Effleurage

••• Effleurage is a massage movement made with the flat of the hands, one after the other. Getty Images: Celia Peterson

Effleurage is the French word for the most common Swedish massage stroke.   Effluerage is a smooth, gliding stroke made with the flat of the hands that can take place over large surfaces (the back, arms, legs, chest) or small surfaces (the face, throat and hands). The pressure and speed of effleurage varies based on the area and what the massage therapist or esthetician is trying to achieve.  The word effleurage is derived from the French verb "effleurer" which means to brush against or to touch.

A massage therapist generally applies massage oil using superficial effluerage, a hand-over-hand gliding movement -- think about the moment when the massage therapist first touches you, and begins to introduce your body to their touch.  It helps spread the lubricant evenly and helps the therapist start to assess the state of your body and muscle tissues.  It is also used as a connecting stroke between other techniques, as when the therapist goes in to do more focuses work in a particular area.

It also allows the massage therapist to maintain continuous contact with your body throughout the session and gives you a feeling of continuity throughout the session.   

During effleurage, the fingers are generally held together and moulded to your body in a relaxed way.  The fingers preceed the palm of the hand during the movement, but most of the pressure is applied by the palm of the hand. The strokes should be long, steady and rhythmic, have an even flow to them and no jerky or abrupt movements.

With effleurage, the massage therapist’s hands are relaxed and usually open-palmed, but variations of the stroke can be done with the forearm, the knuckles or even just the fingers, using a feather-light touch. 

The amount of pressure usually differs between the outward and return strokes, with more pressure applied in the direction towards the heart, then less in the return movement back to repeat the sequence.

 This helps to bring nutrients to, and remove waste from the body's cells.  

An effleurage movement is usually repeated several times over the same area on the body to induce relaxation.  The other physical benefits of effleurage include stimulating the body's circulatory systems and reducing muscle tension.

There are two types of effleurage -- superficial and deep. Superficial effleurage uses a light touch and is very soothing. This is the kind of pressure you get at the beginning and end of the massage. This gentle pressure gets you accustomed to the therapist's touch, and prepares you for the end of the massage. It is also used between other strokes to clear the area and soothe the intensity of deeper strokes.

Deep effleurage, or deep gliding, uses more pressure, stretching and broadening the muscle tissue and fascia. (This is also called "stripping" the muscle by therapists.) Deep effleurage follows the direction of the muscle tissue. Generally the movement is towards the heart, with the return stroke being much lighter and away from the center of the body. It warms up the muscle tissue, preparing it for even deeper, more focused massage.

If the practitioner uses too much force during effleurage, the body will tighten up protectively.

So be careful about asking therapist to "go deeper", even with deep tissue massage.

​The first use of the word to describe effleurage as a massage stroke category is attributed to Dr. Johan Georg Mezger (1838-1909) of Amsterdam.

Also Known As: gliding stroke

Common Misspellings: effluerage, efleurage