Someone’s touching my back!
The hectic, fly-by-night schedules that college students keep leaves little room to relax and wind down, and we’d all give our right legs to have someone rub our shoulders — even for just a few minutes.
A back massage does more than just relieve stress and increase relaxation. It also helps the body break down and release toxins, increases muscle response and contributes to overall health.
“Massage increases circulation, promotes relaxation and decreases pain and tension. Massage can help manage chronic pain as well as stress from school and life,” said Jennifer Stone-Gerardy, a Boulder College of Massage Therapy student.
However, there is a fine line between giving a deep and invigorating massage and awkwardly prodding someone’s pressure points. In fact, much damage can be caused by blindly poking at nerve endings and the spinal column, so this week’s how-to is all about giving a relaxing, healthy back massage. Not only will you be the most popular person in your circle of friends, but your significant other might appreciate your magic fingers.
Warming up: beginning the massage
Before you begin the massage, have the person you will be working on lie on a flat, comfortable surface. Remember that the power of your strokes should come from your legs with your weight evenly distributed over them.
“Correct posture is very important when massaging someone, especially in the wrists and elbows. You don’t want either to be too flexed when working on someone; otherwise, it will become painful,” Gerardy said.
Beginning a massage is a lot like jumping into water; you don’t want to jump into overly hot or cold water because it will shock your system. Similarly, massage will shock someone’s system if you start to work deeply from the onset.
To warm up the skin, use techniques that are collectively referred to as effleurage. Effleurage, meaning “to glide,” are superficial strokes that employ the hands, fingers and forearms and follow the contours of the body.
The first effleurage stroke that should begin a back massage is the super stroke. Beginning at the top of the person’s back, glide down, one hand on either side of the spine, to the small of the back, pull out and come back up the sides, follow the shoulders and end at the neck. Use enough pressure so you feel the skin dragging underneath your hands and use the whole palm of your hand. This stroke is also a good transition between strokes.
From the super stroke, move into knuckle and forearm glides down the back. These moves are exactly as they sound; push either your knuckle or forearms down either side of the spine using the same pressure from the super stroke.
Transition from the glides into thumb drags. Position each thumb on either side of spine and beginning at the top, push down the back to the end of the spine. You can use a pretty significant amount of pressure during this move, but remember to not push directly on the spine. If you are correctly executing a thumb drag, you will be able to feel the rope-like muscle tissue attached to the sides of the spine.
“The most important thing to remember when massaging someone is to remember to communicate with them to make sure it isn’t painful or uncomfortable for them,” Gerardy said.
Moving deeper: kneading
The back has many sources of tension that lie deeper within muscle tissue beyond superficial layers, so it is important to work those out as well.
Follow the thumb drag with a few superficial effleurage strokes and transition to an open C, closed C maneuver. Using your thumb and forefinger and alternating hand, gather your partner’s skin in the open C, and then release it by closing your hands into the closed C. Try not to pinch the person’s skin or pull it too far off the muscle. This stroke works best on the fleshy areas of the back, such as the sides.
From the open C, closed C you can move onto mashing. Mashing is balling up your hand into a fist and rubbing the top of your knuckles into your partner’s skin. This move works best in thick, muscled areas of the back, such as the shoulder or the gluteus.
A final, good kneading stroke is raking. To rake, grab your partner’s side opposite to you, and with an open, loose hand, pull your hand back towards you and across the skin. Your hand should sink into the skin and give it the appearance of a rake. You can also do this move between your partner’s ribs.
Taoptement: tap, tap, tap
Taoptement, meaning “to strike,” is a good way to wind down a massage and wake up your partner at the end of the session. A word of caution, however: Do not do these moves directly on the spine or near the kidneys.
The classic massage stroke that comes to everyone’s mind is hacking. Using your hands like little chopping knives, firmly, but not too hard, strike your partner’s back with the sides of your hands.
Pincement, apart from being fun to say, is also a very pleasant and stimulating maneuver. Gently grab and release sections of skin in a pinching motion across the back, but remember to not actually pinch your partner.
Finish the massage with a few super strokes to bring about a feeling of conclusion to your partner.
- Remember to not massage someone who is sick or even shows signs of being ill
- Remember to communicate with your partner regarding comfort
- Don’t massage tender, sore or bruised areas of the back
- Don’t massage directly on the spine
- The key to a good massage is continuous motion, so avoid stopping suddenly
- Massages should begin superficially, move to deeper work, and then end superficially
- Don’t be afraid to be creative and try new techniques when massaging. After all, that’s how massage strokes were created