Effleurage and petrissage are essential tools in the arsenal of every massage therapist. While there are generally recognised ways of applying them, one’s imagination is the only limiting factor.
Effleurage is an umbrella term for massage strokes of varying length that are applied longitudinally or transversely to the fibres. It is usually the first technique that a massage therapist learns. Effleurage us used at the beginning of the session to warm the tissue, as a transition between other techniques, as well as at the end of the session to provide gradual and rewarding conclusion. The pressure and speed can of the strokes can be modified to according to the goals and stage of the massage. The word ‘effleurage’ comes from the French word, effleurer, which means to skim.
Effleurage can be applied with two hands, a hand fist or forearm when a broader stroke is needed. Using the fingers, thumbs, elbow or knuckles affords a more targeted approach. It should be performed in a smooth and rhythmical manner starting with a light and gentle touch. A slower movement with deeper pressure to increase circulation and stretch the tissues can follow. Ideally, the hands follow the contours of the client’s body and are relaxed. It is important to apply this technique slowly at the early stages of massage to start sensing the condition of the tissues underneath and help the client relax.
Older sources, recommend applying effleurage only centripetally (towards the centre of the body) as it was considered that its most prominent role is to accelerate the circulation of blood and lymph. This is still a very good general recommendation to follow especially when massaging the hands and legs. In some instances, this ‘rule’ does not apply.
Effleurage can be applied to most body parts with sufficient inventiveness on the part of the therapist. Some of the more common areas include the arms, lower and upper back, and the legs.
Purpose and benefits of effleurage
Petrissage is probably the second most often used massage category following effleurage. It includes a variety of movements including lifting, squeezing and compression with both hands in a rhythmical manner. It can be applied either more broadly with the whole hand or in a more targeted way using the fingers.
The word ‘petrissage’ comes from petrir, which in French means to knead. It was introduced in the late 1800s to define a certain type of bodywork by Dr. Johan Georg Mezger.
In petrissage, the therapist separates tissues from structures to loosen and stretch the muscle fibres. This also activates vascular and lymphatic responses in the skin and the treated area. The circulatory and lymphatic responses facilitate the draining of toxins and enhance blood circulation. Petrissage can also loosen up muscle fibres and help break down adhesions – thickenings of muscular tissue following surgery or injury.
Following a general warming up of the tissue with effleurage, the therapist can proceed with petrissage to help stretch and relax the muscles and bring fresh nutrients to the area via the blood.
Usually, both hands are used alternately as a unit when performing petrissage. It may be hand over hand, hands moving towards one another or away but there is always rhythm and cooperation. The following techniques fall under the more general umbrella term, petrissage:
Purpose and benefits of petrissage
In most cases, petrissage is safe and very effective technique, which often constitutes the bulk of a Swedish massage session. Still, it is essential to exercise caution in some cases.
Petrissage is inappropriate over inflamed areas, new scar tissue, swelling, damaged skin or in the aftermath of recent injuries. After a surgery, for example, it is important to allow sufficient time for recovery before applying petrissage anywhere near the area. The therapist must also be careful when applying petrissage to pregnant women. Because of the hormone relaxin released during pregnancy, their ligaments, tendons, and fascia become soft and vulnerable compromising joint stability.
Effleurage and petrissage are versatile techniques that form the basis of most massage sessions. They can be used to deliver a complete massage experience even without frictions or tapotement. Mastering these two is a sure way of deepening one’s ability to benefit the client through massage.
Massage techniques: friction
Massage techniques: tapotement