During our lifetimes, 80% of us will suffer from some kind of back problem, whether it’s to our upper or lower back. However, by using a few simple massage techniques, you can elevate this pain so you can carry on with your day-to-day activities.
We’ve put together a handy step-by-step guide on massage techniques for the lower and upper back. This can help you realign and loosen tight muscles, relieving your discomfort and back pain.
Note: If you are receiving medical attention for your back problem, you might want to consult your doctor first before carrying out these massages – just to make sure they won’t interfere with your current treatment program.
Massage Techniques for Lower-Back Pain
Before you start to move your hands over the person’s back, make sure you’ve rubbed them with a lotion or oil to prevent any friction. Alternatively, you can squirt oil directly onto their back to sufficiently lubricate the skin.
Now you need to warm up the lower back, which involves applying light strokes to the area. This technique is called effleurage and can be carried out by gently rubbing the oil into their skin using your fingers. Do this for approximately five minutes so the recipient becomes used to your touch and is ready for more vigorous techniques.
Starting with light strokes, position your hands at the base of the person’s spine (the tailbone) before pushing them up their lower back. Because this is the direction their blood flows in, it helps improve circulation. Then, bring your hands back to the bottom by gently moving them down the person’s sides.
As you progress, increase the pressure you’re placing in these motions so it becomes a stronger rubbing sensation.
Now the back is thoroughly warmed up, you can start to do some circular kneading techniques. Apply slight pressure with your fingers and palms, using these to get rid of any toxins and break up knots that have gathered in their muscles. This technique is called petrissage, and can be alternated with the lighter strokes you were using at the start. Do this for 3 minutes before you start putting more pressure into your strokes.
At the top of the buttocks, start to press your thumbs into the area, increasing the pressure you’re applying. Start in the center before using circular motions as you move to either side of the person’s body, then repeat this motion as you return to the center of their back.
To finish, position your thumbs in the center of the lowest part of the participant’s back before splaying out your fingers to either side. Push down and start to slide your thumbs up the center of their back, maintaining the pressure as you do. Then, gently run your fingers back around their sides before repeating the maneuver five to 10 times.
At the end, it’s important to use more effleurage techniques to cool the muscles back down.
Massage Techniques for Upper-Back Pain
As above, you will need to start by lubricating your hands and/or the person’s skin before using effleurage to warm the area.
Use these light stroking techniques to prepare the upper back for the rest of your massage, remembering to start at the bottom and work your way up (in the direction of the blood flow). Move your hands up the center of their back before bringing them back around their sides to the middle of the spine.
Petrissage is also used on the upper back, with these circular kneading motions targeting the shoulders and upper-back area. Do this for up to 5 minutes, covering as much of the person’s upper back as possible.
Using your thumb, start applying circular frictions to the targeted area. If you wish to apply a deeper massage, use one thumb at a time on either side of their back.
Now you need to target the participant’s shoulder blade. Start by moving one of the person’s hands onto their lower back. This will raise the shoulder slightly.
Put your hand underneath the front of their shoulder so you can pull this upwards. Using the thumb on your other hand, start to apply constant pressure to the area under and around their shoulder blade. Repeat on each shoulder up to 5 times.
Next, move to the muscles that are responsible for moving the shoulder outwards – these are located towards the spine. Begin by applying pressure to the area nearest the spine with your thumb, before moving outwards. Repeat up to 8 times on each side. You can also swap this technique for circular frictions, if you prefer.
Again, using your thumb, start to apply pressure (with circular frictions) to the muscles that run from the middle of the spine to the top of the neck – the upper trapezius muscles. Reinforce what your thumb has done by applying deeper strokes to the same area with your other hand.
Apply circular frictions using the thumb and finger of one of your hands, targeting the area at the back of the person’s neck.
Finish by repeating the petrissage techniques you did at the beginning, before moving to effleurage to cool the muscles down again.
Each of the aforementioned massage techniques (from 4 to 8) can be mixed around or repeated, depending on your preference and the areas that need targeting.