Your MT’s Secret Skill: Constant, Fluid Contact

Your MT’s Secret Skill: Constant, Fluid Contact

Constant, Fluid Contact Your Massage Therapist’s Secret Skill
By Cindy Williams, LMT

Have you ever wondered why a session with certain massage therapists stands out as exceptional, but you can’t quite put your finger on what they are doing that makes their work so great? Perhaps you’ve noticed that once your massage therapist begins the hands-on portion of the session, you melt into an altered state that remains consistently soothing until the very last stroke is completed.

I’ve heard blissed-out clients describe this experience as “the massage therapist performing a fluid dance around the table” or “a master musician playing my body like an instrument.” That secret skill your practitioner has is constant, fluid contact, also known as effleurage. And it is intentional.


In massage school, the first massage stroke students learn is called effleurage. A French word in origin, effleurage is defined as along, broad, fluid, gliding stroke that can be applied at different depths and paces, and used to begin, end, or transition between strokes and body parts. It covers the entire length and width of the body part to which it is being applied and assists in maintaining continuous contact with the client throughout a massage progression.

Full-body, Swedish massage sessions (see “Swedish Massage Strokes,” page 8) typically progress in the following fashion: begin with effleurage; transition to more specific and focused strokes that address parts of muscles that are tense, painful, or immobile; then finish with effleurage. While the strokes between effleurage can be applied in a variety of ways, progressing from general to specific and back to general without the hands leaving the body is an important factor in creating peaceful fluidity.


When switching between types of massage strokes, or completing one body part and moving to the next, what’s important is not only that your massage therapist get from Point A to Point B, but also how they get from Point A to Point B. Fluidity is essential to inviting and maintaining a client’s sense of peace, relaxation, and trust. Abrupt beginnings and endings, and the therapist not effectively communicating through touch where they are leaving and going, can cause clients to stay in sympathetic nervous system response (an activated state of being) rather than settling into the parasympathetic (a restful state of being). Constant contact through effleurage is the key, and the quality and application of your therapist’s effleurage strokes from the beginning of the session through to the end of the session can greatly affect your experience.

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