Friday, 4 July 2008

Massage Technique - Percussion Movements or Tapotement


Percussion movements (tapotement) involve a series of light, brisk, striking actions applied with alternate hands in rapid succession. Two of the main percussion strokes are cupping and hacking; they may be performed on many areas of the body, although they are especially effective when used on fleshy and large muscular areas of the body such as the thighs. Other tapotement movements include flicking, beating and pounding. When performing tapotement movements the action originates from the wrists and not from the elbows or shoulders, which remain still throughout. Many beginners make the mistake of practising percussion movements from the elbows and shoulders, resulting in frustration and clumsiness.

Cupping is performed with your palms facing downwards, forming a hollow curve. It is sometimes known as 'clapping'. As you bring your cupped hands down on to the body in quick succession, a vacuum is created which is released when you bring your hands up. The sound should be hollow like a horse trotting. Listen for the sound.

Hacking is probably the best-known massage stroke since it is the movement almost always shown in films. It is achieved with the edge of the hands (the ulnar border). Hold your hands over body with the palms facing each other, the thumbs uppermost. Flick your hands rhythmically up and down in rapid succession. Use these movements at the end a massage to wake the person up! Obviously, if you are trying to relax someone totally hacking may be omitted altogether. If you are nervous about using these movements, practise them first on a cushion or a pillow placed on your lap.

Flicking is a movement similar to hacking and is often described as 'finger hacking'. To perform this movement flex your wrists slightly and bring only the sides of your little fingers into contact with the body (not the edge of the hands as well). Flicking is a much lighter, softer movement than the usual hacking movement.

Beating and pounding movements are both applied with your hands in a closed position with your fists lightly clenched. Beating is performed with the ulnar border (little finger side) of the closed fists, whereas in pounding the palmar surface of the hands are employed. The closed fists are applied to the body in quick succession.


  • Percussion movements are very stimulating. Tapotement is extremely useful for athletes before an event.
  • As the blood is drawn to the surface the circulation is improved.
  • Cupping is beneficial when performed over the upper and middle back area as it loosens mucus in the lungs aiding expectoration.
  • Percussion movements are also valuable in inducing muscle tone as well as strengthening muscles since they stimulate the muscle to contract.
  • They are also useful in reducing fatty deposits and flabby muscle areas and are often used over the buttocks and thighs.
  • Gentle tapotement given over the abdomen increases peristalsis, thereby aiding conditions such as constipation.

Errors to avoid

  • Make sure that when cupping, your hands are really cupped - otherwise a smacking sound will be heard, which is stinging and painful.
  • When hacking do not tense up the fingers of your hands or the movement will feel like a karate chop.
  • Keep your hands relaxed and loose and ensure that the movements are coming from the wrist. Keep your elbows tucked closely in; if you use your elbows and shoulders you will be exhausted quickly.
  • These strokes must not be performed over the bony areas ­ they will hurt.
  • Try not to concentrate on the strokes, otherwise you may lose the rhythm.

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