Soft Tissue Massage Strokes Explained

The Basics

Effleurage is always the first technique used in massage as a beginning warm up stroke. Its long gliding strokes produce superficial heat and allows the muscles to relax through the activation of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Effleurage strokes can be transverse or longitudinal and improve local circulation, help remove waste products such as lactic acid and bring nutrients such as oxygen and glucose to the area. Through deeper effleurage superficial muscle and tissues can be stretched and compressed further. Just the use of simple effleurage can help to alleviate pain by increasing the production of endorphins.

Petrissage is a kneading technique that mimics the contraction and relaxation process of a stimulated muscle that helps maintain the normal electrochemical exchange that should occur in normal use. Its benefits are similar to that of effleurage, mechanically aiding the removal of waste products to prevent soreness and stiffness in the muscles, encouraging circulation of nutrients to the area, as well as stretching and loosening tissues and muscles. It has the added use of improving digestion and peristalsis when used in the abdominal region. It can also improve swelling by mechanically squeezing fluids out of the site into the proximal area. Petrissage also reduces superficial adhesions and restrictions in the fascia.

Friction is a deep tissue massage technique used to spread and stretch muscle and tendon fibres, and to break up connective tissue adhesions helping to reorganise the collagen fibres. It separates adhered fascial planes allowing access to underlying structures. By stimulating the Golgi tendon fibres it can reduce muscle tension, and by creating a local ischemia followed by a hyperaemia can help improve local circulation by stimulating chemical changes within the fibres. Similar to the more superficial massage techniques effleurage and petrissage, friction helps to produce heat within a muscle and relieves pain via the pain gate theory as well as built up tension.

Tapotement describes percussive invigorating massage strokes that can help improve muscle tone via the reflexive contract and relax response. It produces mechanical stimulation as with all other types of tissue manipulation, improving the local blood circulation, generating heat. The percussive nature of the technique means it should only be used on fleshy areas of the body. It stimulates nerve endings which in turn produce tiny muscle contractions, resulting in an overall increase in muscle tone. The tapotement technique cupping can also be used to help loosen mucous in the lungs. Used in conjunction with other techniques, tapotement can also help reduce fatty deposits. Its strokes include hacking, cupping, beating and whipping and can all be performed without the need of lubrication and are ideal for use in pre event and post event situations.

Massage can be used to treat scar tissue and adhesions, remodelling the collagen fibre matrix. Superficial techniques such as effleurage and petrissage are used first to improve circulation, generating heat and increase movement between the skin and underlying tissue. It is then that deeper fascial layers can be accessed for manipulation. Friction massage techniques in the post-acute or chronic stage of healing will help prevent excessive scar tissue forming by stopping the cells binding together in a non-uniform fashion. If scar tissue has already formed, friction can break it down into smaller particles allowing the network of fibres to lie down and form with better structure. It is the adhesions and fibrous tissues created by scar tissue that cause muscles to function incorrectly. Transverse strokes and friction work to tear the adhesive bands apart. Once separated the fibres are able to realign and function normally as the increased blood flow encourages healing. Scar tissue cannot be removed, only remodelled and reorganised to become more functional, allowing for better movement. Once an adhesion of area of scar tissue is identified using a series of effleurage strokes in various plains, the therapist can begin to work transversely and longitudinally first with superficial strokes before going in much deeper to encourage the removal of waste toxins. This in turn helps to stimulate the natural repair and recovery process. The general rule of thumb is that the deeper the stroke, the shorter the stroke. Advanced techniques such as Soft Tissue Release and Muscle Energy Techniques aid lengthening of the tissues. Neuro Muscular Therapy can also be employed to further release tissues to their optimal functioning length.

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