaged.

Several variations can be used on particularly stubborn (or tender) knots. The two thumbs can be moved around each other in the flesh, and on the back all fingers and thumbs can be used together (hold your fingers as if holding a tennis ball or baseball).


This move is derived from the medieval medical technique of the same name, in which heated cups were placed over the skin and allowed to cool, creating a partial vacuum. It is performed by cupping the hands (as if you were holding some water in each hand), and then making gentle slapping movements with alternate hands on the area being cupped. All the movement should be in the wrists, and the noise produced should be like a horse trotting - if it sounds like a slap, you're not holding your hands cupped enough - and it'll feel like it sounds. Suitable regions on which to use cupping are the thighs, shoulders, and upper back - it is very important to avoid the kidney region, and to keep talking to the person you're massaging to make sure you're doing it hard enough without being painful.


This is often done immediately after cupping, and on similar regions of the body. Another move that both looks and sounds worse than it really is, hacking involves holding the hands in a 'karate chop' pose, and then relaxing the fingers and making chopping movements from the wrists with the little finger and edge of the palm. If done correctly, the other fingers all slap into each other, so the move should feel gentle and not like being hit (if it hurts, you're either doing it wrong, or much too hard). The aim should be to make the two hands land as close to each other as possible, and as fast as possible - this sounds disturbingly like something else entirely...


This is a fairly gentle but deep move, and is used on large muscles such as those in the flanks and thighs. It is somewhat hard to describe in words, but effectively involves taking the muscle between thumb and fingers and moving it as if kneading dough. Both hands alternate over the same region, with the thumbs stationary close to each other and the fingers doing most of the work.

Acupressure—A technique of extremely precise pressure on certain points of the body. These pressure points may be far from the system that they affect. For example, pressure on the forearm has been shown to be effective in relieving nausea (it really works!). Shiatsu is closely related to acupressure.

Alternative Medicine / Complementary Medicine / Complimentary Medicine—The field of health care which includes nutrition, aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture and other therapies which are not usually classed as a part of the field of western medicine. Some of the therapies are very genuinely effective, others are questionable.

Biomechanics—This term, when applied to massage therapy, almost always refers to the therapist's careful use of posture and leverage to prevent tiring out and avoid injuring his/her own body from the repeated strain of performing massage.

Bodywork—A term for any work done on the muscular, skeletal and integumentary (skin) system. Facials, wraps, massage, chiropractic work, scrubs and hydrotherapy are some examples of bodywork.

Centrifugal / Centripetal Massage—Quite simply put, massage on the limbs is termed centrifugal if it strokes away from the center of the body and centripetal if it strokes toward the center of the body. Many therapists prefer centripetal strokes where possible (in order to return lymph and blood toward the torso for cleaning).

Compression—Downward pressure against tissue—a very useful deep tissue massage technique. Often accomplished with the knuckles or heel of the hand.

Counter-Stretching / Compress and Release / Resisted Stretching—A technique in which the massage therapist stretches a muscle, then the client flexes or pushes against the stretch for a short time. The client then relaxes the tension on the muscle and the joint is stretched for a longer period of time (and, if possible, to a greater degree). This technique works amazingly well on chronic aches and soreness.

Cryotherapy—The use of cold as a therapeutic agent in bodywork. Cold is useful for reducing inflammation and edema, and bodyworkers sometimes use ice packs, cold towels or cooling spray on parts of the body which are sore from intense workout or have been recently injured. Massage therapists may occasionally use cryotherapy, but should be extremely careful when working with recently injured or inflamed areas.

Deep Tissue Massage—This is exactly what it sounds like. Deep tissue work is massage which is aimed at getting to muscles and fascia which are located further away from the skin (deeper). Typical techniques include point pressure (using fingertips, knuckles or small massage tools) and heavy effleurage (using body weight on elbows or forearms).

Draping—The practice of covering the client with a sheet and/or a blanket during a full-body massage or any sessions in which the client is disrobed. Draping is done for the purposes of privacy and comfort and also for warmth. In a full-body massage, no part of the body should be exposed except for the portion that is currently being worked on.

Friction—A deep-tissue technique which moves tissues against each other. Done with fingertips, palm, knuckles or forearm.

Holding / Rocking / Jostling—Extremely useful, and frequently overlooked massage techniques. Holding is pretty much what it sounds like—passive touch with a gentle hand. It makes contact between the client and therapist and prepares the client for massage. Adding a light movement to holding makes it rocking, a very comforting and pleasant way to start or end a massage, especially a strenuous one. Jostling is similar to rocking, only more abrupt, usually used in stimulating or sports massage.

