The Massage Table
I had had it.
I was aching.
It had been a long day at work.
The black dog had been pulling at the lead all week.
My work satchel was dragging down on my shoulder.
I was walking towards Woollies to buy the makings for dinner.
Then I saw it.
The massage therapy place in the shopping centre.
It was clean.
It was respectable.
It was affordable … with minor adjustments
And it was THERE!
And in only a moment so was I.
“Do you have an opening?”
There was an opening.
What did I want?
“Upper back, shoulders & head please.”
Back, shoulders and head I got.
I went in with my muscles aching, my shoulders set like concrete and my neck so tight that I’d not been able to comfortably look over my shoulder in days.
I came out uncrimped and able to move.
I happened to be lucky last week. I had a little money that I’d not budgeted on having. I couldn’t always just do that. Besides, I’m not usually the type to let someone I don’t know give me a massage. (Seriously, if you’d heard me coming on Thursday you’d have gotten out the DW40 ready to get rid of the creaky noises when I arrived)
The problem is, however – I have trouble getting a massage at all. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me – but when I say “massage” around my family and friends, they all turn around and say, “yes please!”
Yep, you’ve got it. I’m the one who grew up with the sooky Dad. The one that played sport too hard too far into his 40’s and 50’s and then moaned about the aches and pains all week. I was trained to massage my father’s legs when I was six or seven … and I am not exaggerating. There is no need.
My brother, who had once helped, grew callous and demanded payment at some stage, but I was still too gullible to get out of it – or figured it was easier to put in 5-10 mins of back or head massage than to listen to him grovel until he gave up. In the end I got to be not too bad at it and when I hit Uni and somebody taught me anatomy, I actually became quite good. Now, this was all fine and dandy for the family and the friends – but it did bugger all for me.
I’ve tried to interest some of them in learning, but do you think I’ve had any success?
The thing is – it’s not that hard to give a passable shoulder massage that will make someone very happy that you took a few moments out of your day to share it. There are only a few basic principles that you need to follow – and these are consistent pretty much anywhere you massage.
- Apply pressure in long, slow, firm strokes.
- Start light and increase pressure slowly over time.
- If you’re worried about whether you’re working your strokes to quickly – slow them down, just keep your pressure even.
- Except with specific muscle groups, plan to work the muscle along the grain of the muscle fibres ie the direction that the muscle goes.
- Work from the surface muscles toward the deeper ones.
- Always stay away from the spine, throat and other sensitive areas.
- If it causes pain – stop.
Here is a rough picture of some of the muscles of the back:
If I were looking to spend five or ten minutes just helping someone to unwind, I might start by finding the bony landmarks on the person’s back and think about where the muscles are in relation to those bones. The spine is usually visible down the centre of a person’s neck and back. The easiest way to locate the shoulder-blade is to start at the tip of the shoulder and to trace it around with your fingers. Notice that the shoulder-blade has two bony borders along the top. This is because it’s not shaped only like the 2 dimensional triangle that you see in drawings, it has another edge – a bit like a fin (but not quite).
So, say a person is sitting in front of me – here I start by running my hands straight up the back to the neck one after the other, avoiding the spine and moving from the centre to the edge – first on one side, then the other.
I then follow this by focusing on the muscles coloured red and green on the left hand side of the illustration – initially the red Trapezius muscle which is large and often carries a lot of tension. I would massage predominantly in the direction of the arrows – in upward strokes along the muscle fibres.
After these muscles have been freed up a bit and feel less tense, then I might move my attention to the deeper muscles. If the muscles are not freeing, I would turn my attention to the blue muscle – Latissimus Dorsi. A person’s lat’s are large and often carry a lot of tension also, so you may need to break up some of this to get anywhere with the Trapezius. When working the Lats, I use a wide surface of my hand or forearm with long firm, upward and oblique strokes and then smooth them down and go back to the Traps again.
By now the person’s muscles are warmed up, so they are also tolerating firmer pressure as I target deeper muscles and the upper muscles are relaxed enough so that the pressure reaches them. The principles for the muscles of the deeper layer muscles are pretty much the same as the ones I use for the upper layer ones. The only exception is that I will often spend some time after warming up the Rhomboids (pink) working them across the grain of the muscle (ie across the muscle fibres, not along them because the Rhomboids get really, really stiff sometimes and need help to free up).
The other muscle to have a good look at that people love having worked is the Levator Scapulae. Again, just work it up the grain of the muscle fibres. It’s also helpful to just press on it at about the base of the neck for a few seconds or so. Also working the muscle inside the triangle at the top of the scapula is easier once the muscles are warmed up.
But if the deeper muscles look too confusing, don’t worry – even if all you do is loosen up the upper layer of the person’s back – most people will thank you.
What part of your hand you use is up to you – I often knead with the flat edge of my thumb while I rest the heel of my hand on the person’s back. I might sometimes use the heel of my hand to massage. Depending on the person and how long I have been massaging for I may gently use my knuckle. You can also use your forearm.
None of the stuff I’ve shared today is particularly scientific or text-book. Simply hands-on learning. But I think that people being able to help each other break up muscle tension is worthwhile. So is nurturing.
When it comes to massage, all I can say is that lots of people like a treat. See if anything that I have learned adds anything to what you know – and please … you’re welcome to share your tips with me.
You know where the comments section is 🙂