Everything you need to know about Swedish massage

Sarah Pelham

When it comes to self-care, you can’t do much better than a soothing, indulgent massage. While we can only dream of having a personal masseuse on staff, the next best thing is to book in a massage (add it to your calendar as “Important Meeting” 😉). Here we get to the heart of Swedish massage, so you can decide if it’s right for you. Your tight shoulders can thank us later.

“Even Fabian, my masseuse, said I had a lot of tension in my back”
Cher, Clueless

What is a Swedish massage?

Arguably the most popular and well-known type of massage, Swedish massage is the ultimate blissful, relaxing treatment. Who doesn’t want every knot in their body gently kneaded into submission? It’s all about relaxation, with long, gliding strokes to soothe your entire body. Cue the Enya spa sounds and break out the lavender essential oil; you’ll be putty in their hands. 😌

Why is it called Swedish massage?

It’s a bit of a misnomer, because what we now call Swedish massage was actually invented by Dutch doctor, Johann Georg Mezger. But Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish educator, was also credited for the technique. Wherever the name came from, we’ll be thanking all involved next time we’re getting one.

What’s the difference between Swedish massage and relaxation massage?

They’re very similar, and the terms Swedish massage and relaxation massage might be even used interchangeably on some spa menus. Technically, a Swedish massage will involve some or all of the five specific Swedish massage techniques (see below), while a relaxation massage will likely just stick to long, soothing strokes. Relaxation massage is also more likely to focus on the sensorial aspect of the treatment, using calming essential oils such as lavender. Either way, you can’t go too far wrong booking in for one or other of these tempting treatments.

What are the benefits of a Swedish massage?

The great news is, a Swedish massage is more than just a little spa treat. You can easily get big benefits from this treatment for health reasons too. While the main benefit of Swedish massage is overall relaxation, additional effects can be improvements in terms of pain, blood flow, inflammation and mood. Some private health insurance plans even cover Swedish massage. Excuse us while we rush off to read the fine print…

Swedish massage is very effective at reducing stress. Studies have shown that it increases serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, helping to balance and elevate the mood, while it also decreases cortisol, the stress hormone (1). And, while this particular perk wasn’t mentioned in the study, we reckon it can take the edge off just by having the appointment on your calendar to look forward to. 😁

Swedish massage has been associated with better sleep, which makes sense, as Swedish massage gets your body and mind so deeply relaxed. 🌜

Swedish massage is also an effective option for reducing chronic back pain, according to clinical studies (2) and therefore can be a great alternative, or complement, to pain-relief medication. (We’ll take a relaxing spa treatment over popping Panadol any day.)

Many athletes rely on Swedish massage to unwind tight muscles and help them recover faster so that they can perform at their best. Thankfully, you don’t need to run a marathon to get the same benefits as the pros.

“In 8 studies, massage was compared to other active treatments. They showed that massage was similar to exercises, and massage was superior to joint mobilization, relaxation therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, and self-care education. The beneficial effects of massage in patients with chronic low back pain lasted at least 1 year after the end of the treatment.” - Furlan AD, Imamura M, Dryden T, Irvin E, 2009 (3)

To sum up, the main benefits of Swedish massage are:

  • Reducing stress (decreasing cortisol)
  • Promoting wellbeing (increasing serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin)
  • Promoting better sleep
  • Alleviating chronic pain, for example lower back pain
  • Soothing muscle tension and aiding muscle recovery
  • Alleviating the stress of dealing with chronic conditions
  • Increasing blood and lymph flow

What types of Swedish massage are there?

There are five different techniques used in Swedish massage, and your treatment will include some combination of these. All of these techniques can be tailored to your desired level of pressure. You’re the master of your own massage destiny. 🔮

  • Effleurage - long, gliding strokes. This is the most well-known component of Swedish massage, contributing to its soothing, relaxing effects. Therapists usually stroke the body towards the heart, helping to increase circulation and lymphatic drainage.
  • Petrissage - kneading of the muscles. This rhythmic pressure compresses the soft tissue and helps work out knots on tight muscles and reduce inflammation.
  • Friction - firm, circular rubbing motions. Similar to kneading, this technique usually involves just two fingers or thumbs.
  • Tapotement - rhythmic tapping or percussive movements, often called “karate chopping.”
  • Vibration - shaking particular muscles to loosen and relax them. This is particularly used to treat areas with lots of scar tissue.
All of these Swedish massage techniques can be tailored to your desired level of pressure. You’re the master of your own massage destiny.

What should you expect from a Swedish massage?

