Petrissage is a kneading massage technique with its origins in the Swedish massage tradition. Along with movements like tapotement and effleurage, petrissage is one of the primary massage techniques utilized in traditional Swedish massage. Many other massage techniques utilize this move, because it can be integrated with other styles for everything from deep tissue work to relaxing therapeutic massage. Most massage schools provide instruction in this move in the early stages of massage education.
Several different types of kneading motions can be utilized under the umbrella term “petrissage.” One is a classic kneading of the body, akin to kneading dough. Another is rolling of the skin, which must be done carefully to avoid pinching. Massage therapists can also pull and squeeze the soft tissue to knead it, and may use techniques like “scissoring,” in which the fingers are walked toward each other across an area of the body. The move can be varied to suit different areas of the body, ranging from the abdomen to the shoulder blades.
The goal of petrissage is to provide deep penetration of the soft tissue to free up the movement of the soft tissue while also providing deep pressure in the underlying muscles. It can be done to warm up in preparation for penetrating deep tissue work, to resolve a muscle knot or spasm, or simply to help the client relax. It should not be painful when performed properly and if a massage starts to hurt the therapist should be told immediately so that the pressure can be adjusted.
One of the benefits of petrissage is that it can promote circulation to areas of the body which are worked. Good circulation can be beneficial to overall physical health and may also specifically address certain health conditions which are characterized by poor circulation. Some people believe that massage helps the body expel toxins, and petrissage is one of the moves touted as having this benefit because of its effects on the circulation of blood and lymph.
This technique can be deep or light, with varying degrees of pressure depending on the client. The force for the movement comes primarily from the weight of the massage therapist, rather than from the arms and back, with the therapist leaning into the client to let gravity do the work. It should be slow and rhythmic in nature, and it increases in intensity over time to allow the client to get used to the sensation before working more deeply.