At some point in their lives, three out of four people will have problems with their backs. The commonest triggers are lifting a heavy weight (pregnancy, carrying a washing machine up a flight of stairs), a sudden jerky movement (a sneeze, throwing a punch), or just regularly resisting the pull of gravity (standing all day, sitting over a word processor). Once the initial damage is done, almost anything including stress can make the muscles seize up and bring on the agony.
Fortunately, the back is not only the easiest part of the body to massage, being such a large, smooth area, but it also responds instantly to being rubbed the right way. Remember that the spine carries nerve fibers that affect the entire body and so the pleasure of a back massage spreads from top to toe. The back also has more muscles than any other part of the body and does most of the work of keeping us upright throughout our waking hours. So it needs all the help it can get.
When using massage to relieve any kind of back pain, feel your way slowly, be gentle and use light, rhythmic strokes. Always consult your doctor before having back massage if you have had surgery or are currently undergoing treatment for any kind of back complaint.
How To Massage The Back
The best position for having a back massage is lying face down. It is important that the person being massaged is comfortable, so he should lie on a well-padded floor or firm mattress. Place a rolled towel or small pillow under the upper chest and neck so that the head can relax in the face-down position and not twist to one side, which can cause strain. Cover any areas not being worked on with towels to keep them warm. Make sure the massage oil is handy before beginning. Here are two back massages shown step-by-step: the first concentrates on the lower back, the second on the upper back. However, the two combine quite naturally for an all-over therapeutic and relaxing routine.
Massage For Lower Back Pain
- Remember that all strokes should be slow, light, gentle and rhythmic, with lots of repetitions. Stand or kneel at the top of the thigh throughout. Start with your palms down on either side of the base of the spine (the tailbone or sacrum) about 5 cm (2 inches) away from the spine. Gently slide your hands up to the waist, fan them out to each side and pull down the sides of the torso, then back across the buttocks to the start position. Keep repeating the stroke without pausing. The upward movement is light, but the out and downward may be firmer.
- Next, place palms down, with one hand on top of the other. Make slow, gentle circles all over the buttocks and lower back muscles from waist to tail bone. Keep your fingers flat, but relaxed, so that the light pressure comes from the heel and palm of the hand as you make circles, rather than from the fingers. Do not massage directly over the spine at any time – keep the circle movements on either side of the vertebrae all around the lower back. This stroke should be gentle and continuous so that it is warming and relaxing.
- Now do a gentle, light-pressure thumbing stroke. Place each thumb on either side of the spine about 5 cm (2 inches) away from it. Make small circles, with the thumbs working together so that one makes clockwise circles while the other moves anti-clockwise. Gradually move from the base of the tailbone up to the waist, keeping your thumbs to the side of the spine, never directly on it. Repeat the stroke, working further out towards the hips each time. Keep the stroke light, but it can be firmer over areas of knotted muscle as long as they are not tender or sore.
- Stand or kneel at one side and, reaching across the lower back, tuck the fingers of one hand, palm down, under the top of the thigh. Using firm fingers, pull the flesh back up towards the spine. As the first hand pulls upwards, tuck the other hand into the start position and repeat the movement, so one hand follows the other in a smooth, stroking motion. Make sure the firm upwards pull lasts the length of the stroke from the side of the torso into the middle of the back. Work up both sides from hip to waist.
- Place the first two fingers of one hand stiffly 5 cm (2 inches) apart on either side of the spine at the nape of the neck. Run them gently, slowly, with an even pressure, from the neck down to the tailbone. Repeat several times. Finish off by repeating step 1 again, or any of the steps that were particularly soothing to the back ache. If any of the strokes causes discomfort, stop immediately -this massage is for pleasure, not pain.
Massage For Upper Back Pain
- Remember that all strokes should be slow, light, gentle and rhythmic, with lots of repetitions. Stand or kneel at the side throughout. Start with your palms down on either side of the lower spine about 5 cm (2 inches) away from it. Gently slide your hands up over the waist to the shoulders, fan them out to each side and pull down the sides of the torso across the hips to the start position. Keep repeating the stroke without pausing. The upward movement is light, but the out and downward may be firmer to stretch and pull flesh.
- Using your thumb and fingers in a light pinching movement and working with both hands together, knead the soft tissue from the waist all up the back, paying particular attention to any tight or knotty areas around the tops of the shoulders. Do not knead on any bony parts, avoid the spine and do not pinch in too deeply if it causes discomfort – a light, plucking movement is just as relaxing on tender muscles as firmer pressure. Keep kneading rhythmically for several minutes as this will help warm and relax any tense, tight places.
- To release tension in the shoulders and relax the upper back, bend the arm of the person being massaged at the elbow and place the hand, palm up, on the lower back – this will make the shoulder bone jut out so that you can massage the muscles underneath it. Rest the elbow on your knee, so that it does not flop down, and bend over to knead, using thumbs only, under and around the projecting shoulder blade. Knead using deep, flicking, rhythmic thumb movements, followed by small thumb circles and finish with long, slow strokes the length of the shoulder blade using the sides of the thumbs.
- Concentrate on the muscles that run across the top of the shoulders. Place your hands, palms down, on either side of the neck so that the fingers curve over the top of the shoulders and rest on the collar bone. Pull the flesh firmly back, one hand after the other in a rhythmic stroke, keeping your fingers stiff and using an inward pressure to pull and stretch the muscles. It should be a continuous, flowing movement. Then use both hands to squeeze and knead each shoulder muscle from the arm across to the neck on each side.
- To loosen the back, hold the top of each arm and gently pull the shoulders back until they are slightly raised. Hold for a count of ten, then lower and repeat. Next, place relaxed hands, palms down, over the spine in the middle of the back. Glide hands apart diagonally, so one goes to the hip and the other to the opposite shoulder. Do not press down, but pull crosswise to stretch the skin and muscles. Hold for a count of ten, then repeat on the other side. If any of the steps or strokes in this massage cause discomfort, stop immediately.