Back MassageMassage is thought to be the oldest form of medical therapy practiced on the human body. The different types of massage and the various techniques that encompass them stem from our most celebrated civilizations and their traditional beliefs ancient Greek and Rome, ancient India and China.

Dating as far back as 2,700 B.C., ancient Eastern Chinese cultures practiced massage to heal a variety of ailments from labor pain to paralysis. Ancient Egyptian tombs have been discovered adorned with images of figures being massaged. In addition, according to traditional Indian medicine, a system known as Ayurveda, therapeutic massage was performed using a variety of aromatherapy oils and spices for their healing properties. Even Greek and Roman heroes - such as the great Julius Caesar - underwent daily massages to treat nerve pain.

Aromatherapy massage is a very effective form of treatment where the back pain is due to muscular fatigue, spasm or tension, and there are a large number of essential oils that will help both to reduce pain in the short term and treat the muscular problem in the longer term. Lavender, Marjoram and Rosemary are the most often used, sometimes with an oil from one of the warming spices, such as Black Pepper or Ginger where there is acute pain. See our recipes section for more information.

The following back massage techniques are easy to follow and implement at home, but we cannot stress strongly enough that if  the back pain (upper or lower) is related to any of the following, then you must refer the sufferer to a qualified medical specialist.

  • Younger than 20 or older than 55 and getting back pain for the first time.
  • Pain after a violent injury, e.g. road traffic accident.
  • Pain is constant and getting worse.
  • Pain is in the upper part of the spine.
  • Cancer in the past or at present.
  • Taking (Cortico)steroids.
  • Drug abuser, or HIV infected.
  • Generally unwell or feverish.
  • Significant weight loss.
  • Continue to have great difficulty bending forwards.
  • Nerve related problems other than pain: loss of sensation (especially of the area that would sit on a saddle - so called saddle anaesthesia), loss of power, urinary or bowel incontinence.
  • Obvious structural deformity of your spine.
  • Debilitating pain that is not reducing after 4 -6 weeks.

What you will need:

  1. A warm, quiet, relaxed environment.
  2. Firm comfortable surface such as a (firm) bed, massage table or floor mat.
  3. Massage Oil. Remember to make your blend beforehand.
  4. Towels: to lie on, and also to cover the body.
  5. Cushions or pillows.

Massasge TechniquesMassage oil decreases the friction created on the skin and prevents the pulling of hairs. Don't use too much: The less oil, the greater the friction and the deeper the pressure. Use slower movements for a soothing or calming response. When applying pressure with finger or thumb, provide support with the other fingers and thumbs; otherwise your fingers and thumbs will tire very quickly.

If the patient is uncomfortable in the lower back, ankles, neck or shoulders, place cushions as required under the whole length of the torso, and/or under the ankles, the shoulders, or the side of the head  Cover any parts of the body not being worked on with a warm towel. Pour the massage oil onto your hands first to warm it, and then apply. Once the massage is started, keep a hand on the person at all times, so that there are no surprises. Avoid direct pressure on bony processes. Avoid broken skin, blisters or areas of possible infection.

Ask the patient for feedback: Are you warm enough? Are you comfortable? How does that feel? This is very important to ensure that the patient is totally relaxed, which will enhance the effects of the massage.

Do not use the massage techniques in this article during pregnancy they are not gentle enough.

Lie the patient on their belly on a firm, comfortable surface. Make sure you can reach their whole back without straining your own.

Back Massage Technique 1: Whole Hand Effleurage

Back MassageWarm the massage oil in your hands, and apply a modest amount with whole hand "effleurage" (definition - smooth rhythmic stroking): Use the whole surface of both hands. Stroke reasonably firmly upwards from the lower back all the way up to the neck, then (gentler pressure), circle around and then back down to the lower back region. The massage should last for 5 to 10 minutes.

Back Massage Technique 2: Effleurage using Heel of the Hand

This has a smaller area of contact, so the pressure is deeper. Both hands work in circles - start at the lower back. Move in a circle, first outward, then upward and return to the center. Gradually progress to the upper back. The massage should last for 5 minutes.

Back Massage Technique 3: Effleurage using reinforced Fingers

Back MassageAgain this is a smaller area of contact, so deeper penetration. Stand on the opposite side to the one that you are working on. Sstand on the right side first. Push with the flats of your fingers (one hand on top of the other) away from the center line, then glide back toward the spine. Start at the lower back, and work up to the upper back. The massage should last for 5 minutes.

Back Massage Technique 4: Stripping, using the Reinforced Thumb

Glide with deep sustained pressure up the full length of the "sausage shaped" muscles either side of the spine. Back off the pressure a little as you cover the neck. Move slowly and deliberately, feeling for knots or sensitive spots as you glide from lower to upper back. Three times each side; alternate with a couple of minutes of effleurage (techniques one to three above), and repeat the stripping.

Back Massage Technique 5: Frictions, using the Reinforced Middle Finger:

Place your fore and middle fingers together and make firm deep movements either side of each spinous process. Start to the side of the lower spine and move upward. Apply 5 frictions at each spot - more if over a sore spot.

Back Massage Technique 6: "Effleurage" using Forearms

Place your forearms on the patients back. Apply firm downwards pressure, and move the arm closest to the head up to just below the shoulder blades. Do this for 6 strokes. For the first stroke, be aware of the possibility of lower back pain.

Back Massage TechniquesBack Massage Technique 7: Trigger point release using sustained pressure of the reinforced thumb.

Let the patient's pain be your guide. Place your thumb over any tender spots or knots that your patient may have told you about or that you may have felt, and press firmly and with increasing pressure thus: Gradually increase the pressure until the pain is 6 or 7 on a scale of one to ten. Hold that pressure until the pain lowers to about 4/10 (takes about 5 seconds). Immediately (don't stop the pressure), increase again until the pain is 6 to 7 on the scale of 10, and again hold until the pain subsides to 4/10. Repeat step two.

This is painful, but you can't do much harm to the patient - quite the reverse: muscle and back pain (upper or lower)may miraculously disappear. Your thumb is more likely to suffer, so make sure that you back it up with the fingers of the other hand, and after each trigger point release, give your thumb a bit of massage too.

Back Massage Technique 8: Finishing with Effleurage

Back MassageApply effleurage (stroking moves) with supported fingers (technique 3 above), then effleurage with the heel of the hand (technique 2 above), then full handed effleurage (technique 1 above). This will enhance the good that you have done with the stripping and trigger point release. Then leave the patient to relax for a few minutes.

For the five days after the massage, encourage the patient not to sit, stand still or run, for longer than half an hour at a time; but rather to take a short walking break, and to sip water frequently.

The benefits of regular home massage are: relaxation, releasing of tight muscles, emotional comfort and stress management, increased body awareness, improved circulation, and improved lymphatic drainage for release of toxins.

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