Where can I find more in depth information on massage technique?
April 25, 2005 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Most online sources for massage techniques are clearly aimed at someone from another planet who has never encountered laying hands on another being. "Try massage oil" or "light some candles." I'm looking for more intermediate information, primarily going towards anatomy and musculature. Which muscles groups should you work first? How do you progress to deeper and more persistent knots? What about connective tissue vs. muscles? Any sites or books you could recommend? My girlfriend thanks you in advance.
posted by aaronh to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure you would have to take the license courses to find out the correct and best procedures.
posted by AMWKE at 9:23 PM on April 25, 2005

I'm the girlfriend. Please do your best to answer. I will be most appreciative! :D

I took a massage class in college and remember enough terms to do a reasonable Google search, enough to find these:


This question is a sweet surprise. I like that he asked. Hope there are more good answers here. I've got boulders in my shoulders!
posted by abbyladybug at 9:36 PM on April 25, 2005

While I do agree that taking an 'intro to massage' type class would be beneficial, you certainly don't have to take all the courses towards a massage license to learn how to give a massage for family and friends.

Anatomy obviously depends on what area of the body you're working on. But the general rule that's taught in the first few weeks of massage school is 'general specific general' and 'superficial deep superficial'.

What do these mean?

As you do your massage, start with general techniques. Do long strokes over a large area to warm up the tissue. So, for example, massage the entire back at first. Then get into more specific structures. For example, work your way into the shoulder/upper back muscles, starting with the upper traps and progressing into the SITS, rhomboids, etc.

Similarly, start with the most superficial layer of tissue (ie -- the skin). As you warm up the tissue, progress into deeper layers (muscles, starting with those on top and working down) by increasing the pressure you're applying. My biggest piece of advice for this is to go slow. The tissue will yield to manipulation much easier that way, and you'll find the 'knots' easier to handle.

I don't own this book, but I have skimmed through it, and it seems like a good general massage book for someone who isn't in massage school and therefore doesn't need all the stuff on proper protocols when dealing with a wide client base: The Complete Book of Massage.
posted by nyxie at 9:49 PM on April 25, 2005

Consider the purpose of the massage. Is it to relax, to arouse, to invigorate, to soothe, or to heal? Is it going to be a 30 minute whole-of-body experience, a quick shoulder squeeze to ease neck tension, a deep tissue probe on a strained thigh? All require a different approach, though they do have some techniques in common:

0. Check your environment. Is it clean? Can you reach all the required areas of the subject easily? Is there enough room to extend limbs? Can you reach your oils and tools? Is the room warm enough? Do you have towels?

1. Relax the subject. You can go new-agey with whale song and incense, or just put on some mood music. If it's purely platonic and practical (the strained thigh, for example), a series of breathing exercises and some simple stretches usually works well, as does a soak in the bath or a warm shower. You don't want to start digging and pulling muscles and joints that are already under pressure.

2. Start from the outside and work in. For a full body job, start with the hands and feet (pay attention to the fingers and toes, flexing, stroking, stretching lightly), move to the calves and neck, then to the thighs and and shoulders. If you plan to work on a problem area, don't dive right in - spend a little time around the area (the shoulders for a neck problem, the feet for leg problems, for example) to improve circulation and relax the patient.

3. Start soft and slow. Don't stab with the fingers, pummel with knuckles, wildly rotate joints, or do the karate chop thing. Start with long, slow, shallow stroking movements using the thumbs, cupping your hands underneath if massaging a limb.

4. Escalate slowly. Watch and feel carefully for reactions from the subject, noticing what hurts and twinges and what's slowly unlocking. Slowly progress to slightly deeper circular motions, feeling the underlying muscle mass.

Cup your hand around long muscles, such as the calves, thighs and forearms and let your thumb and fingers slide along the edges of the muscle, squeezing slightly. Don't grab or squeeze hard.

After a while, move back to long strokes, but this time use the knuckles and a little more pressure to 'rake' the tissue and push into the muscle. Don't push too hard.

Broad flat areas of muscle may respond to circular pressure from the palms of the hands, but it's easier to get some deep tissue stimulation with the knuckles and thumbs rather than placing your body weight on your hands.

Gently flex and rotate joints, starting with the wrists and ankles and moving to the elbows and knees, shoulders and hips. Don't mess around with the neck: just take the full weight of the head in your hands as close to the floor / bed / table as you can, wait a while for the subject to relax (breathing helps here), let them know what you're going to do and then slowly and gently rotate their head through about 60o each side. Hold it for a few seconds, then return to centre, wait, and do the other side. Relieving the neck of the weight of the head is an amazing feeling.

