You may think of the massage gun as being the progeny of the vibration massager. That’s not exactly the case; although percussion massagers work along the same principles of physics, they apply them in a rather different way. Most of us tend to use percussion massagers for deep-tissue massage. Understanding how it all works, however, can help you apply percussion massage technique into your recovery routine, regardless of whether you’re using a massage gun or not.
Percussion has been used in massage since the 1800s, particularly in the West. It became a common technique in Swedish massage, specifically through “tapotement” (tuh-poht-ment), which is the standard chopping massage technique that we’ve all seen in the movies.
*Note: we are not qualified health experts. You should always discuss the use of massage with your qualified health provider before using this therapeutic approach.
Percussion in Swedish Massage
Percussion is a technique used in Swedish massage. Before we get into percussion specifically, it’s useful to get a general understanding of this approach and its different techniques. While there are obviously many types of massage (that are often based on cultural and traditional practices), the Swedish approach is the most popular for pain relief and relaxation.
This form of massage uses moderate pressure to achieve a variety of health objectives. Beyond relaxation and stress reduction, Swedish massage has been connected to increased range of movement, improved circulation, reduced blood pressure and the release of tension in tight muscles and connective tissue. It is typically applied to the entire body.
There are five basic strokes used in Swedish massage that each use different principles of motion to achieve different results. In layman’s terms, your massage therapist strokes in a particular motion to achieve a particular result.
What Are the Five Massage Techniques?
Each of these techniques begins with broad strokes which become more narrow and focused in order to target specific areas. If you’ve ever had a professional massage, you might remember that your massage therapist began with his or her whole hand, and then worked on a specific area with their fingers or part of their hand.
Here are the five strokes of Swedish massage:
- Long gliding strokes using one or both hands, palms of the hand, knuckles and/or forearms
- Used to apply massage oil, and to evaluate soft tissue for tightness or trigger points
- Usually the first and last stroke used on a specific area; sometimes used in between more targeted strokes
- Provides stretch to the muscle as treatment progress and pressure increases
- Kneading, rolling, squeezing, wringing, and lifting the soft tissue being worked on
- Usually follows effleurage
- Increases blood circulation and lymphatic flow in the area
- Releases knots and tension in soft tissue
- Uses heat to warm up the area of the body being treated
- Best results when done without lubricant
- Use fingertips to compress superficial tissue into the underlying tissue
- Pressure applied in the direction of muscle fiber, against muscle fiber, or in small circular movements
- Increases circulation in the area
- Releases knots and tension in soft tissue
- Rocking, shaking or trembling movements
- Applied to a full muscle group or full body
- Applied quickly or slowly, depending on the particular issue
- Releases tension in a particular area
5. Tapotement (tuh-poht-ment)
- light, brisk, strikes; using hand(s) in a rhythmic manner
- Stimulates nerves, muscles and circulation
- Techniques include cupping, tapping, pounding and hacking (alternating outer edge of hands, palms facing together)
What Is Percussion Movement?
As we just described, tapotement uses rhythmic striking actions to stimulate nerves and muscles, drawing blood and nutrients to the area which then helps to heal the damaged tissue.
Many professional athletes use tapotement to warm up their muscles before an event as it is a great way to increase blood circulation, range of motion and to boost energy. It’s an ideal way to warm yourself up before a tough workout.
Percussion movement has the following benefits:
- Increased circulation
- Can tone and strengthen muscles, as it causes muscles to contract
- Cupping specifically can be helpful for loosening phlegm in the chest
- Tapping over the lower abdomen can aid constipation
- Plus, it just feels wonderful!
Is Percussion Massage Safe?
We’ve discussed if percussion massagers are safe in a few different posts before, but we usually consider this within the context of whether massage guns can be harmful. We’ve mostly focused on the power of the massage gun and the depth to which it can reach. We haven’t considered the premise of percussion as a technique, and that’s because percussion movement has been used for two centuries.
The good news is that in most cases, Swedish massage and tapotement are perfectly safe. Tapotement is one of the common massage techniques used in prenatal massage because of its more gentle but effective nature, as compared to deep-tissue massage.
However, with any massage, there can be a risk of too many massages, especially if you have underlying health conditions. It’s very important to inform your licensed massage therapist of any conditions, medications, injuries or other concerns before getting a massage.
For example, people with certain heart conditions are at greater risk for a blood clot traveling to the brain, heart or limbs. Those with internal pacemakers must avoid massage in the area where the device has been inserted.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you should speak to your doctor before the massage to find out what you need to make your massage therapist aware of. They may already know, but might also need to amend their treatments.
Manual application of percussion massage techniques is a great way to get deep muscle stimulation without having to use a handheld percussion massager, especially for those who cannot use deep-tissue massage for relieving muscle tightness and chronic pain and improving lymphatic circulation.
Are you craving a tapotement massage right now? You can use your massage gun to achieve the same or similar effects by putting it on its lowest settings. We know the urge is to just crank it up and get deep into the muscle, but trust us: the right pressure application will feel great and encourage proper healing.