What is Massage? – Blog by Gail Lowe

What is massage?

What is massage?

Massage is a holistic treatment which treats the body as a whole (mind, body and spirit).  A manual manipulation using the hands on the soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) of the body with a vegetable oil with a variety of movements the therapist can bring about a positive physical and emotional effect on the client enhancing health and well – being.

Massage movements?

I was delighted to discover that the benefits of the movements I had been taught were very evident in the release of the muscles, which changed from being very solid and firm with very little movement in them to being malleable and soft and allowed me to identify clearly the lactic acid crystals trapped within the muscles.  I could then work on breaking these crystals down so that the body can eliminate them more easily. Generally the massage movements all combined to stimulate all body systems and allow the body to work more efficiently as well as allowing the client to feel more relaxed and giving them a wonderful sense of wellbeing.

The 5 massage movements:

  1. Effleurage
  2. Petrissage
  3. Frictions
  4. Percussion
  5. Passive movements


Effleurage is always performed at the beginning and end of every area of the body. It is a relaxing movement performed with the flat of the hand using pressure towards the heart. The hand moulds to the contours of the body and applies the oil onto the skin to allow less friction and a smooth flowing movement.  The benefits of this movement are:

  • Relaxing and calming
  • Aids desquamation (shedding of dead skin)
  • Improves the circulation
  • Stimulates the digestive system
  • Aids lymph drainage and gets rid of toxins and waste products


Kneading, rolling, knuckling are all forms of petrissage and it is performed where there are deep layers of muscle that can be picked up and squeezed and rolled between the fingers. . The movement has the effect of:

  • Stimulating erythema (temporary redness)
  • Breaking down adhesions
  • Releasing tension in the muscles
  • Improving lactic acid drainage


Rubbing of the fingers or thumb across the muscle fibres stimulates the production of endorphins which are the body’s natural pain killers.  The movement has an:

  • Analgesic effect on the joint or muscle
  • Tightens a lose joint
  • Loosens a tight joint
  • Breaks down lactic acid crystals
  • Releases muscle tension


Percussion is a movement where the hands strikes the body gently so that it has a stimulating effect, as in cupping; hacking; beating; and pounding.  The benefit of these movements is to:

  • Stimulate circulation
  • Stimulate nerve endings
  • Tone the body


A passive movement is where the therapist takes a joint and puts it through its range of movement whilst assessing any stiffness or restriction. It also measures the relaxation levels of the client.

  • Improving movement in the joint
  • Eliminating joint stiffness

Benefits of Massage

The benefits of massage on the body are both physical and mental:

  • Improves skin tone
  • Stimulates and improves circulation
  • Stimulates lymphatic system and the drainage of fluid
  • Eliminates waste products from the body
  • Reduces stress, tension and anxiety
  • Improves and reduces the incidence of headaches
  • Relieves aches and pains in the muscles
  • Improves the mobility of joints
  • Stimulates the digestive system
  • Brings about a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing

History of Massage

There are many different types of massage but all have a common history.  Massage is an ancient art and has been recorded since 3000bc all over the world by many different races under many different names.

  • China – ‘amma’: Japanese – ‘tsubo’: Indian  – ayurveda:
  • Greece, Hippocrates said doctors should be conversant with rubbing

 “To bind a joint that is loose and to loosen a joint that is too rigid.”


  • Rome, Roman Physician Galen wrote:

“Massage eliminates waste products and the poisons of fatigue”

  • Sweden – 1800’s Per Henrik Ling a Swedish physiologist developed “Swedish massage” and called it the ling system and wrote the first massage book.
  • England – 1894 In Britain a group of women formed the ‘Society of trained masseuses’ and later became the Chartered society of Physiotherapists.  Massage formed the major part of their treatments until the introduction and use of electrical equipment.


Swedish massage was traditionally performed using talcum powder and in some cases where the body is hairy. Normally we use a “cold pressed” vegetable oil. Grapeseed is the most popular and least expensive or alternatively Sweet Almond oil if the client does not have a nut allergy. We use enough oil to lubricate so that we can pick up the skin.


The amount of pressure applied is very individual and should be adapted to each clients pain threshold. We normally work with a ratio of 1-10. 10 being the firmest and 1 being extremely light, ideally the pressure needs to be a 7.  A 7 is considered deep enough to be therapeutic but not so deep it’s painful for the client. Each client will say what number the pressure is at so the therapist knows whether they can work more firmly or not.


There is currently no legislation or requirement to have any qualifications in massage in order to practice.  However, most employers and professional bodies are looking for a level 3 qualification.  A level 2 beauty qualification will allow you to work under supervision in a salon but not to be able to work independently.

Finding a reputable and recognised qualification is a mine field but my advice would be to find a government recognised qualification. ITEC is the only qualification recognised worldwide, if you are interested in working abroad. Otherwise ITEC VTCT and City and Guilds all teach the same massage syllabus.

Courses available

ITEC Level 3 Certificate in Massage                                   QAN 600/6671/4

This certificate was designed for students who already hold the core units and only require the Massage unit, however some employers require their staff to hold a  Massage Diploma particularly the NHS.

ITEC Level 3 Diploma in Massage                          QAN 600/5503/0

  • Provide Body massage for complementary therapies

383           Anatomy physiology & Pathology for complementary therapies

384           Business practice for complementary therapies

385           Principles and practice of Complementary Therapies

These units can be studied altogether as one diploma or as separate units.

ITEC Level 3 Massage Diploma Course

Continual Professional Development – CPD

Once you have your Massage diploma you can apply for insurance. Join a professional body and continue your training wither with another diploma qualification in; Aromatherapy: Reflexology; Sports Massage: Stone Therapy; etc

Many professional bodies will require you to continue with your training and demonstrate each year through a points system which CPD training you have completed. There are many short CPD workshops to  complete in order to add different skills to your portfolio without the need for exams: Facial Acupressure; Deep Tissue Massage; Dementia Care: Onsite: Advanced Massage: Thai Foot Massage: etc.

March 19, 2018

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