Kneading Strokes (Petrissage)

Kneading, or petrissage, is an effective technique to use after effleurage. Effleurage has softened the muscles, and now the body is prepared for you to go in deeper. In petrissage, you actually lift the skin and muscle, and apply a wringing, pinching, squeezing, rolling, or pressing movement. Simply put, it is a kneading movement that moves the deeper tissues of the body. This technique works to stretch the muscle, increase blood flow, and break up scar tissue.

FIGURE 5-1

Deep muscle kneading.

Petrissage can be used over large areas of the body as well as on small sections. Use both hands on broad surfaces and one hand on smaller regions. At times only the palm or fingers and thumb are used, as illustrated in FIGURE 5-1, where the fingers and thumbs alone knead deeply into the back and shoulder muscles. As the grasped or pressed muscle is released, firmly press on the area and move smoothly on to the next area in a circular motion.

Petrissage is an important technique, meaning this is one to practice, practice, and practice. The rhythm of movement is important here. Remember to move not only your hands but your body as well, tailoring the amount of pressure by the rhythm of your motion.

An Exercise in Kneading

Practice the basic movement of kneading on the back of your massage partner. Stand to the right side of the body, and place your hands on the left area of the back. Start with the lower back and grasp a handful of flesh (the skin and the muscle beneath it) in your left hand, lifting and squeezing without pinching. Use your entire hand with your fingers overlapping onto the flesh and your thumb a bit in front. Let your hand move in a circular motion.

Bring your right hand into play now, grasping another handful of flesh and repeating the same movement, holding the skin and muscle while moving the hand in a circular motion. Both hands should move in the same direction, firmly grasping the skin and moving in a slight circular motion. Move your body side to side as you perform this movement. Slide the flesh from your right hand toward your left and move your right hand up a bit along the back. The left hand grasps the flesh released by the right, and the right hand picks up a new section.

Continue to roll, grasp, and pinch the flesh as you work up to the shoulder. Switch sides and work up the back again, using the same technique.

Remember to move your body in time with the motion of your hands. If your hands become tired, you are not using your body to apply the pressure, which is where the effort should come from. Also, check to see how your hands are positioned on the recipient's body—if your wrists are bent, unbend them. If you tend to reach too far across the body, move your position so you are not off balance.

A good way to practice the kneading technique on your own is to knead some dough, either bread dough or play dough. Pay attention to how you must move your body in order to really see the dough change shape and texture. Practice all the different techniques of kneading while you work the dough.

Rolling Technique

Rolling is kneading only the top layers of tissue with the thumb and fingers. Stay on the left side of the body, with your hands resting on the same side of the back. Your right hand is closest to the waist and your left hand next to it. Using your fingers and thumbs, grasp a small amount of skin and gently roll it back and forth. Your fingers push the skin toward your thumbs, and your thumbs roll the skin back to your fingers. Continue this back-and-forth movement as you move up along the left side of the spine to the shoulders. Return to the waist on this same side and roll up again. Repeat as many times as needed to cover this side of the back. Move over to the right side and practice rolling there.

Wringing Technique

Wringing is a form of petrissage best used on the arms and legs. Imagine wringing out your favorite shirt: One hand twists one way and the other hand twists in the opposite direction. This alternate back-and-forth movement is gentle, yet deep. Use just enough oil to allow an easy, sliding motion as you wring up and down.

Let's practice on the arms. It is easiest to apply this technique with the receiver lying face up. Help your partner turn over by holding the drape up and slightly away, letting him or her turn freely. Tuck the drape back in, leaving one arm uncovered. Standing to the side of the body, grasp the uncovered arm and firmly wring back and forth, moving up the arm from the elbow to the shoulder.

Bend the arm at the elbow, grasp under the wrist with both hands, and wring up and down the forearm. Use firm steady pressure as you move toward the elbow, and a lighter touch as you move back toward the wrist. Finish at the elbow, wringing two or three more times. Rest the receiver's forearm on the table and cover this arm. Move to the other side and repeat.

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