Massage is one form of remedy which everybody, consciously or unconsciously, resorts to at some time. Quite often when people feel a pain somewhere, they instinctively take hold of the place and press or rub the sore area in the hope that the pain will subside. For instance, if someone has a bad headache it seems natural to try and find a point or points which, when rubbed, brings some relief; if the limbs become numb or feel very cold the instinctive tendency to rub them up and down automatically improves the blood flow and relieves the symptoms. A few examples of foot sole massage is so easy to perform that it is somewhat surprising that it is not as widely practised in Western countries as it is in the East. In these countries children learn to massage at a very early age, and its use is considered as normal as taking a bath. Regular massage can improve the circulation, alleviate tension and get rid of aches and pains.

In its simplest form massage has been practised from the very earliest times. Many people believe it to be the oldest form of medicine known to Mankind. Written records of its use in ancient China date back to about 3,000 BC and it was also practised by the ancient Egyptians, the Hindus and Japanese. In the Western world, massage as a form of therapy was widely used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Indeed the famous second-century Greek physician Galen (AD 130-200) has gone down in history as having established massage as a scientifically valid form of therapy. In more modern times, early in the nineteenth century, a Swedish professor, Per Hendrik Ling (1776-1839), set up a school in Stockholm for the teaching of massage and remedial gymnastics. His ideas were used and developed by the Dutch doctor J.G. Mezger (1839-1909). Today most therapists use their methods, which are commonly known as Swedish, or classical, massage.

In recent years, in the West, some other forms of massage have been adopted, such as Shiatsu, reflexology (also known as foot-zone massage), neuromuscular massage, anthroposophical massage, Indian massage (a technique that requires the use of all kind of oil), periost massage (treatment of the specialized connective tissue that covers all bones in the body), Touch-for-Health techniques and lymph drainage. Each type of massage has its own methods and particular conditions for which it claims to be beneficial, but the mechanical, psychological and physical-chemical effects are generally very similar.

Swedish massage

The classical form of massage involves five main types of technique: . Effleurage consists of long, continuous strokings of the limbs, back and torso. Effleurage relaxes the superficial muscles and accelerates the flow of blood and lymph. . Petrissage involves kneading, rolling and squeezing the muscle tissues and fatty areas using the palms, thumbs and fingers to perform circular and pressing movements. Petrissage improves arterial blood flow and helps lymphatic and venous drainage, particularly in the deeper tissues. . Friction is accomplished by brisk sliding or rubbing movements of the hands, often using oil to reduce abrasion or irritation to the skin. Friction opens the pores and causes the blood vessels to dilate and thus bring more blood to the skin surface. The result is that toxic substances can be discharged from the skin and ‘Alexander therapy’ is based on the view that all the body’s movements start from the head. The body is thought of as a series of blocks which must not be piled up in an ar-bitary fashion (A) as this will adversely affect a person’s centre of gravity. Considering the head as the centre of the body, the spine should hang down in a slightly curved, vertical line (B). Alexander therapy achieves this by giving the patient a number of instructions on posture and by carrying out a number of specific, corrective manipulations while the patient is lying down in a completely relaxed state.

Mobility is improved in areas of tension and blockage. . Vibration is a form of massage which is accomplished by holding the muscle and shaking it lightly. It stimulates blood flow and nerve impulses.


Shiatsu is an ancient Japanese method of massage in which finger pressure is applied to acupuncture points along energy meridians. Just as with acupuncture, when these trigger points are stimulated, in this case by exerting pressure on them with the thumb, organs lying on the same meridian can be beneficially affected. Proponents of Shiatsu claim that it can improve overall health and also assist in the treatment of specific organs by releasing blocked energy.


Self-massage combines methodology from both the Eastern meridian system and Western Swedish massage so that it can be performed by the individual him-or herself without any special equipment or previous training. It is based on the natural reflex response, and is applied mainly through the use of hands and fingers. It can also be used to stimulate all body systems and has been helpful in treating some forms of arthritis. Self-massage can be invaluable in relieving stress-induced aches and pains. Tight, tense muscles operate inefficiently and impede circulation. This prevents fresh blood from reaching and nourishing the tissues, which encourages the build-up of toxic wastes, leading to fatigue and general inbalance within the body. Massage acts as a type of ‘cleanser’ because it increases the interchange of tissue fluids emptied into the circulatory system, which removes the products of fatigue and inflammation. Self-massage is a way for the individual helps to maintain his or her own well-being. For optimal effect, self-massage should always be performed in a relaxed and unhurried manner. Deep breathing during massage helps to maintain a relaxed state and also to help synchronize the massage movements with the body’s natural functioning. The following deep-breathing exercise is advised: slowly inhale through the nose to the count of 5. There should be a notable expansion of the abdomen. Then slowly exhale through the nose or mouth, again to the count of 5. This time the abdomen should be felt to contract.

Deep-breathing patterns such as this one should be developed until they are almost second nature as these help the body to be more relaxed and more receptive to self-massage.

There are a number of basic techniques used when carrying out self-massage; these should be expanded upon and used according to each person’s individual needs and are as follows:


Used mainly to warm up, soothe and prepare areas of the body for deeper movements, stroking can be done with the fingers, whole hand or forearm. The heels of the feet can also be used, especially when stroking the inner sides of the legs. The procedure involves making long, smooth stokes along the skin’s surface in the direction of the muscle fibres. It can be done with varying degrees of pressure and in a circular motion. Stokes should be directed towards the heart thus aiding blood flow.


This involves taking hold of and squeezing areas of flesh with various pressures. It is effective in improving circulation and stimulating muscles. For lighter pinching the tissue should be squeezed between the fingers and palm, pulling muscle tissue slightly away from the bone. For harder pinching the flesh should be taken between only two fingers.


The benefits derived from rolling are, like pinching, concerned with the stimulation of the circulation and muscles. The movement takes the form of a light pinch gliding along the skin’s surface without breaking contact. Tissue is lifted-up and pulled slightly away from the bone.

While the thumb gives support the fingers can be used to roll the muscle.

It can be performed with or against the grain of the muscle fibres.

Friction movements

Although they can be used for stretching tendons and ligaments, friction movements are used mainly to stimulate the circulation and metabolism. Movements of this kind are best done with four fingers. They take the form of circular movements that go deep into the muscle and involve applying sufficient pressure to enable the fingers to separate muscle fibres, but always using a relaxed, rhythmic motion. Elbows and forearms can also be used when making larger circles on legs and thighs.

Percussion movements

All movements falling into this category are performed using a rapid rhythmic motion. Directed mainly to the fleshier parts of the body – avoiding bony protruberances, glands and the abdomen – they serve to stimulate nerve endings and the circulatory system, and are especially useful in dispersing metabolic waste products. Movements should be firm and strong but not painful, and care should be taken to avoid bruising and rupturing the capillaries that lie beneath the surface of the skin. Hacking is done with the outer edge of the palm of the hand. During hard hacking the fingers are held together but are kept relaxed as the palm hits the body, using a slicing motion.

During soft hacking the fingers are kept slightly separated and relaxed. Tapping is done with the tips of the fingers which should be slightly apart (nail length permitting). Cupping is done with the fingers held together in a half fist (resembling a cup). A suction noise can be heard when the fist makes contact with the skin. This movement is particularly effective in loosening mucous membranes and relieving bronchial congestion.