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How to Give a Back Massage

How to Give a Back Massage

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

A good back massage can relieve pain, anxiety, and stress, as well as increase physical intimacy, if desired. The following techniques will help you learn how to give a good back massage. Finding a volunteer to practice on shouldn't be too hard!


Setting Up
  1. Place a pillow or cushion where the person's chest will be.
  2. Spread the sheet over to catch any excess oil.
  3. Have the person prepare by loosening or removing their pants (so that the lower back can be reached) and taking off their top. If privacy is a concern, step out of the room and have them wrap a towel around their chest (just underneath the arms) so that the ends are at the back.
  4. Have them lie face down, with the pillow underneath the breast bone.
  5. Fold one of the towels and place it underneath the forehead to keep the person's neck straight.
  6. Fold one of the towels and place it underneath the ankles to support the person's lower back.
  7. If the person is wearing a towel around their chest, unfold the ends to expose the back.
  8. If the person is wearing pants, spread another towel over them and tuck the towel into the waistline to prevent the oil from staining them.

The Massage
  1. Tell the person you are about to begin, and to let you know if anything you are doing is painful or uncomfortable.
  2. Place massage oil in a cupped hand, and warm it by rubbing it between your hands.
  3. Spread the oil around the person's back with light strokes. Don't forget the shoulders and neck area.
  4. Palm circles. Place one hand on the lower back and put your other hand over it. With arms extended, begin making small circles, going up the back and down again. Staying on one side of the spine, repeat 2-3 times.
    • The movement should come from the waist, rather than from the shoulders.

  5. Muscle lifting. Move up and down the back, 2-3 times. It'll take some practice for this to become a smooth, confident rhythm:
    • Make one hand into a "lobster claw" or "L" shape.
    • Move your hand in the direction of your thumb, applying pressure and gradually closing the gap between your thumb and forefinger.
    • As you finish the stroke, twist the wrist to achieve a lifting motion on the muscle. As you bring your thumb and forefinger together, the outside of your hand (along the little finger) should be running along the back.
    • Keep alternating hands with a windshield wiper type of motion.

  6. Knuckling. Repeat 2-3 times. Do not apply pressure on the lower back, and remember to avoid the spine.
    • Form the hands into loose fists. With your arms straight and your knuckles and fingers in contact with the back, slide up and continue up and over the shoulders.
    • Then lightly drag the knuckles back.

  7. On the last knuckling, instead of coming back down, you can use muscle lifting on the trapezius, which is the muscle that connects the neck to the shoulders. Continue rubbing as you move around the head.
  8. Repeat the palm circles, muscle lifting, and knuckling on the other side of the back.
  9. Stand above the head. Use an extended thumb to make upward strokes between the shoulder blade and the backbone (from the hips, towards the head). As one thumb slides off, the other one begins its stroke upwards.
    • Gradually move over and continue on the other side. Do not do this directly on the spine.

  10. Bring both thumbs to the upper back, on either side of the spine.
    • With constant pressure, slowly begin to slide your thumbs down the back. Remember to be careful over the lower back, where there are no ribs protecting internal organs.
    • When you reach the top of the hips, allow your thumbs to linger there with steady pressure before beginning a new stroke.
    • Slide the hands back up and repeat two more times, each time moving a bit farther to the sides (away from the spine).

  11. Twists. Come back around to the person's side. Reach around the far hip with one hand, while the other hand rests on the near hip. With a fluid motion, pull one hand towards you as the other one pushes away; in the middle, they should slide against each other, in opposite directions. Repeat this stroke up the back until you reach the shoulder area, then come back down. Repeat 3 times.
  12. Spread the fingers of both hands. Draw the fingertips of one hand down the back, lifting off at the top of the hips as the other hand begins at the shoulders. Repeat several times, and slowly allow the pressure to lighten until your hands float off.



  • Make sure the room is warm.

  • Everyone has a different tolerance to pressure. Be sure to ask for feedback when introducing deeper strokes and as necessary. A good sign you may be going too deep is when the muscle contracts as you press. If the client confirms that the stroke isn't painful, encourage them to relax so to avoid injury to the muscle. Never force a stroke on the body.

  • Many massage tables include a cushioned face cradle. If you have one, drape it with a pillow case or small towel leaving a hole for the mouth and nose, and set it at a comfortable level. You can usually forgo the cushion under the chest if you have a face cradle (an exception would be a client with an extreme thoracic curve).


  • Always be gentle when applying pressure on the lower back. Remember that there are no ribs to protect the internal organs from the pressure of your hands.
  • There are some cases in which massages can aggravate a medical condition. A person should consult with a doctor before receiving a massage if they have any of the following issues/conditions:[1]
    • Deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the legs)
    • Spinal injuries or damage, such as herniated disk, etc.
    • A bleeding disorder or taking blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin
    • Damaged blood vessels
    • Weakened bones from osteoporosis, a recent fracture, or cancer
    • A fever
    • Any of the following in an area that would be massaged: open or healing wound, tumor, damaged nerves, an infection or acute inflammation, inflammation from radiation treatment
    • Pregnancy
    • Cancer
    • Fragile skin, as from diabetes or a healing scar
    • Heart problems

Things You'll Need

  • a massage table, mattress, or mat
  • a sheet
  • massage oil
  • 3 towels
  • a pillow or cushion

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations


Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Give a Back Massage. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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