We specialise in massage and we love to blow our trumpet: having someone tend to your muscles feels amazing. It would be fun to have a personal masseur around you all the time, offering his services whenever your back starts aching or your mind needs calming down. But for the crushing majority of us it is not practical or financially feasible. Enter self-massage. You may remember our article on how to keep your muscles relaxed in between the massage sessions. We briefly mentioned self massage then and now we’ll expand on how to do it.
How to massage yourself?
Whilst we will go into more detail below, there are a few main techniques that you will be using over and over again. They are:
- Pressure points. Whilst massaging, you may discover some sore spots. Apply pressure to such a spot for 10 to 30 seconds (it can be done for up to two minutes but if you’re not a professional it’s best to play it safe). Release and repeat until you feel relief. Pressure can be applied either by pressing down and holding or by pressing down and massaging in very small circular movements.
- Circular strokes.
- Long strokes, where you move your hand (or massage implement) back and forth.
- Kneading strokes, as if you’re kneading dough for a loaf of bread.
Try to breath slowly and deeply during the massage. This will allow your nervous system to calm down and your muscles to relax more effectively.
- Before going in ‘deep’, warm up the muscle you’ll be working on. For example, if working on a shoulder, do a few shoulder lifts or rolls. It’s also good practice to flex the muscles lightly after you’re done massaging.
- Do not work one area for longer than 15 minutes.
- Be very careful not to press down on your spine, kidneys or stomach. In general, it’s best to avoid any bony areas.
- People new to massage tend to press down too hard, go too deep and hold for too long. Be patient, less is more. If you feel like you need more, extra reps is better than increased intensity.
Part I: no equipment needed
Here are some ways you can massage yourself without the use of equipment. All you need is your hands. Besides your fingers and your palms, you can use the heel of your palm (put one hand on top of the other for extra pressure), your fists and your elbows.
If you’re suffering from a headache, you might want to dab a small amount of menthol balm on your fingertips before applying gentle pressure to your temples. Massage your temples with your fingertips, slowly moving towards the middle of your forehead. Then apply pressure to the ‘third eye’ spot in the centre of your forehead, just above your eyebrows. Maintain the pressure for half a minute. Place your palms on your forehead and gently stroke towards the sides of your head. Use the ‘heels’ of your palms to apply pressure to different parts of your scalp, lifting and holding the skin for a few seconds.
When it comes to facial muscles, you want to be very gentle. The thin skin of your face can get irritated easily and your goal is not to give yourself new wrinkles. Use your fingertips to make small circles as you massage over your eyebrows and along your cheekbones. Then massage from your ears to your chin along your jawline, here your circles can be a little firmer. When you reach the chin, use your finger and thumb to gently tug down the skin of your chin.
When working with neck, start by massaging each side separately. Press your fingers to the point where your neck meets your shoulder. Maintain pressure for a bit, then release. Apply gentle pressure to the same spot and move your fingers up to the base of your skull and down again. Then clasp your hands behind your head with your fingers pointing down. Use your fingers to massage your neck on both sides working your way down to the top of your spine.
Reach with over your left shoulder with your right hand. Your fingers will be exactly on the muscle that you want to massage. Knead it a few times moving sideways until you feel relief. Repeat on the other side. Roll your shoulders forward and backwards a few times.
Part II: Basic equipment
Massage tools allow you to apply more pressure, reach tricky areas or cover a larger area of your body at once. They’re particularly useful when you’re tackling larger muscles – think your arms, legs, back and buttocks.
A tennis ball has two main uses in massage. One, it allows you to apply more pressure. For a foot massage, stand next to a wall (hold on for support!) and roll a tennis ball with your foot whilst applying gentle pressure. You can also sit on a ball to apply more pressure to the muscles in your thighs and buttocks.
The second use for a tennis ball in massage is to reach tricky areas, such as your lower back or in between your shoulders. You can hold the ball in your hand and use it as a massage tool or you can lie on the ground, placing the ball between your body and the floor. You can also make your own massage tool by placing the tennis ball inside a sports sock. Hold each side of the sock and rub the tennis ball along your back muscles to massage.
You can use specialist massage balls instead of a tennis ball to apply deeper pressure or to reach hard-to-get-to areas. Hard spiked balls will be suitable to those of you who love deep tissue massage. However, if that is too intense for your body, try a smooth massage ball instead.
A foam roller is a large tool that allows you to massage large muscles by using your body weight. There are many foam roller videos online that address different issues. Some might surprise you: for example, knee pain can sometimes be addressed by massaging the thigh muscle running from your hip to your knee (here’s a great article on massage for knee pain). A basic use of a foam roller would be for back pain: simply lie on the roller, positioning it just underneath your shoulder blades. Your feet should be planted firmly on the ground. Roll up and and down until you feel your muscles relax.