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Massage Sequence for the Back

Most people massage their friend's back while they lie on the floor or on a bed. We suggest that they lay on the floor on top of a series of couch cushions or futon type cushion. Position yourself on your knees beside them. Use your weight and be careful not to strain your own back. It will be helpful to use a little bit of vegetable oil as a lubricant between your hands and their skin. For optimum access to their back, it will be helpful to have them remove their shirt and to pull their underwear down a bit. Be sure to have them turn their head occasionally so their neck won't get stiff.

Before we begin, it is important to note the areas that can be accidentally injured with too much pressure. These areas are marked in red in the photo above. The lower two red spots are the approximate locations of the kidneys. Never do percussive (pounding) techniques here. Secondly, don't dig deep into the arm pits without additional training. Also be careful of the sciatic nerve in the buttocks. Sharp pressure in this area will be very painful. Also, note the white dots on the photo above. These dots indicate the approximate location of the bones called the spinous processes. Don't press directly on these bones. Don't push on these bones with pressure thinking that they are just stubborn spasms.

From the head (top) smooth down the back muscles on both sides of the spine. This thick rope-like muscle is called the Erector Spinae group. It actually runs from the base of the skull to the tail bone area. Use equal pressure on your fingers and the heels of your hands. Smooth down the Erector Spinae, and back up along your friend's sides, shoulders, and neck. Do this several times. Move yourself along their side and face their head. Repeat the long smoothing strokes, going slightly deeper with each pass. Make sure that your hands conform to their body. Your pressure should be even and your strokes consistent in speed. Try splitting your index finger and your center finger, placing your hand over the spine. Gently place each finger in the groove between the spine and the Erector Spinae muscles. Place your other hand over the bottom hand for extra pressure.

We will now work the side. Begin working the buttocks area by pushing down with the heel of the hand and then pulling back with the fingers. Work the area with almost a large fluid circular motion. The Buttocks area consists of several large and powerful muscles that can affect your friend's back substantially. Continue up the back by lifting and scooping the sides, alternating hands. Make sure that your movements are confident and firm, so that you don't tickle your friend. As you get to the top of the shoulders, lift and scoop the thick muscle, known as the upper Trapezius, as shown in the picture at the right, above.

As your scooping strokes return back down the side, try lifting the shoulder gently off of the table and letting it gently slip through your fingers as the weigh pull it back to the floor. Now, place one hand over the sacrum (you might call it the tail bone) as shown above, and begin rocking it, with pressure, to the left and right. Increase your pressure and make the movement so that you friction and warm the area. Follow up with your thumbs making strokes up and away from the sacrum area. Gently work the whole area.

Again begin making strokes down the back, but deeper than the first time. Emphasize your pressure on the heel of your hands, stroking the Erector Spinae, down both sides of the spine. You can try to separate the fibers of the Erector Spinae group of muscles with your thumb. For extra strength, you can use your other fingers to reinforce your thumb. Firmly, but smoothly, work from the ditch next to the spine and over the Erector Spinae muscle. Don't "thump" over the muscle. Take it slowly, with control. This will help to improve the fibers in the muscle itself.

After you've worked the muscle all the way down the back, you can do soothing circular strokes with the finger tips along the same area. This serves to relax the muscle and increase circulation.
Now the fun stuff! To work the Erector Spinae even deeper, now that it is warmed up, we'll use our elbows. In the second picture above, you can see that we use our elbow to work from the low back to the top. Keep your elbow away from the spine. Do not work to quickly so that you lose control. You will make several strokes (3-10) the entire distance. Each should be slightly deeper than the first. Remember: The deeper your stroke, the slower you should go. Let your friend give you feedback as to how you are doing. You may even want to use your other hand to guide your elbow. You can also work the upper back along this muscle area from the head, facing the feet. Work gently and slowly.

When you're done with the deep stokes, you can use your forearms, together, to smooth up the back. Make this pass several times.

Next, carefully place the arm of your friend over their low back and your hand under their shoulder, for support. If this hurts their shoulder, keep their arm along the body. Gently lift the shoulder up and use your fingers to work along the border of the scapulae (shoulder blade). Make deep circular strokes, pausing to press on any pebble-like spasms. With caution, you can also use your thumb to gently push under the shoulder blade, lifting it away from the back, stretching the Rhomboid muscle. This area will be very tender. Place the arm back along side them very slowly.

For a finishing touch, we will now work up and down the back with a pushing and pulling motion, made with alternating hands. Push with one hand, while pulling them up with the other. Then, do just pushing stokes. Follow this with strong, supporting pulling strokes.

Carefully use your knuckles on the Erector Spinae muscles, from the top of the back to the low back. Stay off of the bones of the spine. Smooth the back out again, and finish with gentle feather-like strokes, hand over hand pulling upward from the low back to the neck. You're done!

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