Tapotement is a method of Swedish massage that involves firm, quick taps or strikes all over the body. The term tapotement is derived from the French word tapoter, which means to drum or to tap. This rhythmic tapping is delivered quickly and firmly, but should not cause sharp or intense pain. It is meant to heighten the senses, relax the muscles, and excite the nerve endings. Most masseurs combine tapotement with kneading and rubbing the muscles to keep the blood flowing evenly throughout the body and avoid bruising the patient. There are several different methods for performing this kind of massage and it is also said to benefit the body in many ways.
Masseurs may perform tapotement in one of several ways. When the taps or strikes are delivered with the outside edge of the hand, it is called hacking. A masseur may use just one hand for this method, or hack up and down the patient’s body with both hands in rapid succession. The palms may also be pressed together, allowing the masseuse to rap the patient with the edges of both hands simultaneously. This often applies more pressure to the muscles without tiring out the masseur as quickly.
Cupping is a technique wherein the masseur cups his fingers together tightly, as if he is trying to scoop up water. The masseur then brings these cupped hands down, firmly but gently, onto the patient’s body. This often results in a suction-like feeling for the patient. It is also a gentler kind of tapotement, typically used on those who enjoy light massages.
Pummeling is a harder form of tapotement because the masseur taps the muscles with a lightly knotted fist. The space between the first and second knuckle and the base of the palm usually make contact with the patient’s body when this technique is used. This method is often used in conjunction with tapping, wherein the masseur uses only the tips of his fingers to gently tap the muscles. The motion is very light and gentle.
Plucking is an interesting form of massage that involves very gently pinching the skin between the fingers and letting it go. The idea is to pull the skin and muscle upward without causing the patient any pain. This technique may be used to end a Swedish massage, or to help condition the muscles for deeper pressure.
Many proponents of tapotement say that it helps increase blood circulation and muscle definition. It may also help break up and reduce cellulite, though it should never be used on injured or sensitive areas. Masseurs should also not use tapotement on the kidneys, head, neck, or joints.