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  • Karen Stoner, LMT

Massage Tips and Trivia: "Swedish Massage" was not developed in Sweden

"Despite the name, 'Swedish Massage' was not developed in Sweden"

Massage comes from all over the world, with many techniques originating in their own unique countries for specific purposes. However, one of the most popular massage techniques doesn't follow that trend. One of the most "universal" or "normal" massage modalities practiced, at least in the USA, is a technique known as "Swedish Massage". Swedish Massage is identified by long strokes, usually towards the heart, combined with kneading, squeezing, and percussion on each part of the body. It is one of the most commonly performed and taught massage techniques.

But surprisingly, Swedish Massage was not developed in Sweden. The way the technique got it's name is based on a case of mistaken identity. Many sources credit Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish fencing instructor, with being the "Father of Swedish Massage". However it was actually a Dutch doctor named Johann Georg Mezger who developed the actual strokes and massage techniques. Confused yet? Here's what happened: Mezger developed the 5 main massage strokes of the technique: effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement, and vibration. He gave each of the strokes French names, since at the time, French was the language for medical terminology. As the technique spread, and medical terms were eventually translated into other languages, there were no terms to translate the massage strokes into, so the French names stuck. Meanwhile in Sweden, Per Henrik Ling had created a wellness program that consisted of exercise and gymnastics meant to help with medical conditions that he called Medical Gymnastics. Several of the exercises and maneuvers used in the Medical Gymnastics had the same or similar names as the massage strokes. As Mezger's massage techniques spread around the world, it became popular among elite and powerful people, including the King of Sweden. Word got around about the massage strokes and techniques, and people ended up confusing/associating them with the exercises of the same names at Ling's organization. Ultimately, people just drew the conclusion that Ling had created the techniques, so since he was Swedish, it became known as "Swedish Massage".

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