Friction is a form of massage that moves the top layers of tissue over the deeper layers, causing the deeper muscle to be stimulated. Applied after effleurage and petrissage, this massage stroke allows the muscles to generate heat as they are rubbed together. Friction is good for releasing tight muscles, loosening scar tissue, as well as increasing circulation. Friction around joint areas reaches the underlying tissue effectively and may soothe aching joints. Use your fingers, the heels of your palms, and occasionally just your thumbs to apply friction, which can be fast-paced or slow and deep. Generally the brisk style requires more oil, whereas the deeper movement needs very little lubricant.
If the movement is a gliding, sliding type of motion, make sure to use enough oil. Deep-tissue work needs very little oil, because too much may cause slipping from the area. Dry skin may need more oil, and so will elderly skin. Someone with a lot of body hair may need lotion and oil. Experiment!
The use of friction strokes in massage illustrates the body's ability to heal itself. The benefits of applying friction techniques are numerous. For example, friction techniques can …
Stretch and soften tissue.
Break up scar tissue.
Increase heat in the body.
Increase the metabolic rate.
Promote exchange of interstitial fluid (fluid between the cells and blood vessels).
Increase circulation to skin.
Increase circulation to joints.
Practicing Basic Friction Strokes
Ask your massage partner to return to the facedown position, and tuck the drape in at the waist as you prepare again to work on the back. Stand at the head of the table looking down on the receiver's back. Taking a little bit of oil in your hands, rub your palms together and feel the heat from this small bit of friction. Place your hands on the shoulders, palms flat on the body, fingers close together. Lean in a bit and push your right hand down the back along the right edge of the spine. When this hand reaches the waist, push your left hand down along the left edge. At the same time, bring your right hand back up to the shoulder.
Continue to work in this fashion, pressing one hand down as the other pulls back. Feel the heat under your hands as the friction begins to heat up the muscles. Use your body to apply the pressure, creating a back-and-forth rhythm. This form of friction massage on the back is moving in the direction of the muscle fibers.
The movement of your body is essential to the success of your strokes. Remember to always move your body as you work with massage. Do not be afraid to move! Move back and forth or side to side depending upon the area you are working on as well as the technique you are employing.
Circular friction is exactly what it sounds like—friction applied in a circular fashion. To practice this technique, position yourself at the head of the table. Let your hands rest palm down at the shoulders, fingers together pointing down toward the waist. Lift the palms of your hands up so your fingers are facing down with the pads resting on the back. Then move your body forward and press in with your fingers.
Feel the muscles underneath as they give in to the pressure. Let your fingers rest in the small groove or indentation you have created. Slowly begin to make small circles, moving the flesh, not the fingers, and feel the tissues under the skin move. Bring your fingers up a bit onto the surface of the skin and make circles again, with no pressure. Press in and cause friction. Feel the difference? When you apply pressure you are working the muscle under the surface of the skin. When you let up on the pressure you are working only the top layer of the skin.
To help you understand the feeling of friction, first work on a clothed body. With your hands on the receiver's back, apply a little pressure and circle on one spot with your fingertips. The shirt doesn't move, but the skin underneath does. This will simulate the feeling of one layer of skin moving beneath the other.
Muscle fibers are formed in bundles of fibers that all run in the same direction. Cross-fiber strokes work across the muscle tissue rather than in the direction of the muscle fiber. This is a deeper movement for which you can use your fingers, thumbs, and sometimes the heels of your palm. Place your fingers on the area of stress, and move them in a walking manner across the area and back again. The pressure from your fingers causes the top layer of skin to move the under layer, without gliding, just as in the circular technique. Of course, most of the pressure comes from the movement of your body, as you move back and forth or side to side.
For deeper access, place one hand on top of the other. While the bottom hand performs the crossing stroke, the palm is moving across the skin with friction as the top hand applies more pressure. This technique allows for deep penetration to a painful area.