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The massage technique which consists of gliding strokes is termed effleurage. Effleurage and petrissage are the two most popular techniques which are used in the majority of massages–when most people think about receiving a massage, they are probably envisioning kneading (petrissage) or stroking (effleurage).

The name comes from the French word effleurer, which means 'to brush' or 'to touch lightly.' This term appears to have been popularized in the late Nineteenth Century by the Dutch doctor Johann Metzger, who was one of the first medical practitioners in the Western Hemisphere to recognize the therapeutic potential of massage techniques.

The application of long, gliding strokes soothes and relaxes tissues and increases blood flow to the area worked on. It also may remove wastes and excess fluid buildup in the tissues. Of course, it also feels absolutely wonderful.

PERFORMING EFFLEURAGE

Effleurage is very easy to do, in fact, it may well be the easiest massage technique there is. The therapist should use a massage oil, cream or lotion–in a pinch, a high-quality moisturizer may be used, this allows easier strokes and removes the discomfort that too much friction can cause. If you are going to be performing effleurage, you should first apply the massage cream or oil to your own hand and then rub it over the area with a light pressure–this warms and spreads the oil far better than pouring it directly on the skin. Use light pressure to start, gradually increasing the amount of pressure applied as you work.

Effleurage is best when it is performed with consistent, slow, steady movements. The therapist should be careful not to use jerky, erratic strokes. It is also a good idea to keep in contact with the client after an effleurage move, during the return stroke. This concept, 'connected strokes,' keeps the therapist and client in contact at all times. It can be irritating and not very soothing if a therapist is moving around the body or if the therapist has jerky or unconnected moves–hardly what a most clients want from their massage experience!

Effleurage is quite possibly the most versatile massage technique, not only in terms of which body parts may be worked on, but also in terms of how it can be performed. Effleurage may be delivered by fingertips, palm, margin of hand, forearm or the flat part of the elbow. Some esoteric, unusual or just plain kooky practitioners even use the ball of the foot to deliver effleurage. From using light fingertip pressure on the facial muscles to using the forearm to massage the strong muscles of the back, effleurage may be performed on almost any part of the client's body, within the bounds of good taste and propriety, of course!

PRECAUTIONS FOR EFFLEURAGE

If you are performing a lot of effleurage, you should be careful not to wear yourself out, risking exhaustion and possibly injuring yourself in the process. It is very easy to perform effleurage with minimal effort by simply using gravity and your own body weight to do a lot of the work. Situate your client at a comfortable height (lower than your chest) and, using your legs, settle into the initial strokes. The power should come primarily from your legs, back and shoulders, and only incidentally from arms and hands.

Occasionally, while performing effleurage, you may notice slight knots or kinks in muscle tissue (these often feel like slightly denser areas in the muscle). These can be exceptionally uncomfortable when massaged, and should be massaged very gently. Some clients may wish you to work on these areas, and if so, do so very carefully and slowly, while asking the client if something is overly painful. Too much pressure on a knotted-up, sore muscle may cause exceptional pain to the client, who is then likely to swing and hit the therapist, causing further pain!

Effleurage should never be performed over any area where there is recent injury, surgery, unexplained swelling or skin condition/irritation. Likewise, there are certain areas, including the backs of the knees, kidneys, and front of the neck, which should not receive this form of massage therapy. If you have any doubt, do not massage an area.

If you wish to learn to do effleurage well, find a massage-loving friend who will trade with you and take turns practicing. Finding volunteers is not particularly difficult, in my experience!


References:
My massage school notes and
The Irish Academy of Massage online: http://www.massagecourses.net/massagetutorial1.htm

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