Swedish massage was originally a fairly comprehensive and somewhat complex system. But in recent times it has become the “go to” massage therapy provided by thousands of spas in the United States. Training in Swedish massage became more generic and commercialized and a few providers familiar with the old ways complained that the method was being dumbed down for the masses into what some providers decried as a mere “fluff and buff.”
Since this modern version of Swedish massage requires the least technical knowledge, most students of massage are taught this system first. It is not recommended for for athletes as it is too shallow. Long rhythmic strokes and firm kneading do help relax the whole body, increase circulation, relieve tension and leave a person feeling calm and relaxed. Additional techniques include circular pressure applied by the hands and palms, percussion-like tapping, bending and stretching.
This lighter touch works well for many people, especially those who find deep tissue massage to be uncomfortable or painful because they are not accustomed to it. Swedish massage is also useful for overtrained or highly stressed individuals because it uses a light to medium pressure with some occasional deeper techniques thrown in.
Swedish massage therapy is probably the most popular type of massage performed today especially those looking for relaxation and release of tension. Of course it’s not just about relaxation. Long gliding strokes flow toward the heart to move blood through the tissues and stimulate circulation and flexibility. This is believed to help increase the level of oxygen in the blood, decrease free radicals, toxic impurities, and general muscle tension.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road: as reported in the New York Times, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that volunteers who received 45-minutes of Swedish massage experienced significant decreases in cortisol levels which is a stress hormone. They also achieved improved levels of arginine vasopressin — a hormone that can catalyze increased cortisol. Benefits also included an increase in the number of white blood cells which make a stronger immune system and improvements in the ability to fight off colds and flu.
With that kind of result, l’d sign up for a modern Swedish massage any day of the week “fluff and buff” or not.