Full-lock and twisting joints is bad. Sudden movement is bad. Cracking is bad. Poking deep into tissue with fingers or knuckles usually ends up doing more harm than good. Relaxed musculature with improved circulation and gentle exercise will sort itself out without you going all chop-suey wannabe-chiropracter on it.

Seek feedback from the subject. How does that feel? Stop or pull back if it hurts. When you start getting 'mmmmm's and can feel the target area warming and softening, kick it up a notch as above.

Don't be afraid to leave the target area then come back to it later - most problems respond better to repeated treatment than trying to get it all sorted at once. Move back to the limbs for a while - they're often neglected.

When you're done, take the patient back down. Don't stop cold - reverse the procedure, working back out to the limbs and extremities. Let the subject lie still for a while, then encourage them to rise slowly, stretch gently, breathe deeply. Offer something warm to drink - some tea is always nice. Say thank you - it's not often somebody trusts you to lay your hands upon them.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:01 PM on April 25, 2005 [3 favorites]

The best way to learn is with your fingers. When you give someone a massage, try to internally concentrate all of your sensory capacity in your fingertips. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. At first do as much exploration as possible- find areas of tension first. The art of massage is also one of empathy. Understanding the feel of the musculature and applying it viscerally, a concept which is best reinforced through practice, will help you discover which areas are in the greatest need of attention. Pay special attention to the areas around the shoulder blades- in my experience tension seems to build up around that area a lot. Apply gentle but firm pressure at first, and build it up as you massage the tense areas. Use the building pressure to probe the tissue and find its most stressful points. Massaging these with a slow, but firm, circular motion will feel great for the receiver.

If you find spots that feel like a piece of gravel under the skin you have discovered a knot. Knots cannot be attacked but rather gradually relieved with more or less subtle pressure to the afflicted area. It must be stressed that simply applying direct, forceful pressure to the knot will cause pain. Rather, knots must be patiently worked through, with attention paid to the surrounding area, until it gives away. You will feel the knot literally dissipate under your thumb (thumbs are good for knots). If done correctly your recipient will most likely shudder or moan when a knot is relieved, which is quite rewarding.

Make sure to occasionally break from these and other techniques to do interesting things like running your fingernails lightly over the recipient's back- this is sure to drive her crazy. Also remember that massaging the back of the neck releases endorphins in mammals. Doing that by itself, or in conjunction with anything else mentioned, will compound the relief/pleasure experienced.

Remember: patience, practice, and empathy are the key to driving your girlfriend up the wall through the art of massage.
posted by baphomet at 10:45 PM on April 25, 2005

very relaxing thread, thanks everybody

*falls asleep, drooling a little*
posted by matteo at 2:03 AM on April 26, 2005

Thai massage is a thousand years old, doesn't involve oils or candles or chants, involves pretty much every muscle from the toes to the head, and takes skill to apply properly.

Get a short old lady to give it to you.
posted by furtive at 6:33 AM on April 26, 2005

I am emailing this to my boyfriend....
posted by fionab at 8:05 AM on April 26, 2005

This may be simplistic, but: remember to think of the body symmetrically. If you concentrate one side (talking about right/left here) there will just be a buildup of pressure in the other. Then again, this is mostly a problem with people who don't care and think they can massage you with one hand, obviously, since you're posting here, you know better than that.
posted by dagnyscott at 10:06 AM on April 26, 2005

I found the book The Healing Art of Sports Massage to be pretty good. Between that and having had a few really good massages, I've learned to be pretty decent.
posted by callmejay at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2005

Furtive, you're right. I had a traditional Thai massage once, applied by a wiry 40ish Thai woman half my size. She did things to my joints and muscles that went right to the limit of feeling unbearably painful / wonderful. Elbows into large muscle groups, feet into the back and so on.

I wobbled my way out of the massage room like my muscles had turned to jelly, it was incredible. I felt great for hours afterwards, and still felt relaxed the next day. I'd had a sore back for some time up till that point, but it was all relaxed after.
posted by tomble at 9:09 PM on April 26, 2005

Pay for some good massages and pay attention.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:41 AM on April 28, 2005

My wife has a massage therapy weblog that often lists resources like this.

Dagnyscott is correct, my wife often finds that maladies often cross meridians, because the body compensates. One of her favorite terms is "it's all connected."
posted by kickerofelves at 6:16 AM on April 29, 2005

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