Back massage techniques you can use at home.


Your partner asked for a back massage — not a random jab around the shoulder blades. Give a good massage with these tips from top therapists on Thumbtack.

Basic massage techniques from top-rated therapists.

Tip #1: Choose your massage oil and workspace. 

You don’t need a massage table. A bed is a good substitute, but a carpeted floor works just as well and is a bit easier to move around. If your partner is lying on their stomach, you can fold up a hand towel to use as a forehead rest.

You have many options for massage oil. It’s true that many massage therapists like specialized massage lotion because it’s formulated to be not too slippery, not too dry and not too absorbent, so it lasts longer. But you’ll find just as many professional massage therapists who use custom blends of oils that you can find in any natural foods store.

Look for carrier oils (like almond oil or jojoba oil) and essential oils (scented oils like lavender or citrus). Then, blend as desired. You can skip the essential oils if you’re sensitive to fragrance. 

massage oil

Tip #2:  Start with a gentle warm-up, then apply pressure.

Don’t just start in with heavy-duty kneading. The body needs time to warm up to the idea of a massage. Start with a flat palm on the back and use circular motions to warm up the muscle tissue (this is called effleurage). Apply light pressure, then gradually increase before you move on to any kneading or pressing motions. 

Tip #3: Use your body weight on denser muscle tissue. 

After warming up with circular motions, you can start to use motions like thumb kneading or careful elbow ironing along long muscles. If you’re working on tense shoulder tissue, place your palms on the muscles and carefully lean into your hands.

For tight hamstrings, you can rest your knees on muscle tissue and use your body weight to apply pressure and release tight muscle adhesions. Let your body weight do the work for your arm muscles, so you don’t end up feeling like you need a massage after giving one. 

Tip #4: Give special attention to neck and shoulders with elbows and hands. 

Many headaches start with muscle tension in the shoulder muscles, neck and jaw. Use your thumbs in small, controlled back and forth motions to separate tightness across the grain of the muscle. (Some massage therapists say this feels like strumming guitar strings.)

Remember, everything in the body is connected. If your partner has neck pain or headaches, try massaging around the shoulders, where the muscles connect to the bone. It can often ease tension elsewhere. Think of it like adding slack to a tightrope.

massaging shoulder area with hands

>>See top-rated pros. Here are the best massage therapists near you.

Massage tips for your head, hands and feet.

Step 1: Find pressure points in your hands. 

Use the thumb and index finger of your left hand to massage your right hand. Focus on the area around the base of your thumb, using small circular pressing and squeezing to ease tension in the hand. Stretch out your hands and make gentle circular motions with your wrists. 

Step 2: Loosen up the muscles in your feet. 

Tension in your feet can travel up the body, leading to muscle tightness in your legs and hips that’s directly connected to lower back pain, shoulder pain and even headaches.

Depending on how sensitive you are to pressure, you can find a lacrosse ball (firm) or tennis ball (gentle) and place it under the sole of your foot. Gently place a little body weight on the foot while you move around in circular motions, loosening up the muscles. 

Step 3: Relax your head. 

Kneading and pressure are not the only ways to release tension in your head. Try gently stretching your head from side to side. You can try to touch your ear to your shoulder, then place your hand on the opposite ear and let the weight of your hand gently pull you into a deeper stretch. Press in small, circular motions around your temples and the base of your skull where it meets your neck. 

Step 4: Make sure you hydrate.

Any activity that releases muscle tension can loosen toxins in the body. Make sure you don’t end up too sore after your massage. Drink plenty of water to clear any toxins. 

Step 5: Find the right massage therapist.

If you’re ready for more than an at-home massage fix, find a local massage therapist who can address your specific concerns. Whether you’re looking for a deep tissue massage specialist who can work safely around an athletic injury or an energy worker who can balance your aura, there’s a pro out there for you. Find one here

massage therapist massaging woman on massage bed

How much does massage therapy cost? 

Popular types of massage include Shiatsu, Swedish, sports therapy, deep tissue, hot stone, Thai, reiki, prenatal and reflexology. You can get a massage at a spa, studio, massage therapist’s private office, or in your own home. Prices will depend on how long the massage is and where it happens. It’s usually more expensive to get a massage at a spa than at a private practice or even at home. 

Most therapists recommend at least 60 minutes for a back massage. A 90-minute massage is ideal if you have lots of tension or discomfort throughout your body. That’s because shoulder and neck pain usually starts elsewhere in your body. A good massage therapist can help you pinpoint your pain triggers. 

You might pay extra for special supplies like custom massage oils, aromatherapy, heated stones, or special scrubs. Some massage therapists offer discounts if you purchase several sessions at once.

Get a free cost estimate based on your needs from a massage therapist near you on Thumbtack. 

For more on costs, see “How much does massage therapy cost?

Who to hire for massage and wellness. 

Massage can help with stress, headaches, posture and more. Make it part of a holistic health routine by hiring wellness pros who can help you get in shape, eat better and relax more:

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