How to Massage Another Person's Back
One of the best gifts you can give another person is a massage. Most people love having their back worked on, and they may even fall asleep while you’re rubbing the tension away.
Usually, the person you’re working on will be fully clothed and sitting in front of you.
How to Start a Massage
Before you start to work on those tough knots, you need to get a feel for the trouble spots in the person’s back, and they need to get used to your touch.
When I work on a friend or family member, I start out by pressing my palms methodically down their back, on either side of their spine. I find it easier to walk my hands down their back, altering the pressure between left and right. However, some find it easier to apply pressure to both sides at the same time and work their way down like that.
This technique is also great for warming the muscles along the shoulders, too. When working on the upper edge of the traps, apply pressure with your forearms. Using your palms works well for the muscle covering the shoulder blades and on either side of the spine, too.
Never put pressure on bones, like the spine or ridge of the shoulder blades. When that happens, it causes pain without the benefit of relaxing muscles.
Once you’ve worked the entirety of the back a few times, you should both be ready for more intense work.
Relieve the Stiff Neck
The order in which you work the parts of the back doesn’t really matter, so long as both sides are worked evenly and the person feels balanced afterwards. Some people like working on the upper back and shoulders, then the lower back, and finishing with the neck.
There’s really no “best” way to do all massages, though. Generally, it’s best to concentrate on problem areas to relieve whatever pain they may be in. However, in the case of simple relaxation massages, I prefer the top-to-bottom approach.
Since relatively small muscles are responsible for holding the entire weight of the head, the neck can get pretty sore. Those who work on computers, knit, sew, crochet, or do anything that requires the head to be bowed for extended periods of time benefit greatly from this approach.
As you’re working, the individual should relax their neck. They can either rest their forehead on their folded arms, or you can hold their head with one hand, and knead with the other.
Take care not to be too rough in this area, since nerves are closer to the surface than in the rest of the back.
A particularly nice spot to work on is the base of the skull, where the muscles connect to bone.
One great method is to rub small circles along lower ridge where the head meets the neck with your fingers or thumbs. By easing tension out of the tendons, you’re relaxing the entire muscle.
This is also a great way to get rid of headaches.
Work on Upper Back Pains
The shoulders and upper back are responsible for the majority of a person’s upper body strength.
Under the larger muscles which support the arms lie smaller muscles which assist with breathing. When someone has a pulled or strained muscle anywhere in their upper back or ribs, something as simple as taking a deep breath can be painful.
Because the upper back does so much work, there’s always a lot to do in the area. People who do manual labor, climbing or carry children around will appreciate work on this part of the back the most.
It’s easiest to knead the muscle running from the neck to the ends of the shoulders, which is the topmost ridge of the trapezius. When you shrug, this is the muscle that does all the work.
Although the area may be the easiest to get at, take care not to over work it. Be sure to communicate with the person you’re working on, as it is possible to prompt headaches or nausea when massaging there.
I experienced that personally when I was in massage school. I had to ask the person working on me to stop because the feeling was so intense. The sensation stopped as soon as they moved on to a different area, but I still ended up with a bit of a headache by the end of the day.
When you stumble across big knots in the upper back, don’t try to get them out with only your fingers. For one thing, you won’t be able to get deep enough pressure to take care of the problem, and for another, you run the risk of hurting yourself.
Instead, start by rubbing the area in a circular motion with the heel of your hand and leaning your weight into their back. If this doesn’t do the trick, do the same thing with your knuckles, taking care to keep your wrist straight. If you still need to add pressure, move on to using your forearms. If the knot still doesn’t loosen, and they can tolerate the pressure, use your elbow.
When using your elbow, always start with your arm bent at about a 45-degree angle. As you bend your arm, you exert more force on the person’s back. Most knots break up within a minute or two of being worked on.
Once you feel the tension melt away, do a little lighter kneading or mild rubbing to encourage better circulation and minimize later soreness.
Ease a Sore Lower Back
As you’re working your way down the back, you might come across some unexpectedly ticklish spots. The ribs are classic spots, but I’ve also massaged some people with ticklish spots right in the middle of the back.
The tickle sensation is actually a form of pain which indicates muscle tension. Often, applying more pressure will bypass the problem. If that doesn’t do the trick, or the person requests you to, just move on to the next area. You can always try again later.
The best place to work in the lower back area is along the hips. Runners, walkers and people who are on their feet for a good portion of the day often carry a lot of tension there. This is because there are a lot of muscle connections right along the back ridge of the pelvis.
As you work your way down the spine, just after the lower curve, you should be able to feel the bones of the pelvic cradle. When you move your fingers away from the spine, you should feel two protrusions.
Massage just under these round knobs with fingertips or knuckles to address the tension brought on by standing for long periods of time. You can do the same thing with the connections along the upper ridge, as well.
Again, avoid putting pressure directly on the bone.
How to End a Massage
Once you’ve finished the deep work, you can again use the palm compressions you used before. Then, do some sort of percussion, like quickly striking the upper back with loose fists, or the edge of your hands.
Never do this percussion over the kidney area. It’s best to do this on the upper back, since it stimulates those muscles and can help break up any blockages in the lungs. Don’t be worried if the person you’re working on coughs a bit from this.
The final step in the massage is to lightly sweep your hands over the back and shoulders a few times to signal you’re done.
Although giving a great massage is fulfilling and will give you an all-around great feeling, you still need to take care of yourself. Here are a few ways to make sure you can keep on giving those massages without burning out.
- Body Mechanics
As you’re working, pay attention to the position of your body and how you’re using it. Instead of only using the strength in your fingers and arms, lean into the person with your body weight, and use knuckles, forearms and elbows whenever you’re applying deep pressure.
Remember, water’s just as important for you as it is the one you’re working on. Giving a massage can be a work out, and you need to stay hydrated.
Once you finish the massage, run your hands and forearms under cold water. This will get rid of any inflammation caused by the stress put on them.
There are many other techniques you can use, and don’t be afraid to research them. Often, however, simple is the best way to go. Another perk to using simple techniques is that they’re easy to teach to others around you, so you can be on the receiving end of massages, too!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.