Tapotement is a massage technique with a wide range of applications. At the end of a relaxing Swedish massage, it can be used to re-invigorate and ground the client before they leave. It is also the most frequently used technique to energise the muscles and the nervous system in pre-event Sports massage. In Chinese medicine and other medical settings, it is often used to loosen up mucus in the lungs. The name comes from the French word tapoter, which means ‘to tap’ or ‘to drum’.
Fingers, cupped hands or loosely held fists or the edge of the hand are used to apply rhythmical percussion strokes. Tapotement is usually performed alternating hands and maintaining a fast pace of between four to ten strikes per second. Sixty seconds tends to be the minimum threshold where tapotement’s effects kick in. Therefore, the aspiring therapist must moderate their pace so that she can maintain the strokes for at least a minute. Over time, this can be increased to four to ten minutes spread over two, three sessions or delivered at once.
It is worth emphasising that the therapist applies tapotement from their hands and wrists while keeping them relaxed. Engaging the elbow or the shoulder is not correct, causes unnecessary stress on the therapist’s body and can lead to exhaustion and injuries. Tapotement can be exhausting if not performed with proper body mechanics. Even when applied correctly, it is usually only used for short periods to avoid muscle fatigue.
Successful tapotement requires a degree of surrendering on the side of the practitioner. As they let go of their thinking mind, the body naturally finds the rhythm for an enjoyable massage experience.
According to the way it is applied, tapotement can be categorised as follows:
Tapotement is an effective and an established massage technique that can be easily overlooked if its benefits are not clearly understood.
It is advisable to avoid tapotement over bony areas and only use it over fleshy parts of the body. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the posterior lower leg are good candidates, while the anterior tibia (the shin on the opposite side) is not.
Percussion movements directly over the kidneys are usually not recommended. As a counter argument, it may be conceived that tapotement in that area can help loosen or even trigger the release of a kidney stone. Although this can be very uncomfortable in the short-term can enhance the client’s well-being in the long-run.
Hypersensitive areas or compromised muscle tissues should be avoided. The same precaution applies to varicose veins and abnormally contracted, strained or inflamed tissues.
Fractured areas are also to be avoided at all costs. Finally, popliteal space (back of the knee), the head, the neck and the spine should not be treated with tapotement as well.
Tapotement is an exceptionally versatile tool and a great complement to effleurage, petrissage, and friction in any therapist’s arsenal. It increases the benefits for the client but also helps them get energised and grounded towards the end of the session if this is desirable. Finally, it helps add variety to the work of the therapist making it more engaging.