What is Swedish Massage?

Posted by Kirby Strissel on March 31, 2022

You may have heard the term Swedish massage used to describe a popular type of massage. Sometimes in other parts of the world it may also be referred to as classic massage. Interestingly, Swedish massage is in fact not of Swedish origin. Additionally, there is some confusion over who actually founded Swedish massage.

Swedish educator and medical pioneer in the area of Physical Therapy Pehr Henrik Ling, 1776-1839, is sometimes mistaken as the founder of Swedish massage. This is because his Swedish movement system, Medical Gymnastics, included calisthenics, stretching and some massage techniques. Although massage techniques were part of Medical Gymnastics they were not codified or practiced independently.

It was actually Johann Georg Mezger, 1838-1909, a Dutch physician who systemized the techniques that make up what became known as Swedish massage. Mezger’s training included practicing “French friction methods” which he used on patients presenting with minor sprains. In 1868 Mezger passed his medical exam and wrote his dissertation, “The Treatment of Distoria Pedis with Frictions” which served as the therapeutic basis for Swedish (or classic) massage.

The five techniques that make up Swedish massage are; effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement and vibration.

  • Effleurage is the long gliding strokes used to warm up the muscles and fascia.
  • Petrissage is a kneading or wringing of the muscles to loosen, lift and separate stuck tissues.
  • Friction is the firm short rubbing of the tissue either linearly with the muscle fiber, cross-fiber, or in a circular movement.
  • Tapotement is the tapping or percussive movement with the fingers, hands and wrists.
  • Vibration is a short but firm shaking of the muscle and tissue.

Across the world in different cultures these techniques had been used well before his time but because of Johann Georg Mezger’s work systemizing this approach to bodywork he is considered the founder of Swedish massage.

With this systematized approach to treatment there are a variety of benefits of Swedish massage that one can gain which include:

  • Overall relaxation and wellness
  • Increase in blood flow
  • Reduce the symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety
  • Boosting immunity
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Lymphatic drainage
  • Improved flexibility

In addition to the above benefits Swedish massage has had influences on other forms of massage. Deep tissue massage was influenced by the five techniques of Swedish massage and built on that to be more focused on physical recovery. In chair massage the techniques of Swedish massage have been modified to work on a chair with a fully clothed client. In prenatal and stone massage the techniques of Swedish massage have been integrated into these modalities.

If a person is looking to try massage for the very first time or just looking for a more general massage Swedish massage is a good choice. The RAC has 3 massage therapists to help meet your massage needs. To set up an appointment contact the Activities Desk at 507-287-9300.


“How did Swedish Massage get its name?” Acupuncture and Massage College. AMCollege-        Miami, FL, January 18, 2018. https://www.amcollege.edu/blog/dutch-origins-of-swedish-massage-amc-miami

“Massage Therapy Modalities: Swedish Massage.” Massage Therapy License,             https://www.massagetherapylicense.org/articles/swedish-massage/

Sara. “A Detailed Guide to the In-Famous Swedish Massage.” My Massage Chairs, November 23, 2020, https://mymassagechairs.com/swedish-massage/

“What Is a Swedish Massage?” WebMD. June 28, 2021.  https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-a-swedish-massage

Kirby Strissel

Kirby Strissel

Kirby is Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB). He received his training at Sister Rosalind Gefre School of Professional Massage. Upon graduation in April 2004, he was hired on as a therapist. Kirby joined the RAC staff in January 2006 as a Massage Therapist.

Contact Kirby Strissel

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