Next to effleurage, as a massage category, petrissage is probably the most often used technique. In itself, petrissage is not a particular stroke, yet a classification of various movements consisting of rhythmic lifting and compression type movements. The word petrissage is derived from the French word “petrir,” meaning to knead, and was among the terminology first used by Dr.Johan Georg Mezger in the late 1800s to give definition to a certain type of bodywork.
With the opening strokes of effleurage having been performed at the onset of the massage session, you presumably have been able to spread the oil or cream and had a chance to palpate for any stress or adhesions in the underlying soft tissue. Your next step may be to use petrissage to help not only stretch and relax the tissue, but also bring increased blood circulation to the area and help flush out toxins.
If you ever made bread from scratch and kneaded the raw dough, you already have a good sense of what petrissage is. And, kneading dough is a great way to keep your hands in shape and practice your massage technique! Most often, both hands are used, working alternately together as one unit. It may be hand over hand, one hand towards the other, or one hand moving away from the other, but it is always a kind of one-two rhythmic movement.
There are several stroke techniques classified within the definition of petrissage. Kneading, lifting, rolling and wringing are just some of the more common terms used to describe the various movements.
- Kneading is a kind of picking up and squeezing motion performed in a circular fashion. It may be a light movement or it can be rather deep depending on how much pressure is used. The skin and underlying tissue is lifted and first rolled away from, then back towards the bone with a squeezing, compressive motion.
- Lifting differs from kneading in that you first lift and squeeze the tissue, and then release it. It is more of a single-handed movement as opposed to kneading and, rather than the whole palmar portion of the hand being used, the action occurs between the thumb and first two fingers of the therapist.
- There are two types of rolling. There is muscle rolling, whereby the lifting and compression movements are applied laterally across the muscle fibers, and skin rolling with just the skin being lifted and rolled between the fingers.
- Wringing may be used on both large and small areas of the body. The tissue is first compressed against underlying structure, such as bone, and is then gently lifted away from it. Generally, you pull the tissue with the fingers of one hand, while pushing the tissue back with the thumb of the other hand.
What all the strokes of petrissage have in common is the push-pull of tissue and the rhythmic motion of the movement. Petrissage differs from effleurage in that the strokes, while they can be relaxing, are generally stimulating to the body.
As with any of the basic massage strokes, when performed correctly, petrissage has many benefits, including:
- increased circulation
- muscle relaxation
- reduction of pain
- improved lymphatic drainage
- reduction of adhesions
- fat emulsification
Petrissage is often used in pre- and post-event sports massage, as it helps to quickly warm up and stimulate major muscle groups as well as reduce stiffness and muscle tension. Before an event or period of exercising it helps to get the muscles ready for action, afterwards it helps to disperse lactic acid buildup and prevent muscle stiffness. Petrissage is also used extensively in rehabilitative massage, after an injury, as it helps to stretch muscle fibers, reduce adhesions and facilitate healing.
Used on the fleshy parts of the body, petrissage is a powerful and effective tool, but there are several precautions. Never use petrissage on an inflamed area or recent injury where there are newly formed scars, swelling or broken skin. Also, an adequate amount of time should pass after surgery, such as after an appendectomy or hernia repair before using petrissage type techniques. Certain petrissage techniques should not be used on a pregnant woman (this is in part, because of the hormone relaxin, produced during pregnancy which softens the ligaments, fascia and tendons, causes instability of joints), and never over her belly area. If there is any doubt as to the appropriateness of use, you should consult with the client’s primary care physician before proceeding with the massage.
In a full hour traditional Swedish massage, petrissage often provides the bulk of strokes used in the session. It is important to be proficient in its use it as well as use it appropriately with each client. Doing so will provide the most beneficial outcome for both the client and the practitioner.