As a registered nurse, I know how valuable massage therapy is in alleviating a patient’s pain. However, that’s not the only reason why I’ve taught myself massage techniques, specifically how to give a back massage.
For the record, it’s my mother’s constant complain about her back that has compelled me to know more about massage. Turns out, I’m not the only one who thinks massage is more powerful than most people give it credit for.
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 400 participants suffering from moderate-to-severe back pain were given either massage or usual care (which includes over-the-counter pain medications, injections, etc.)
Ten weeks later, up to 39% of the massage group reported that their pain was completely gone, compared to only 4% of the group who received traditional treatment.
Massage may not be the miracle cure for back pain (experts agree exercise remains a better alternative), but that doesn’t stop both doctors and patients from singing its praises.
In fact, in July of 2014 alone, as much as 54 million Americans discussed massage therapy with their health care providers. And from this number, 71% of doctors actually referred their patients to a massage therapist.
How To Give Massage For Back Pain – A Step-By-Step Guide
A good massage therapist can determine the best massage technique for you, depending on your health status and medical history. However, anyone can provide basic massage with the right tools, knowledge and experience.
This article is a step-by-step guide on how to give massage for back pain. We based it on information provided by certified massage therapists.
Now you can pamper your loved ones with a massage they’ll never forget.
Step 1: Check with the doctor if the person is allowed to receive massage therapy.
There are some conditions that make a person unfit to receive back massage.
Contraindications for massage therapy include recent surgery, fractured ribs, spinal injuries (such as herniated disk), a bleeding disorder, osteoporosis, cancer, fever, deep vein thrombosis, open wounds, pregnancy and heart problems, among others.
Consult with the doctor first to ensure massage won’t compromise your health or the person you’re giving massage to. Again, the instructions here aim to teach you basic back massage. If the pain is caused by a strain or an underlying cause related to the spinal column, I suggest that you go see your health care provider as soon as possible.
Step 2: Prepare the materials/equipment needed for the back massage.
Massage table is recommended to avoid possible injury or discomfort both on the therapist and the person receiving the massage. It also allows easier access to different areas of the back.
If massage table isn’t available, you can also use the couch, bed or even those with hard surfaces like the floor or kitchen table, provided that you lay down at least a 2-inch thick mat above them.
As for the massage oil, avoid using those that are too greasy, evaporate easily and with very strong fragrances. Recommended oils include grape seed, jojoba, almond, coconut, olive and blended oils.
You can also use lotion, although it gets absorbed by the skin faster so it may not provide adequate lubrication. Cold lotion also causes discomfort so make sure to warm it before applying on the skin. You can do this either by putting it between your palms or immersing the bottle/container in a basin of warm water.
Step 3: Set up the massage area.
Since the target area is the back, ask the person to undress his or her upper body. The pants may also be loosened a little bit to allow more access to the lower back. Once this is done, ask the person to lie face down on the table or bed where a sheet had been spread to catch excess oil.
Help the person feel more comfortable by putting a pillow under the breastbone. You can then put a roll of towel under the forehead (to keep the neck straight) while the second towel under the ankle to support the lower back.
Finally, spread the last towel over the legs with the upper part tucked into the pants to protect them from oil.
Step 4: Perform hand washing.
Although this a standard procedure in hospitals I’ve worked for, you can also do the same at home or wherever you’ll do the massage. After all, skin-to-skin contact is the easiest way to spread diseases.
Ideally, you should do this right before you set up the massage table (Step 3) and again before you proceed with the massage (Step 5).
Step 5: Spread warm oil across the back.
When spreading the oil, you can use long, gliding strokes without too much pressure called “effleurage.” Using the whole of your hands, start from the bottom of the back, applying light pressure as you move upward (towards the direction of the heart) before sliding down again. Do this for 3 to 5 minutes, gradually increasing the pressure to stimulate the back muscles.
Alternatively, you can also do what massage therapists call a “figure eight” motion which likewise ensures the oil gets spread evenly across the person’s back. As the name suggests, it involves moving your hands–with one above the other–across the back to form a “figure eight” while being careful not to put pressure on the spine or the shoulder blades.
TIP: To conserve energy and avoid muscle strain, use your body weight when applying pressure and let your body move with your hand motion.
Step 6: Palm circles.
Keep your arms extended as you gradually move your hands up the back and down again. Repeat this 2 to 3 times, making sure the movement comes from your waist instead of the shoulders so you won’t get tired too quickly.
Step 7: Petrissage stroke/Muscle lifting.
Turn both of your hands into a “lobster claw” shape by closing your fingers and opening the thumb. Through this, you can easily lift and squeeze the muscle before releasing it. Do this alternately using both hands, creating a “windshield wiper” like motion as you move towards the upper back and down again. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Step 8: Knuckling.
With your arms extended and movements coming from your waist, start making gliding movements using your knuckles from the lower back upwards to the shoulder and down again. Avoid hitting the spine and the shoulder blades.
Repeat the movement for 2 to 3 times, with the last one followed by muscle lifting on the shoulder muscles, where the most tension is usually felt. You can increase or decrease the pressure, depending on the person’s preference.
Continue massaging the shoulders as you move to the other side of the back. Repeat the same strokes on the other side, starting from palm circles and ending with knuckling.
Step 9: Thumb strokes.
Using your extended thumb, slowly make upward strokes between the backbone and shoulder blades. Make the massage rhythmic by gliding your thumb as the other one slides off. Do the same thing on the other side of the back.
Once they reach the top of the hips, allow the thumbs to remain there for a while with steady pressure before returning to the top. Repeat this 2 to 3 times, each time moving a bit farther from the spine.
Step 10: Twists.
Step 11: Give a finishing touch.
Begin with the fingertips of one hand, slowly lifting them off once they touch the top of the hips, as the other hand do the same on the other side of the back. Repeat this several times while being careful not to scratch the skin with your fingernails.
As a final touch, place your one hand at the base of the skull, while the other hand on the sacrum. This may help stretch your spine a little bit and align it properly. Remain for 1 minute before slowly lifting your hands away.
Also Read: How To Give A Foot Massage
Watch the full video here:
Expert Techniques From A Massage Therapy Instructor. (2015). Carrington College Official Website. Retrieved 6 December 2016, from https://goo.gl/1AJxGc
Goodman, B. (2011). Study: Massage Helps Treat Low Back Pain. WebMD. Retrieved 6 December 2016, from https://goo.gl/HP2NH1
Lynn, P. (2010). Taylor’s Handbook of Clinical Nursing Skills (1st ed., pp. 27-28). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Moore, L. (2015). Treating Low Back Pain with Massage Therapy. Hospital for Special Surgery. Retrieved 6 December 2016, from https://goo.gl/cZ2Dho