massage techniques Print Icon


This is the most basic of all techniques but invaluable and very versatile. There are approximately 16 different hand positions available to a practitioner and this technique can be used with the deepest of pressure to the lightest depending on what you are trying to achieve. Effleurage means “a rhythmic stoking” which is exactly what it is. It is a stroking movement which is applied with a constant even pressure. It is mainly applied by hand or hands and forearm. Various parts of the hand can be used such as broad knuckles, side or palm of hand.

When working on the trunk hands or feet the move can be performed in any direction however when working on the arms and legs it must be preformed towards the heart, this is because the limbs have specialist one way valves in them that prevent blood form pooling and these can be damaged if the technique is preformed incorrectly.

Effleurage techniques include:
  • figure 8
  • cam and spindle
  • butterfly
  • half moon
  • pisiform
  • flat hand
  • rotary

When effleurage is performed it causes friction which warms the tissues. It increases cell permeability (improving the ability of food and oxygen to enter the cells and waste to move out), increases the cell metabolism and speeds removal of waste and supply of nutrients. It also improves the venous and lymphatic flow.


Petrissage means “massage of the skin which is gently lifted and squeezed”. It can be done in two ways as a single move which is held or a repetitive movement. Its true form is the continual movement, but I do find the single move very beneficial. Petrissage is a wringing type movement using two hands, which manipulates and applies a torque to the soft tissue.

When Petrissage is performed in its true form friction is created which warms the tissues. It increases cell permeability, increases the cell metabolism and speeds removal of waste and supply of nutrients.


Tapotement is a percussive technique that can be performed directly on the skin, which is very stimulating or through clothes which reduces its impact. It is a fast, dynamic technique that is quite noisy. It can either be a direct or deflected movement using one or two hands.

Tapotement techniques include:
  • hacking
  • cupping
  • butterfly
  • pinching
  • slapping
  • flicking

Tapotement creates a reddening of the skin (erythema) and encourages the blood supply to this area. It is a very stimulating technique and can stimulate sensory nerve endings via receptors in the skin. It can also stimulates autonomic nervous system fight or flight mechanism.


Friction is a technique that is rarely used but it can be used when the rehabilitation of scar tissue has been ineffective. The technique is applied in a very small area, the tissues are carefully identified and secured and a cross fibre rubbing motion is used over the muscle, tendon or ligament, the technique is applied in the same direction using the thumb, fingers or knuckle.

Friction is used when trying to remodel immature scar tissue that is not healing in the desired way. Friction causes trauma to soft tissues, damage to immature scar tissue, damage to blood vessels and thereby inducing an acute inflammatory response. The friction is performed for a very short time, seconds usually.

dermal lifting

Dermal lifting can be a difficult technique to perform but can be very beneficial when there is poor movement or sticking of skin to soft tissue. The technique is performed by lifting or rolling the skin (dermal layers) and subcutaneous layers away from the muscles and skeletal structures.

Dermal lifting techniques include:
  • skin rolling
  • skin shaking

Friction is caused in the skin and soft tissue which increases circulation in the area. Dermal lifting can also be helpful in reducing adherences between the skin and soft tissue underneath. It aids reductions of subcutaneous lipids when combined with exercise (fats). It can also be very beneficial when working on scar tissue of the skin.


Compression is a very effective technique when there isn’t a great deal of time or other techniques are too uncomfortable. A direct pressure, usually static, is applied by thumbs, heel of hand or elbow into the muscle and or connective tissue. The pressure applied depends on the client’s tolerances and the reaction in the muscle. This can be done through clothes if necessary or when there is no massage medium available. It can be repeated up to 3 times in the same area.

Compression increases muscle length, reduces muscle hypertone (decompression), creates pressure gradient, helps to elongate the muscle and improves range of movement.


This is an interesting technique which can be done pitch side with clothes on or on the plinth during a massage when a muscle is unwilling to relax. It can be performed on a limb using a shaking motion or on the whole body using a rocking motion. The hard part is pitching the motion at the correct frequency.

This technique can be used to stimulate and invigorate or relax and sedate depending where you pitch the frequency of the motion. Working both on the muscle and the mind.


Stretching is the elongation of a muscle and its connective tissue. It can be performed by the individual in various ways such as static or dynamic. It can also be performed by the practitioner.

Stretching can increase muscle length, increase ROM (Range of Movement), decrease muscle tensions and increase elastic strength.

trigger point release

Applying a sustained pressure to a specific area of muscle where there is a dysfunction in the tissues, which usually causes referred pain. The pressure is applied directly and can be held for 90 seconds or more until the muscle releases.

The trigger point is usually found along a tight band that has occurred in the muscle with a very specific area of tenderness. This is the trigger point

There are various methods used, the main two being, direct ischemic pressure and deep stroking, followed by a stretch to the area.

When a trigger point is released, there can be a reduction in pain, increased range of movement and better muscle function.

myofascial release

Myofascial release is an interesting technique to use. It differs from the other techniques as it focuses on the fascia of the body rather than the muscles. Fascia runs through the entire body and wraps around every organ and muscle fibre. This means if there is an adherence or poorly functioning area of fascia it is going to have a massive impact on all the other soft tissues.

Myofascial release can be preformed either direct, i.e. at the site of pain using a cross hands or pin and glide technique or as an indirect technique, away from the site of pain. This can be done with a simple glide or a pull technique. Both direct and indirect techniques are very effective.

The idea of myofascial release is to loosen or free the fascia giving back its pliability which will allow the muscle or soft tissues to function more effectively. It is performed with little or no oil or sometimes with a wax. The techniques are performed much more slowly than a normal massage technique might be delivered.

soft tissue release

Soft tissue release is a very effective technique for releasing stubborn areas of tension in the tissues. The technique is very simple, pressure is applied just above the area in question and a stretch is applied. This stretch can be passive (performed by practitioner), active (performed by the client) or active assisted (performed by client with help from the practitioner).

When soft tissue release is effective there can be a reduction in pain or discomfort, increased range of movement, reduced adherences in the tissues, elongation of the muscle and better muscle function.