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Massage therapist applying effleurage to patient's back

Effleurage - The Gentle Touch in Massage Therapy

One of the foundational ideas in massage and other body work is the concept of effleurage. This is the method of making longer strokes or circular motions with the palm, finger pads, and thumb over larger areas of the client’s body or muscle groups. It is a gentle contact, and a great way to start (and conclude) a treatment. It is thought to produce physiological responses in the patient that benefit the treatment. Not to mention the relief of myofascial pain.

The word effleurage comes from the French: “to touch lightly.”

It is thought that effleurage acts in several ways to help get the treatment underway. It encourages relaxation and stimulates blood flow in the treatment area. It is also thought to stimulate the lymphatic system, the body’s system of removing waste products.

Traditionally the direction of strokes in effleurage begin at the lower end of the muscle group and continue upward towards the heart. The thought is that this encourages blood flow to the heart and lymphatic system, thereby removing toxins. This lymphatic drainage is thought to also stimulate the immune system.

Effleurage is also thought to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which releases positive hormones into the bloodstream. These include serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. Their release helps to raise the temperature and lower the heart rate. This kind of relaxation can benefit the treatment that follows.

Larger Muscle Groups

To begin a treatment the therapist might apply effleurage massage to the major muscle groups of the arms, upper back and shoulders, lower back, thighs, and calf muscles. Once the areas are relaxed and stimulated, more focused pressure is applied to specific muscles and fascial tissue.

It can be helpful, but is not always necessary, to use a massage lotion, oil, or cream for this phase of the massage. Depending on the client’s and therapist’s preferences, it may not be called for.

Winding Down

Depending on the methods used, massage treatments can be quite intense for the patient. Strong pressure may be applied to tissues, causing temporary pain, especially in the case of deep tissue massage, thumping, and trigger point therapy. Finishing a treatment with a second round of effleurage helps the patient relax again, and return to a state of calm. This second round may also help wipe away any residue of lotions, oils, or gels from the client’s skin.

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