What Is a Swedish Massage?

Swedish or classic massage is a popular form of massage. Many people get these massages for relaxation. However, while classic massage is relaxing, few people know what it entails and its medical benefits.

Swedish massage is a Western technique involving soft and deep stroking, percussive movements, friction, and vibration.

This relieves muscular tension from soft tissues, increases circulation, and facilitates healing. 

Swedish massage is a unique massage modality with fantastic health benefits. However, despite its name, it is not traditionally Swedish and has intriguing ties to the history of physical therapy, gymnastics, and medicine.  

Also, see What Language Do People Speak In Sweden? to learn more.

What Does a Swedish Massage Involve?

A Swedish massage involves long stroking motions, kneading, circular rubbing, tapping, pressure, and vibration.

These phases of Swedish massage increase circulation, lower blood pressure, facilitate the movement of white blood cells and release lactic acids from the muscles. 

According to The Acupuncture Massage College, the primary elements of Swedish massage are: 

  • Effleurage, or light circular stroking movements to warm up the muscles
  • Petrissage, or deep-tissue kneading
  • Friction, or pressured pushes into deep tissue
  • Tapotement, or percussive hand motions and light punches
  • Vibration, or tapping and brushing with the fingers to increase circulation. [1]

These massage methods focus on the muscular system and relaxation, as do most Western massage techniques. 

Is Swedish Massage From Sweden? 

Swedish massage is only partially from Sweden. It originated in The Netherlands in the late 1800s, where Johann Mezger incorporated it into the therapeutic field of medical gymnastics.

However, he borrowed many of these techniques from Dr. Henrik Ling, a Swede. 

Henrik Ling and the Swedish Gymnastics Movement

The History of Swedish massage begins with Dr. Henrik Ling, a Swedish doctor who had gout, painful chronic inflammation, and several other disorders in his youth.

However, when Ling took up fencing, his pain decreased, and his gout healed. 

Thus, Dr. Ling quickly became curious about the effects of movement and exercise on illness. He dedicated his career to developing a new, physical approach to healing.

During his studies, he invented the fields of calisthenics and physical therapy. 

In 1813, Ling established The Royal Gymnastics Institute, a school for gymnastics where medical doctors could learn about the benefits of calisthenics and massage on various illnesses. [2]

According to George Taylor, MD’s An Exposition of the Swedish Movement-Cure of 1860, Ling used “kneading, snaking, stroking, circular stroking, point pressure, and clapping” in therapeutic massage at his school. These techniques are the hallmarks of a Swedish massage. [3] 

Due to his development of gymnastics as a medical treatment, Ling received many awards, including induction to the Royal Swedish Academy. 

However, Ling never organized this massage system into a treatment plan, nor did he publish it. Therefore, he did not have a proper claim as the founder of Swedish massage. 

Conversely, the true founder of Swedish massage, Johann Mezger, a Dutchman, used Dr. Ling’s techniques as a foundation for his studies and organized them to create a new massage modality. 

Johann Mezger, The Founder of Swedish Massage

Johann Mezger started as a fencing and PE teacher at a gymnastics school in Amsterdam. In 1860, he quit teaching and pursued a Medical Degree from Leiden University. 

His doctoral thesis entitled The Treatment of Distorsio Pedis with Frictions was published eight years later and is considered the seminal textbook of Swedish massage. [4] 

Mezger received plenty of fame from his new five-stage massage technique and became a favorite physician among the courts of the nobles and royals.

In the 1870s, he was responsible for curing Sweden’s King Gustav V after he had a soft tissue injury.

Using his massage techniques, the king was back to normal within 10 days. 

Why Is Swedish Massage Called Swedish Massage? 

Although Swedish massage has its roots in the Swedish Medical Gymnastics movement of the mid-1800s, this only forms part of its origins. Instead, it is a Dutch massage technique. 

Swedish massage got its name due to an error in translation. 

In the mid-1800s, French was a common language for medical publications. No matter the original language, most medical publications were translated into French for an international audience. 

However, when Mezger specified the unique techniques in Swedish massage, he used French terms, such as Effleurage and Petrissage.

Mezger meant to use these names as proper nouns, but in a French edition, they looked like translations of Dutch terms. 

The terms looked identical when comparing Mezger’s French editions of his works to those of Dr. Ling.

Thus, up until historian Patricia Benjamin analyzed these French editions and their original copies in the 1980s, many scholars and doctors believed that Dr. Ling was, in fact, the inventor of the main techniques used in Swedish massage. [5] 

Therefore, since Ling was Swedish and had a significant role in the Swedish Medical Gymnastics movement, many attributed him with the invention of Swedish massage, thus giving it its name. 

The Benefits of Swedish Massage

As a mild type of massage, Swedish massage is soothing and provides a calming sensation.

However, as implied from its origins in the medical discipline, it has many health benefits. 

Peer-reviewed studies indicate that Swedish Massage offers the following advantages:  

  • It lowers blood pressure and improves immune response. In a study published in the Journal of Complementary Alternative Medicine, researchers proved that Swedish Massage lowers blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels, and increases white blood cell circulation. Analysts concluded that Swedish Massage might be a suitable treatment for people with autoimmune disorders and hypertension. [6]
  • It alleviates symptoms of arthritis. Other studies, such as one from Yale, have proven that regular Swedish massages can alleviate pain and stiffness from arthritis. [7] 
  • It reduces muscle soreness. Swedish massage’s ability to increase circulation, warmth and rolling movements are also effective in eliminating delayed-onset muscle soreness from physical activity. [8] 
  • It alleviates the symptoms of anxiety. While many studies have inconclusive results about Swedish massage’s direct impact on anxiety reduction, some have proven that it can reduce anxiety symptoms, such as heightened blood pressure and pulse. [9]

Scientists and doctors are still analyzing and studying the health benefits of Swedish massage, so there may be many more health benefits than listed here.

[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source
[6] Source
[7] Source
[8] Source
[9] Source

Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

Related Questions

error: This content is copyrighted.