Basic Massage Techniques


A massage includes a combination of techniques designed to work the muscles and tissues in various ways, depending on where they are and what benefit is required.

When applying massage techniques, ensure that your body weight is behind your stroke. This will not only produce a deeper, more rhythmic flow to your ‘partner’ (that is, the recipient of the massage), it will prevent you as the giver from feeling tired out, and instead you will feel energised. Even though there is a wide variety of different massage movements, most techniques are merely a variation on the strokes explained below.

With the aid of these basic movements, you will be able to perform a complete body massage. As you develop and gain confidence, you will invent your own strokes to build up an extensive repertoire. Please read the massage contraindications carefully before you begin.

Although becoming a professional massage therapist requires the mastery of dozens of individual strokes (and techniques vary between types of massage), here’s an overview that covers all the basics strokes that you, as a beginner, will need to give a deeply relaxing massage.

Massage Basic Strokes and Pressure

  • Stroking (Effleurage)

The simplest and most natural of all massage strokes, Effleurage is perfect for openers. You simply glide your hands across the body, using flat hands on the back and cupped hands on the legs and arms. The rhythmic stroking movement not only relaxes the person receiving the massage and lets him or her get used to the massager’s hands, but readies the body for deeper work.

  • Kneading (Petrissage)

Any stroke that squeezes or grips the muscles is called Petrissage. This stroke includes Kneading and Wringing (squeezing with both hands in opposite directions) and works particularly well on the shoulders, calves, thighs and buttocks. Grip the muscles firmly, then knead and roll them with slow deep movements, keeping your hands working together in a rhythm.

  • KnucklingIn

Circular Knuckling, often used on the upper chest and shoulders, you press your knuckles into the muscles and use a rotating motion to ease tightness and tension. Straight Knuckling, in which your knuckles are kept in a line (like in a loose fist) and worked smoothly along the muscles, works well on the buttocks and thighs.

  • Tapping (Tapotement)

A mainstay of Swedish massage, Tapotement refers to a number of percussive movements. In Pummeling, you pound the fleshy areas of the body (buttocks and thighs) with the sides of your loose fists, dispersing tension and stimulating blood flow. Similar to this is Hacking, where you use the edges of your flattened hands in a light karate-chop motion. Keep your hands loose and your wrists relaxed and maintain a slow rhythmic pace. These strokes can be effective on muscles that a strained or cramped.

  • Friction

This refers to a variety of strokes that let you use your fingers and thumbs to work deeply into muscles, using varying amounts pressure. Circling uses deep pressure and slow rotation as you press your fingers into areas along the spine and lower back as well as the shoulders and calves. Thumb Rolling works well on the upper back and lets you use your thumbs to push into the flesh with a steady rhythm. Feathering is a good end move, and involves lightly dragging your fingertips down a person’s back.

  • Vibration

This involves shaking the muscles rapidly, using flattened hands or fingers. Use this stroke sparingly to promote circulation.

Massage Tip

Massage strokes must be applied firmly and rhythmically. If they are too hard and they will be painful; too light and they will tickle and irritate.