Massage therapy has many benefits and can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It can reduce stress and tension, improve circulation and promote relaxation.
Make sure the massage recipient is comfortable in a safe and relaxing environment. A massage therapist should communicate with the recipient about their preferences.
Getting a professional massage is a great way to ease pain and relieve stress. But for most people, weekly visits to the spa are not realistic. That’s why learning a few self-massage techniques is an important part of maintaining good health.
Whether you have a muscle-release tool like the Theragun ($399, Theragun), a foam roller or just your hands, it is easy to incorporate massage into your routine. Self-massage can improve blood circulation, work out kinks and knots, ease headaches and tension, eliminate fluid retention and boost endorphin levels.
To self-massage, first use light strokes of effleurage to warm up the muscles and loosen them. Then apply small kneading strokes or circular motions, depending on the type of pain you are trying to ease. In some cases, you may need to apply pressure that is quite strong, but it should not be painful. If it is, you could be dealing with trigger points. Trigger points are knots that communicate with the nerves and cause pain in other areas. This is called “referred pain.” Knowing how to massage trigger points can help alleviate the discomfort they cause.
Self-Massage the Neck
Neck pain is very common and can be debilitating. Neck massages have been shown to help relieve this pain and increase range of motion (2). This can be especially helpful if the neck pain is caused by tight muscles, a sprain or strain in the muscles of the back of the neck, or nerve pain from pressure on a swollen muscle.
A neck massage can also help reduce headache pain, particularly when it is caused by tension or stress (3). Many times, this tension is caused by trigger points (4). Trigger points are areas of dense muscle fibers that can develop over time in different parts of the body, often due to prolonged or repetitive motions. Neck pain from these muscle knots can lead to limited range of motion, pain and stress (5).
To give yourself a neck massage, first start by warming up the muscles of the neck. You can do this by lowering your shoulders to your ears and straightening the neck and back. Then, locate the base of your skull and find the indentation where the muscles meet the bone. Place the pointer and middle fingers of each hand in the center, fingertips touching, and apply slight pressure. Slide your thumbs outward or downward in the direction that feels best. Repeat this for three to five minutes.
Self-Massage the Back
To self-massage the back, start with effleurage (long, gentle strokes), then move on to petrissage (a technique that involves kneading). Remember, though, that back pain is often caused by more serious problems like muscle strains or nerve irritation, so if you have these types of issues, you’re best off seeing a doctor for treatment.
To massage the lower back, lie down on the floor or in a chair with your feet planted on the ground. Use your thumbs to press down on the lower back, moving up and down. You can also add pressure to tense areas by placing tennis balls under your back, just be sure not to hit the spine.
Avoid massaging the back if you have a bad cold, as it could spread pathogens throughout your lymph nodes, which slows the body’s ability to fight them off, Kristy Zadrozny, a registered massage therapist in New York City, previously told Shape magazine. Also, you shouldn’t exercise right after a back massage, since that can tense muscles that were just worked on.
Self-Massage the Arms
When you’re working out hard (or just going through the motions of daily life) your arms and hands can get very tight and knotted up. And if your muscles don’t recover well, you may experience a drop in performance or even some pretty intense pain. The good news is that you can help your arm and hand pain with some simple self-massage techniques.
Start by gently squeezing the meaty areas of your forearm, first on the inside and then on the outside of your arm. Then move your thumb up and down the length of your forearm – squeezing, kneading, stretching, twisting, and moving your fingers to explore the muscles.
You can also massage the wrist flexors and extensors (the muscles that help you hold your arm up) along with the tendons of the elbow. Many of these muscles attach to your hand and fingers, so massaging them can help relieve a number of conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow. Like any other healthy habit, the best results come from regular self-massage and when it’s part of your wellness routine.
Self-Massage the Legs
A leg massage is a great way to stimulate the muscles and veins of your legs, and improve blood circulation. The healthier your blood circulation is, the less work your heart has to do to get the oxygenated blood around the body.
To self-massage your legs, start with a light pressure and then increase to a firmer one as you stroke each muscle of the leg from the foot to the hip. Use the thumb and knuckles of your hand to apply more pressure in tight spots or knots.
If you are giving a leg massage to someone else, be sure to communicate with them before you begin. Tell them how much pressure they prefer, and what areas of the leg to focus on. A tennis ball and a foam roller are good tools to help with leg massages. You can use the roller to massage your lower leg while seated or standing, or you can massage the entire leg while lying down on a bed. Both of these devices will also knead the muscle and can reduce swelling.
Self-Massage the Hands
Our hands are overworked and prone to stress, which can lead to painful conditions like carpal tunnel, tendonitis, trigger finger and more. Regularly massaging the hands can help alleviate some of this tension and relieve pain and stiffness.
Begin by rubbing the thumb of one hand in wide circles over the palm. Then move on to the fingers and apply moderate pressure by squeezing and wriggling each finger, starting at the first knuckle and moving to the fingertips.
Be sure to gently work out any knots in the muscles, avoiding areas that are sore or painful, as massage can sometimes actually exacerbate these issues. However, if you have an acute injury, consult with your doctor before massaging the area to make sure that it’s OK.
For more hands-on self-massage, try including some ball rolling moves throughout the day to playfully counteract repetitive motions and poor posture habits that can contribute to pain and stiffness. For example, a person who spends long hours typing may benefit from using ball rolling techniques to ease some of the pain and stiffness associated with their work.
Self-Massage the Head
Many people struggle with headaches and migraines, which are often caused by stress and tension in the head and face. There are several easy daily rituals inspired by Indian Head Massage that can help relieve that tension and bring some much-needed relaxation to the head and neck.
To start, lower your shoulders away from your ears and straighten your neck. Then, using light pressure and your fingertips, massage the base of your skull, moving in small circles for about 5 minutes. Move on to the forehead, squeezing and massaging gently. Finally, rub your ear lobes. Though it may seem odd, a gentle pull and rub of the ears can feel great and help to release any pent up emotions.
Whether you’re giving yourself a head massage or providing a loved one with a neck, arm or foot massage, it’s important to communicate and listen to the recipient. They’ll tell you if the massage feels too light or too hard, and they’ll provide feedback as to which areas are the most effective.
Self-Massage the Feet
A long day at work or at school can leave your feet tired. Anatomically, the foot has 42 muscles, 26 bones, 33 joints, 250000 sweat glands, and over 1500 nerve endings. Foot massage can help to relieve tightness and tension from the feet.
Massage can be a great way to relieve foot pain and prevent it from reoccurring, especially for people who stand or walk for most of the day. Massage can also be used to treat foot conditions like plantar fasciitis.
Performing daily self foot massage can be beneficial to keep your feet healthy and prevent problems such as blisters or calluses from developing. This can be done by rubbing lotion or oil on your feet and kneading them with your fingers. It is also helpful to stretch your feet. For example, try gently pulling each toe back towards your heel and then releasing it. It is important to perform this daily. Self-massage can be a great way to relieve stress in between massage sessions and help you stay relaxed.