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My 3 Favorite Massage Movements & Why

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

By Kylie Thompson, BS, CPT, LMT

The mastering of massage techniques referred to as massage movements or strokes, are what distinguishes licensed massage therapists from the rest of us. Therapists know how to safely apply these techniques and combining these movements is how different massage modalities were created, with each providing their own therapeutic value. Static touch, effleurage or gliding, petrissage or torsion, shearing or friction, oscillating or vibration, and tapotement or percussion are all different methods of massage with more specific movements under each of those methods. My three favorites are under static touch, friction, and petrissage.

Static Touch & Deep Touch

Touch deforms soft tissue in various ways in which hand positions are held for a fixed length of time. A therapist may use one or several finger(s), thumb, the entire hand, elbow, or forearm to hold a point or position. Its effects on the body include having a calming, anesthetizing effect, soothes spasms, relieves pain at reflex areas, trigger points, and stress points at tendons. When coming across a trigger point, I’ve found Deep Touch to be very effective after holding deep pressure on it for about 60-90 seconds. This gives the body time to relieve the stress or knot in that area and sometimes patients feel an immediate change in the tissue, which is an experience in itself!

Shearing & Circular Deep Friction

Shearing methods apply a force that deforms the tissue by pulling or moving a section of the structure in opposite directions or shifting different structures against each other. Deep Circular Friction involves moving more superficial layers against the deeper tissues in a circular pattern to flatten, broaden, or stretch tissue. The effects help separate the tissues and soften adhesions and ground substance between layers of fascia and aids in the absorption of fluid around the joints. This can also cause some mild, therapeutic inflammation and redness. Circular Friction has been my favorite movement to use when searching for tender areas or trigger points all over the body. Depending on the amount of pressure used and the area of tenderness, it can feel very relaxing or turn into a “hurts-good” pain.

Petrissage & Kneading

Petrissage applies a force that deforms tissue by compressing and twisting one end of the structure in one direction while the other end is held motionless, compressed and/or twisted in the opposite direction. The word ‘petrissage’ comes from the French word, petrir, meaning “to knead”. During Kneading, muscles are lifted away from the underlying structures with the hands and rolled through the fingers and pressed against the other hand. This enhances local circulation while making the tissues more pliable by loosening adhered fibers. In my massage routine, I add this in to loosen muscle and tissues before doing circular friction in order to get to the deeper, underlying issues and most often use it on the legs and forearms.

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