Massage is a great way to bond, relax, and soothe.  Evidence supports that it’s an effective way to release oxytocin, the “love drug” in both the massage giver and receiver.  Emotionally this leads to greater feelings of reconciliation, cooperation, and acceptance.  If you get the chance to give a massage to a loved one, take advantage because many of the physiological benefits will come to both of you.

Professional massage therapist Sharrel Paul gave us some tips on how to make a back massage effective and enjoyable.  She offers her expert advice on ideal environments and supplies, basic technique, and general precautions.   She iterates the point that, “most all humans have knots and tension, just not everyone knows they should get massages. Everyone should. Even people without tension. It’s a good for general health and for boosting the immune system.”

The following tips are from an interview with Paul about giving and receiving back massages.

Getting Started

  • Check medical history- make sure there are no open cuts, injuries, recent scars, etc.  No one with severe pain or who can’t move should receive amateur massage. If there is a medical issue in question, better to check with a doctor for clearance first.
  • Find a firm, flat surface- most people don’t have professional massage tables, but a mat, pad or thick blanket on the floor should do the trick.  Mattresses and couches are often too cushy.
  • Get comfortable- Make sure the person you’re about to massage is comfortable. Paul says, “It’s all about their comfort.  When laying on the stomach, usually a pillow under the ankles will align the spine better. But not everyone likes one.”
  • Break out the oil- light use of oil will do wonders for your massage.  Lotion gets absorbed in the skin and has to be reapplied frequently.  The deeper the massage, the lighter the use of oil. “I like Biotone brand,” Paul says, “Natural brands without additives like parabens and propyls are best.  Also make sure the person isn’t allergic to scents or specific oil ingredients.”
    She says nut allergies are the most common so to try to stick to non-nut based oils; avacado and olive oil are okay and are in many newer brands.

How to touch

  •  Apply oil with light touch to get him or her accustomed to your touch.
  • Work your way around the back applying pressure with thumbs, fingers, fists, forearms and elbows (in that order).  This list goes in order from lightest to heaviest amount of pressure.
  • Maintain a smooth flow and continuous contact with the person throughout.
  • Stay in one area of back using, and then move on to another area. If at any point there’s a knot or tight spot you “sit” on it with a hard touch for a few seconds and then go back to it later.
  • Pay special attention to muscles along the spine, between the shoulder blades, and tops of shoulders/neck. They are most apt to house tension.

Helpful hints for relaxation

  • Aromatherapy and relaxing music help both of you relax, making the massage more effective.
  • Deep breathing for both of you also aids relaxation.

One trick of the trade

  • When the person’s arms are down by their sides, massage the forearm using long strokes with your thumb. “People usually like that one.”

Paul also gave a few tips on how to receive a massage.  She says feedback is crucial.  Saying what feels good or painful both at the beginning of a massage and during it helps your masseuse know what pressure and touch is right for you.  Encourage lots of communication from whoever you are massaging.