Swedish massage is a great introductory massage for many reasons, the first being that it involves firm, yet gentle strokes. You're placed on a flat, elevated massage table with a cutout for your face.
Unlike strictly pressure-point styles of massage like Shiatsu or stretching techniques such as Thai massage where a masseuse manipulates you while on the floor, Swedish massage is designed specifically to enhance circulation and blood flow to the large muscle groups.
The popularity of massage as a therapeutic or holistic health tool, beyond just a relaxing splurge, has been on the rise. Fans of Swedish massage swear by its overall health benefits and in fact, several studies have looked at the technique's benefits for issues other than just stiffness or muscle aches and pains.
Over the past few decades, a variety of studies have linked Swedish massage to a number of benefits, such as:
Swedish massage therapy can be helpful with a number of other physical challenges, such as reduction in scar tissue by physically manipulating the fibres of the tissue, allowing the scar tissue to be successfully reabsorbed into the skin. Additionally, it can aid with lymphatic drainage, where the long strokes of the therapist help move fluids successfully out of clogged areas.
Interestingly, many patients and therapists swear by massage as a way to reduce constipation or digestive upset, since the increased circulatory benefits and relaxation of the abdominal and lower back muscles can help relieve symptoms. In fact, a 2014 study from the British journal Nursing Standard highlights a number of the ways abdominal massage encouraging muscle contraction, nudging the gut to move things along.
Swedish massage's main benefit is the overall relaxation that it provides. A standard Swedish session lasts for 30 or 60 minutes and addresses most major muscle groups of the body. The session is usually performed on a soft massage table in an environment that's meant to relax the recipient.
The strokes of the massage relax individual muscles, while the overall experience eliminates mental stress but they also replicate the movements of the circulatory system.
By performing the strokes toward the heart, Swedish massage drains metabolic waste from the limbs of the body. Some of the strokes used in Swedish therapy increase blood flow, which further quickens the removal of bodily waste.
Swedish massage is also used as an integral part of pain management protocols for sports injuries and chronic pain. Sessions can target specific areas of pain like a sprained ankle, or they can be used to help manage the chronic pain that comes with conditions like arthritis.
By using strokes that improve circulation and increase body-wide relaxation, the massage therapist can help make many painful conditions more bearable.
One of the latest studies examines the correlation between Swedish massage and reduction in fatigue for cancer patients. In March of 2015, Emory University announced a continuation of its clinical trials relating to the biological benefits of massage therapy.
The Emory University announcement reads: "Previous research… has already shown that massage therapy can boost the immune system and decrease anxiety for people who do not have cancer... We believe that there are many positive effects to be gained by therapeutic massage and we hope to prove that, among other biological advantages, massage may diminish the incapacitation that cancer-related fatigue can cause for our patients."
Massage therapy is also being investigated as an aide to patients with more neuromuscular disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). A Iranian 2013 study published in Clinical Rehabilitation looked at 48 individuals with MS who participated in a five-week massage experiment. They were assigned to one of four groups: massage therapy, exercise therapy, combined massage-exercise therapy and control group.
Compared with the controls, patients in the massage group experienced less depression, lowered anxiety, enhanced social function, better self-esteem and improved body image. This ties into the idea that massage reduces cortisol, or the "stress" hormone, and may help the body devote more resources to healing.