Massage Therapy Techniques

Massage can be used to prevent bed sores, provide pain relief and promote relaxation. Learn basic massage techniques, including light or deep stroke (effleurage) and kneading (petrisage). This video is part of an innovative series that we are proud to re-introduce and was created by a leader in the field of supportive homecare, Dr. Ernest Rosenbaum.

One of the most soothing treatments for anyone convalescing is massage. In Europe and other parts of the world it has always been held in high esteem and is used frequently to decrease pain and aid the healing process and rehabilitation.

Massage therapy is an easy and practical way to relax not only the muscles but the entire person. It is a form of nonverbal communication between two people that gives a feeling of well-being and reassurance. For a willing family member or friend, massage can be a pleasant way for others to participate in your recovery and gain satisfaction from being able to help.

Massage therapy has several purposes. First, it is a means of preventing bedsores. The patient who does not turn over onto his or her stomach is a prime candidate for bedsores. By turning over you release pressure on the areas you have been lying on. Massaging the pressured areas encourages more blood flow to the tissue. If massage is done frequently, it will prevent skin breakdown, which leads to the bedsores. The buttocks, coccyx (tailbone), wings of the scapulae (shoulder blades), hips, heels, elbows and malleoli (bumps) around the ankles are all susceptible to these sores.

Massage also promotes relaxation. Massage is not a cure for pain, but it may offer relief, as well as being a pleasurable experience. It may also help reduce or eliminate the need for certain medications.

How To Give a Massage

The following instructions will guide a friend or family member in giving you a massage.

Being comfortable at the start is very important. No matter how soothing the stroke, you must be in a comfortable position or you will not be able to tolerate the massage very long.

There are four basic massage strokes:

  1. Effleurage-light or deep stroking
  2. Petrisage-kneading
  3. Tapotement-hacking or slapping
  4. Friction


Effleurage is the stroke with which you begin and end every massage. The two types of effleurage are light stroking, which is used to relax the patient, and deep stroking, which actually empties the blood and lymphatic vessels.

Effleurage is done in a very slow manner. It is used to totally relax the patient and begins and ends every massage. Begin by placing your hands very lightly on the area to be massaged and, with the least pressure that you can apply, run your hands over the area at a slow pace. Make full contact with the skin with both hands. Once you begin, never take your hands off the patient's body until you are finished. All strokes should be done in a continuous motion. After five minutes of light stroking, you then deepen the strokes in the direction toward the heart and increase the pressure to a deep effleurage. Lighten the strokes going away from the heart. Be careful; if the patient complains, you are doing it too hard. Massage should never hurt, for that defeats the purpose of relaxation. Some people can only tolerate the light effleurage and nothing more. Deep effleurage can be used to decrease edema, but should be used only with a physician's approval.


Petrisage can be done in two ways. You can knead the muscles with the palms or heels of your hands or with your fingertips. In this stroke you actually pick up the muscle tissue away from the bones and work on the right areas to decrease muscle spasm. Again, it should not hurt, unless the patient tells you "it hurts good"—the usual description of an effectively given petrisage.


Tapotement is done by hacking with the sides of your hands or by cupping your hands and using them to percuss an area of the body. This stroke, while pleasing to most muscle-bound superstars, is not usually very pleasing to a seriously ill patient, and it should never be used without a physician's approval. People have been known to fracture ribs by pounding on the chest. Tapotement can also be dangerous for anyone with kidney disease.


The last massage stroke is friction, which is done with one or two fingertips. You apply pressure in a circular manner over bony prominences such as the pelvic bones, shoulder, vertebrae (backbones) and kneecaps. You do not move around with this stroke, but rather stay in one spot for a prolonged time and then move onto another.

Foot Massage

Foot massage is also an excellent type of massage to give relief and increase relaxation.

Read Skin Care Treatments and Solutions


Editor's Note: Adapted from A Comprehensive Guide for Cancer Patients and Their Families. Bull Publishing Company: Palo Alto, CA, 1980. Selection authored by Francine Manuel, RPT.


Disclaimer: Gilbert Guide, Mount Zion Hospital & Medical Center, Marshall Hale Memorial Hospital and The San Francisco Regional Cancer Foundation do hereby disclaim any and all liability for any bodily injury, death or damage to property resulting from, in whole or in part, or in any way connected with the use by any individual in the hospital-based home care program known as "SENIORS AT HOME."