How To Give An Amazing Massage

Remember back when you were a kid, and your mom would rub your back when you weren't feeling great? Nowadays, a massage pretty much only happens on a designated "Treat Yo Self" day, likely at a spa where they pamper you with essential oils, hot stones, relaxing music, and maybe a facial. But with less-than-rock-bottom prices, it's safe to say that a spa massage probably isn't happening on a daily basis.

That doesn't mean massages are off-limits, though. There are a few massages you can do on yourself to get rid of neck and shoulder pain, but if you really need some extra pressure, grab a friend or S.O. Okay, it probably won't be as incredible as a professional massage — and if you suffer from chronic pain that lasts more than 12 weeks, you should see a pro. But if it's just a few tight muscles after a workout, or a stiff neck after working on a computer all day, a simple shoulder rub from a pal could work wonders.

"Massage is a highly specialized profession, but it’s really instinctive," Elizabeth Bragg, LMT at Shift Integrative Medicine says. In other words, it's totally possible to DIY.

Here, Bragg and acupuncturist Zach Haigney, L.Ac. provide some tips on giving a basic back rub. Our advice? Share this story with roommates, friends, and partners, and swap massages after a long day at work.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
When you're giving a massage, have your lucky friend sit on a chair in front of you. Warm up the muscles by holding the person's neck with both hands, with four fingers on one side of the neck and the thumb on the other side for support. Starting with your right hand, apply pressure in circles on the side of the neck, using your body weight. Repeat with the left side.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Stand to the side of the person you are massaging and support their forehead with one hand. So if you are on the person's right, use your right hand and hold their forehead. With the other hand, place four fingers on opposite side of the neck, along the spine. Massage little circles along the side of the spine, from the base of the head down to the base of their neck. This is great for releasing any tension in their neck from looking at a screen for too long.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Here's where pressure points come in. Using your thumb, apply pressure and slowly move from the base of the neck (along the spine), up to the bumpy ridge (the occiput), about 1/2-inch away from the spine. Then, move your thumb along the base of their head, following the bumpy ridge, all the way to the ear. This is excellent for headaches, Bragg says.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
For people with shoulder problems, start by warming up the muscles. Place your forearms where the shoulder meets the neck. Lean forward on your right arm, and then your left, to apply pressure. Do this three times, slightly increasing the pressure each time. "The first time, you introduce the touch," Bragg says. "The second time it loosens up more. But if someone is too tight, you don’t want to apply too much pressure, because that actually hurts the muscle."
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Press this section at the high point of the shoulder, where the shoulder meets the neck. Hold it for about 10 seconds, using your body weight to lean in. Then grab the entire upper trap (the muscle on top of your shoulder) and gently shake it. "This is what I do when I want my husband to do something for me," Bragg says.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Find the levator scapulae, the muscle responsible for shrugging and connecting your shoulder to your neck. The bottom of the muscle begins at the inner corner of the scapula (or shoulder blade), so find the inner corner, move above the bone of the scapula, press in, and press up. Use your body weight so you don't hurt yourself.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The scapula itself can get overworked, so you're bound to find knots in the muscles surrounding the scapula on top of the bone and around the edges. Find the infraspinatus muscle, which sits right below the spine of the scapula. Using the palm of your hand, apply circular pressure to the area, then move up and around the scapula as needed to loosen any knots.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
One spot many won't be able to reach themselves? This indentation in the supraspinatus, which is the muscle above the scapula. "There should be a little indentation, a facet, of the supraspinatus, and your thumb should fit right in there," Bragg says. Run your thumb along the spine of the scapula and move it upwards until you feel the indentation. Press in for about 10 seconds.
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The last point to focus on the scapula lays on the outer edges of your shoulder blade, right before the scapula meets the humerus (the bone of your upper arm). Trace your thumb along the spine of the scapula, and find the very end of it. "Just below the bony prominence, press your thumb into the muscle," Bragg says. Move your fingers in a circular motion, or up and down, and back and forth. "It's a great spot to work because several rotator cuff muscles meet there," Bragg says.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
It's hard to truly reduce lower back pain via massage without a ton of effort, but a small massage feels good, and is easy enough to manage. Have the person rest their elbows on their knees while sitting, and then place the palms of your hands on these two muscles that run along their spine. Lean back and forth on each side, alternating pressure to stretch the muscles. It's an easy, nice way to end the shoulder rub — and since you're using your body weight, you won't even break a sweat.
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