Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Effects of Massage Strokes

The Effects of Massage Strokes

Massage Therapy provides therapeutic benefits and effects for clients. There are a variety of strokes used in massage therapy to ensure that the client feels satisfied with the outcome of their massage. Strokes used by therapists include; touch and holding, effleurage, petrissage, compression, tapotment and vibration. Different strokes provide a variety of physical and psychological effects including stimulation and relaxation.

Massage has a physiological effect. The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. Both of these divisions are stimulated and affected by particular strokes used by a therapist. Massage can have other physiological effects on blood flow, lymph flow, muscle tension, connective tissue, sleep patterns, digestion, blood pressure, pain, mood, concentration, satiety and bonding.

The effects of massage on the autonomic nervous system
Massage can have different affects on the client’s autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system has two different parts; the sympathetic division and the parasympathetic system. “The sympathetic division is often referred to as the “Flight or Fright” system. It mobilises body systems during emergency situations.” “The Parasympathetic division is often called the “resting and digesting” system, it is concerned with keeping the bodies energies use as low as possible.” (Marieb,2001) Certain massage strokes are used to stimulate the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. Calming and relaxing strokes such as effleurage and compression effects the Parasympathetic system. These strokes work together to keep body energies low and relax the client. Tapotment and vibration which have faster movements stimulate the sympathetic system ‘Flight and Fright’ by acting on the nerve centres.

The effects of massage strokes
Massage strokes have vast effects on a client both physically and emotionally. Every stroke has its own purpose to either relieve the client’s pain or to relax them. Touch and holding, effleurage, petrissage, compression, tapotment and vibration are an example of massage strokes used by therapists. All of these strokes affect the client in a variety of ways. Touch and holding is an appropriate way of beginning a massage. It enhances security for the client which assists them to relax for the massage. Touching or holding a client prior to commencing massage assists them to feel your energy and to be comfortable with your touch. Effleurage, compression and vibration are strokes that have similar effects on the client. These strokes are used to relax the body and relieve stress. Effleurage “warms bodily tissues, relaxes client and calms the nervous system.” (Salvo, 2007) Compression and Vibration is good for stress reduction as this technique releases tension and aids relaxation. (eHow, 2009). Petrissage and tapotment are techniques used to stimulate nerve endings and increase blood flow. This reduces muscle stiffness and relieves pain. Fast effleurage strokes can also help to stimulate the nervous system. (Salvo, 2007)

Other effects of massage
Massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves sleep patterns, improves mental health and mood status, reduces pain and improves and promotes connective tissue healing (Salvo, 2007). This gives the client a feeling of satiety as their bodies and minds feel satisfied after a massage. “Therapeutic massage can be used to promote general well-being and enhance self-esteem, while boosting the circulatory and immune systems to benefit blood pressure, circulation, muscle tone, digestion, and skin tone” (Holisticonline, 2007). Personally I have found with some of my clients that their sleeping patterns and concentration have improved because of the feeling of relaxation they experience after the massage. I have also observed a sense of bonding and connection with my client at the beginning of the massage during the touch and holding. A therapist and clients bonding is improved each session as a sense of security and trust develops.

Massage therapy provides many positive aspects for the client. Stroke techniques provide a variety of physical, emotional and physiological benefits including stimulation and relaxation of the autonomic nervous system.


Marieb.E.N. (2001). Human Anatomy and Physiology (5th ed.). New York,
Benjamin Cummings.

Salvo.S.G. (2007). Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice (3rd ed.). Missouri, Saunders.

eHow. (2009). How to Use Compression for a Swedish Massage. Retrieved March 27,2009,

Holisticonline. (2007). Benefits of Massage. Retrieved March 26,2009,

By Sophie Halkett

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