If you’re not a regular at the spa, you might be wondering exactly what happens during a massage session. One thing’s for sure - you’ll leave pretty blissed out. Try not to doze off and miss the best bits! If you don’t already know the drill, here’s a rundown of the basics of your Swedish massage appointment:

You will:

  • Lie down on a massage table, usually removing your top undergarments but keeping on your underwear
  • Be covered by a towel, which will be removed when the therapist needs to work on different areas of your body

Your therapist will:

  • Ask you the level of pressure you prefer and which areas of your body require particular attention
  • Use oil, balm or lotion, for maximum comfort and enjoyment (they may use aromatherapy oils especially chosen for their relaxing properties)
  • Use a hot wet towel to remove excess oil from your skin afterwards
  • Give you a glass of water afterwards to rehydrate
One thing’s for sure - you’ll leave pretty blissed out.

What are the side effects of Swedish massage?

We’ve mentioned all the great health benefits of Swedish massage, and you’re probably ready to book your first-class trip to cloud nine. But before you go, let’s take a quick look to see if any precautions are required.

There are so many blissful upsides, and happily Swedish Massage also has very few risks.

  • It’s possible to have some soreness and bruising afterwards, though this can easily be avoided by requesting lighter pressure - communication with your therapist is key.
  • Some people have sensitivities or allergies to certain essential oils, so just check which oils are used prior to treatment. Or you can simply request unscented oils - no problem!
  • It’s a no-brainer but worth repeating just in case - you shouldn’t get a massage if you’ve had recent surgery or have any other serious injuries.
  • For pregnant women, just book yourself an ultra-special pregnancy massage.

Swedish massage comparisons

Swedish massage vs deep tissue massage

Like you might say to a drama queen friend - it’s not that deep 😉.

  • Swedish massage is a more relaxing, gentler treatment than deep tissue massage, which typically involves firmer pressure.
  • While many of the strokes are similar, deep tissue massage often also involves pressure with the elbows or forearms to push deeper into the muscles.
  • With both types of massage, you can decide what pressure is comfortable for you, but the aim of deep tissue massage is usually to work out tough knots and tension, rather than relaxation like Swedish massage.

Swedish massage vs Thai massage

These two types of massage are like chalk and cheese (Swedish meatballs vs Pad Thai, if you will).

  • Swedish massage is Western, while Thai massage is Eastern and originates from India. Thai massage combines acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic methods and yoga positions.

  • While Swedish massage involves slow, gliding strokes with oil, Thai massage is all about firm pressure on specific points of the body to release tension and energise the body. No oil is used and a Thai massage can even be done over clothing. Thai massage involves more body contact between the client and the therapist, who may use their hands, knees, legs, and feet to move you into yoga poses.

  • Swedish massage focuses on relaxation, while Thai massage can make you feel rejuvenated and energised.

Swedish Massage vs Sports Massage

Sports massage is very similar to deep tissue massage, in that it’s more practical and results-based - aiding muscle recovery, treating areas of knots and tension and helping the body heal faster.

  • Sports massage typically involves firmer strokes, and the therapist may use elbows and forearms for added pressure.
  • While Swedish massage can help unwind knots, it’s more about the soothing, sensory pleasure of the experience, along with the stress-reducing benefits.
  • Put another way, Swedish massage is more about enjoying the journey, while sports massage is about the final score.

What are the health benefits from a Swedish massage?

Who doesn’t like the idea of better health? For some people it comes in the form of lying down and getting oiled up. If anyone decides to disagree, we’d suggest giving Swedish massage a try. (You can send us a thank you letter later 😘)

So here are just some of the health benefits you can expect from a Swedish massage:

  • The nervous system sometimes takes a whacking. With the intensity of caffeine, hustling to make a buck and trying to keep up with a social life, it’s no wonder we’re on the verge of eating a litre of ice-cream every second day. So, maybe a little wind-down time is exactly what the doctor ordered. Swedish massages are brilliant for promoting stress relief and allowing the nervous system to chill out for more than a few minutes.

  • If you’re guilty of hitting the snooze button more than once you may be struggling with a lack of quality sleep time. One of the great benefits of a Swedish massage is that it promotes quality sleep. A few extra quality Z’s might just be the magic trick to getting your next promotion.

  • Let’s get the blood pumping! Increased blood circulation is one of the great health benefits you can expect from a Swedish massage. The blood vessels dilate and widen, encouraging new blood to pump to your organs, which improves the functionality of your body as a whole.

From better circulation to stress relief to better quality sleep, there are many health benefits to Swedish massage. We’d highly recommend booking yourself in for some down time to give your mind and body some relaxation. There is something to be said about checking out, allowing someone else to do all the fussing, and taking a calm moment for yourself.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16162447/

  2. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/0003-4819-155-1-201107050-00002?searchresult=1&

  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19561560/