Hydrotherapy—The use of water on the skin to relax or stimulate muscles and systems. Water used may be hot or cold—hot for relaxing and deep healing and cold for stimulation and tightening of tissues. Examples of hydrotherapy include hot towel wraps, whirlpool baths, steam saunas, ice packs and foot baths. Use of cold is sometimes termed cryotherapy. In medicine, the term hydrotherapy may also include internal use of water, but most massage therapists (rightly) confine themselves to the outer portion of the body.

Lymphatic Drainage Massage—A series of light-touch techniques which are aimed at moving lymph. The concept is that manual circulation of lymphatic fluid will facilitate removal of bacteria and other foreign materials from the body more quickly. The researchers are not unanimous on the efficacy of this technique, but there is a growing body of evidence which indicates that it is extremely useful in some circumstances.

Massage Oil / Lotion / Gel / Cream—Products used in massage are usually based on paraffin and/or vegetable-source oils (grapeseed, almond and flaxseed are three very common bases). Massage oils are light and mix well with aromatic oils, but can be a hassle to get out of sheets (and those of us who are not so graceful find them cursedly easy to spill). Lotions are thicker, usually semi-liquid—a pump can be used for applying them. Yours truly prefers lotions. Gels are special-use and tend to be quite thick. Creams are much thicker and usually come in a small tub or canister. Creams and gels have the advantage that they are nearly impossible to spill.

Myofascial Releasing—A deep-tissue technique that focuses on the connective tissue which surrounds muscles, bones and organs.

Nerve Strokes / Feather Strokes—A system of extremely light stroking massage similar to effleurage. Feather strokes are strictly used to stimulate skin, rather than deeper tissues. The effect, in my experience, is rather like getting lightly tickled.

Passive Stretching—A muscle stretch where the client does not assist or resist the therapist. Passive stretching improves blood flow, lengthens and warms up muscles. It also helps joints and muscle groups to loosen up either before or after working out. There are numerous stretches that a therapist can learn for each muscle or group of muscles.

Percussion/Tapotement—An optional massage technique used in many massages. Tapotement involves light beating, hacking or cupping with the hands (or with tools, such as so-called "massage hammers"). Very stimulating and good on very overused muscles.

Petrissage—Kneading technique done with palms or fingertips. One of the most useful massage techniques, extensively employed in Swedish massage.

Reflexology—The use of precise massage techniques to stimulate tiny spots on the hands or, more commonly, the feet. Reflexology is used for the relief of numerous conditions including PMS, nervousness, gastro-intestinal complaints, headaches and depression, among others.

River Stones / Hot Stones—The use of smooth rocks, either heated or chilled, in bodywork. Stones, often granite, limestone or marble, are placed on specific parts of the client's body. Sometimes, massage pressure is added to some of the stones, and they are worked over the muscles.

Rolfing / Structural Integration—Structural Integration is the name of the series of deep-tissue techniques developed by Dr. Ida Rolf. The more common name for this method of bodywork is Rolfing. SI seeks to align the body using very specific pressure and gravity. Done correctly, it is not supposed to be especially painful. It is very seldom done correctly.

Soft Tissue Therapy—A name for any bodywork that deals with skin and muscles, as opposed to chiropractic and similar work, which deal with bones and joints. Massage is usually considered a form of soft tissue therapy.

Sports Massage—Massage techniques for athletes. These techniques are aimed at either preparing the muscles and joints for athletic activity or assisting in recovery from the stress and strain associated with sports activity.

Stripping—A deep tissue massage technique where the therapist applies intense, precise pressure at one end of a muscle (usually the distal end) and then, with constant, slow pressure, follows the muscle to its other end. For reasons that should be immediately obvious, this really works best on long, thin muscles and not quite as well on big, sheet-like muscles.

Swedish Massage—The combination of the techniques of effleurage, petrissage and sometimes percussion. Often, this is combined with stretching. This series of techniques was developed in the 19th century by Per Henrik Ling, a medical doctor from Sweden, so amazingly, unlike French horns or Chinese checkers, the name is actually appropriate. Swedish massage is what many people think of as "regular" massage.

Trigger Point / Myofacial Trigger Points—A trigger point is a spot in a muscle which may be very tense or sore. Use of applied pressure, cold, or the combination of the two often relieves trigger points (which often hurt like heck and may refer pain to other parts of the body while releasing). These are related to, but not always the same as, “cricks” or “kinks” and often feel like little bumps in the soft tissue.

Vibration / Trembling—A massage technique which is similar to friction, but with a rhythmic feel. Vibration can be very deep or very light. It is usually done with fingertips or palms (more rarely with forearms). There are, of course, mechanical vibrators, sometimes used for legitimate massage techniques, sometimes the source of a whole 'nother writeup!

Wringing—An effleurage technique used on limbs. Wringing, exactly as the name implies, is a light counter-twisting action designed to stimulate blood flow and relax muscles. It is best when used sparingly.

Sources: My massage school notes and a document written by me, on my own website, plus about 5 years of reading Massage magazine.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.