Massage Strokes

By Anna Lynn Sibal

Massage image © Branislav Ostojic

There are many strokes used in giving massage, and each stroke has its own purpose. Each stroke used by a massage therapist in giving massage is chosen for a specific reason and not on some random whim. The therapist uses a particular kind of stroke depending on what her client wants out of the session of treatment, whether he or she wants to be relaxed or energized. That is how it is: a particular stroke can act like a calming sedative or a refreshing stimulant depending on the speed and pressure with which it is applied.

In massage, each stroke is done rhythmically, with one stroke flowing fluidly into the next. Also, massage strokes are ideally done with firmness towards the heart, and with lightness when moving away from it.

Below are the names of the massage strokes that a therapist often uses, and what these strokes are for.

Cupping. The hands and fingers are curled into a cup shape, and with the palms facing downward, are beaten across the area being massaged.

Draining. Draining is a stroke done with medium pressure and used with the heel of the hand on larger areas, or with the thumbs on smaller areas. The thumb or the heel of the hand is pushed upward along the sinew of the area being massaged and is aimed at stretching the muscle and increasing blood circulation.

Friction. Friction strokes are massage strokes specifically used to loosen knots in the muscles. It is always deep and with pressure, done using the thumbs and fingertips moving in tiny circles along the area being massaged. Some receivers of the massage prefer this stroke above all others; other receivers find it painful and could not tolerate it for long.

Gliding. The purpose of gliding strokes is to apply the massage oil onto the skin, as well as to stretch and relax the muscles of the person receiving the massage. The gliding stroke is done with the fingers together and the hands themselves outstretched; contact with the skin of the receiver of the massage is done with the flat of the giverís hands. The gliding stroke can be firm and reassuring, or merely as light as a featherís touch. It can be in a long and forward motion or in a circular pattern. One or both hands may be used in doing the gliding stroke.

Hacking. This stroke is also known as the chopping stroke. The sides of the hands, with the palms facing each other, beat up and down the area being massaged. Sometimes the hands are folded into loose fists for added pressure.

Kneading. Kneading is done on the fleshy parts of the body with the purpose of relaxing muscle tension and increase blood circulation. It is always done firmly, with both hands grasping the part being massaged and then mashing it with the fingers and the heel of the hands, like kneading dough.

Plucking. Plucking is done by lifting the flesh using the fingertips. The lifted muscle is then pinched before it is allowed to slide back.

Pulling. This is a stroke done on the muscles of the torso and of the legs. Done with both hands, with one alternating with the other, the muscles are pulled and stretched to loosen them.

Wringing. Wringing is done on the torso, the arms and the legs. The hands are placed on either side of the area being massaged and are moved in an alternating forward and backward motion, in an upward direction until it slowly reaches the head.

The giver of the massage should not forget to keep her hands and wrists relaxed in performing these different massage strokes, or else she would end up hurting her arms. The force of the massage should also not be limited to the giverís arms and shoulders; she should use her entire body weight to perform the massage.