Massage and its benefits

There are lots of different ways in which essential oils can be used, for example, in compress, inhalation, bathing, diffusers, burners but this blog focuses specifically on massage, its history, massage techniques, effects and how essential oils and carrier oils can be incorporated into treatments such as Swedish Body Massage and Sports Massage.

A potted history of massage

Massage has been practiced in both Eastern and Western cultures since ancient times and was one of the earliest tools used to relieve pain. In 380 BC during the Greek Dynasty, Hippocrates, commonly referred to as the father of medicine, used massage as a treatment for injuries and disease.  Galen, a doctor in 130-200 AD, continued to provide massage for medical conditions too.  During the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries, European doctors used massage for the treatment of injuries and disease.  In the 17th Century, massage was not highly rated. In the 18th Century, there was renewed interest in massage treatments, but there were many opposing theories on the topic. In the 19th century, a Swedish therapist, Peter Henry Ling, suggested that there was a need for therapists to have an understanding of anatomy and physiology before applying massage techniques and he introduced all the terms that are still in use today, such as effleurage, petrissage, etc.  In 1894 a group of women formed the Society of Trained Masseuses to raise standards of massage in the United Kingdom.  Rules, regulations, and examinations were introduced.  In 1900, the Society became known as the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseurs and later joined with the Institute of Massage and Remedial Exercise.  A Royal Charter was granted, and it became known as the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics.  The title changed in 1943 to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.  State Registration came in 1964. The first full-time courses in Beauty Therapy were offered in Colleges from September 1968, followed by the first City and Guilds examinations being held in 1970. Nowadays, there are many types of massage, which incorporate a range of classic techniques discussed in more detail below.

Benefits of massage

Massage therapy is used to help manage certain health conditions or to enhance general wellbeing. While more research is required to substantiate its benefits studies indicate that it may be helpful for the following:

  • Anxiety, stress, and depression (including stress-related insomnia)
  • Muscle tension and pain (including lower-back, neck and shoulder pain)
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee
  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems

The most evidence-based benefit of massage is its effect on the mood - specifically in terms of reducing anxiety and depression – and it is thought the main reason for this is that it’s simply relaxing. Beyond the benefits for specific conditions or diseases, relaxation is one of the main reasons that people enjoy massage, because it produces feelings of calm, comfort and connection and promotes a sense of well-being on both a physical and psychological level.

In general, in combination with herbal oils and creams, massage can help make the skin soft and supple.  Nerve endings can be soothed or stimulated, tense muscles relaxed, and adhesions reduced.  Regular massage treatments can help reduce joint stiffness, improve the blood and lymphatic circulatory systems as well as the immune and respiratory systems.  Finally, massaging the abdomen can stimulate peristalsis thereby helping the digestive flow.   

Massage techniques

Massage is a general term for pressing, rubbing, and manipulating the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. A massage medium, such as a carrier oil, wax, cream or lotion is used which enables the therapists hands to move freely and smoothly over the skin. The five main massage movements are effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction and vibration.


This is a stroking movement applied with the entire palmar surface of the hand.  It is usually applied at the commencement of routine and the end on one part of the body and can also be used to link movements together. All effleurage except very light movement follows the venous flow of the blood along the limb to the heart. 


These are pressure manipulations that lift the skin away from the bone. Petrissage includes the following movements:

  • Kneading - The muscle is picked up in one hand or both hands, squeezed and released quickly.  This movement is repeated along the length of the muscle. 
  • Wringing - The tissue is lifted away from the bone and moved from side to side following the length of the muscle, with the fingers and thumb of one hand working in opposition to the fingers and thumb of the other hand.  The pressure is applied towards the heart to aid venous and lymphatic flow.
  • Skin rolling - The thumbs are placed on the area and press forward whilst the fingers feed the tissue towards the thumbs creating a moving roll of flesh.  This encourages the break-down of fatty tissue.
  • Ironing - One hand is on top of the other, and the tissue is moved against the bone.  

Tapotement or percussion

The therapist will use their hands alternatively in a striking movement.  The technique should only be used when there is enough adipose tissue (body fat).  Movements include:

  • Hacking – Uses the ulnar side of the hand with the fingers striking the muscle in rapid succession to produce a light rhythm.
  • Cupping - Uses a loosely cupped palmar surface of the hand.
  • Pounding - Uses a loosely clenched fist, with the ulnar border of the fist making contact with the flesh.
  • Beating - Uses a loosely clenched fist with the hands working alternately.
  • Pinching – Uses the thumbs and the pads of the fingers to pick up tissues, with alternate hands.


These are small, circular motions using the thumb and finger pads.  


These are movements performed with one or both hands, using the fingertips or the flat hand. 

Types of massage treatment

The most popular types of massage are Swedish Massage, Aromatherapy Massage and Sports Massage, but there are many other forms including Hot Stone Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Thai Massage, Shiatsu Massage, Reflexology and Prenatal Massage. 

Swedish Body Massage

Is the most common type of massage and is sometimes referred to as a classic massage. It is a full body treatment that uses the full range of massage techniques on the soft tissues of the body. By relieving muscle tension, it can be both a relaxing and energising treatment. 

Swedish Body Massage Base Oil 

16ml Grapeseed oil 
4ml Jojoba oil

Swedish Body Massage Oil with essential oils 

2 drops of Basil 
4 drops of Geranium
1 drop of Sandalwood
14ml of base oil

Aromatherapy Massage

Is a holistic treatment using specifically selected essential oils and carrier oils to suit the individual’s requirements. Massage provides the most effective way of introducing aromatherapy oils into the body, as they are readily absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, where they can start to take effect. Aromatherapy massage is generally regarded as a relaxing treatment.  The main techniques used include effleurage and petrissage although the therapist will often work on specific acupressure points too.  

Relaxing Aromatherapy Massage Oil

2 drops of Neroli
4 drops of May Chang
1 drop of Rose otto
14 ml of Sunflower Seed oil 

Sports Massage

Is used before, during and after sports; it is commonly used to help prevent injury by helping maintain optimum fitness during training and whilst preparing for and recovering from sports events.  Techniques, such as percussion may be used for pre-event massage to stimulate the circulatory system and prepare the muscles for action, whilst soothing techniques such as effleurage may be used post-event to help remove waste products, such as lactic acid from muscles.  Other techniques, such as petrissage and frictions, can also be used for pre- and post-event treatment.

Pre-Sport Massage Oil

2 drops of Black pepper
4 drops of Rosemary
1 drop of Ginger
14ml of Sunflower oil

Post Sport Massage Oil

2 drops of Cypress
4 drops of Juniper 
1 drop of Pimento Berry
14 ml of Infused Arnica oil

If you don't wish to blend your own oils, you could try one of our pre-blended aromatherapy massage oils or waxes. You might also like to read more about the best carrier oils for massage.

Safety notes

Essential / carrier oilCautions / contra-indications
ArnicaOnly use on un-broken skin
BasilAvoid using Basil with a high content of methyl cinnamate.  Only basil with a methyl chavicol of 5% or less should be used in aromatherapy
Black PepperMay over stimulate kidneys
GeraniumCases of dermatitis have been reported in hypersensitive individuals
GingerMay cause sensitisation in some individuals
JuniperberryAvoid in pregnancy
May ChangMay cause sensitisation in some individuals
PeppermintMay occasionally be sensitising, Not for use in pregnancy, or with nursing mothers or children under the age of 3
Pimento BerryCan be a mucous membrane irritant
RosemaryAvoid in pregnancy, epilepsy, and with high blood pressure

Christine Fisk                                  
Consultant Aromatherapist           

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