By Chris Simon, C.C.M.P.
Not many things top a shoulder and neck massage. And just about everyone knows even a simple back massage or shoulder rub can be incredibly relaxing. Now, giving a professional therapeutic massage is something that definitely requires training and years of practice. But, there are some techniques you can use to perform a short, safe and simple massage for the shoulders and neck.
In fact, these simple massage techniques can be done literally anywhere. At a desk at work or at the kitchen table at home while your partner sits in a regular chair. Of course, you won’t be able to fix tendonitis or correct chronic headaches, but you’ll certainly be able to help someone else release some tension and relax a little.
A Mini Lesson On The Muscles You’ll Be Massaging
The shoulder muscle is called the trapezius, or sometimes just the traps. This is easy to remember because it’s where most of us trap our tension. In the back of your neck are your extensor muscles which hold your head upright. Poor posture and long periods sitting at computers can cause these muscles to become very tender, tight and achy. Finally, the base of your skull is where your extensors attach into your head.
For The Person Receiving Massage…Permission First!
1. Check with the other person to be sure they want a massage. While most people enjoy and gladly welcome a quick shoulder rub, permission is an absolute must before starting to knead those muscles.
2. Do not do this massage if the person has any severe pain or has had any recent injuries to the shoulder or neck areas. While the massage may feel good, it could aggravate their condition.
3. Check in every so often to be sure the pressure is comfortable. This massage should not be painful. It should only feel good. Pain will make your partner tense up and defeat the purpose of the massage.
4. Bones don’t relax! Which means something that feels hard like a bone probably is and it shouldn’t be massaged. Bones also tend to be pain sensitive. So, everything you massage should feel relatively soft.
For The Person Giving The Massage…Don’t Wreck Your Body!
Chances are, if you’ve ever tried to give a massage before, the other person ended up relaxed and you wound up with arms and hands that ached. So here are some simple guidelines that should let you give a relaxing massage without sacrificing your body:
1. Drop your shoulders.
2. Keep your back straight.
3. Don’t bend excessively.
4. Relax your hands between each movement.
5. Keep a slow, even pace.
6. Minimize the use of your thumbs.
Don’t Worry If You’re More Of A Visual Learner…
There’s five great illustrations, one for each technique, available at the end of this article.
Technique Number 1 (Shoulders)
Stand behind your partner. Rest your forearms on the top of their shoulders as close to their neck as possible. Keep your palms down so the fleshy part of your forearm, not the bony part, lies on the muscle. Then let your weight fall straight down onto their shoulders toward their seat. Be sure to avoid pushing them forward and be careful not to lean on their head. Hold this for several seconds. Then slowly lift your arms, move them down the shoulder one inch and again let your weight fall through your arms. Repeat this process several times. As soon as you start to feel the bony part of their shoulder under your forearm, stop, bring your forearms to the starting position and repeat the technique again. Insider’s Tip: Even though this forearm technique is a simple compression movement, it feels fabulous.
Technique Number 2 (Shoulders)
Move to the side of your partner. Feel the tip of their shoulder with your fingers. It’ll feel bony and hard. Then move your fingers toward their neck until you feel some soft muscle under your fingers. Place your thumbs on that spot and slowly press straight down with the thumbs. You’ll be pressing on their trapezius muscle again. Hold the thumbs in the muscle for a couple of seconds and then slowly ease off the pressure. Next, move one thumb-width towards their neck and repeat the compression. Once you reach their neck, move your thumbs back to the starting position and do a second set of compressions to those same points. Then move to the other side of your partner and repeat these compressions to their other shoulder. In general, you should be able to do 4 to 6 compressions before you reach their neck. Insider’s Tip: Put one thumb on top of the other for reinforcement and each thumb will be doing just half the work.
Technique Number 3 (Shoulders)
Stand behind your partner. Place one hand over each shoulder as close to their neck as possible and squeeze their trapezius between the fingertips and the heel of your hand. Hold the squeeze for a couple of seconds, slowly release your grip, then move out one inch toward their shoulders. Repeat. Typically, you can expect to do 3 or 4 squeezes before you run out of muscle. Insider’s Tips: a) Keep your thumb beside your index finger so it stays out of the way. b) Be sure to have the whole muscle in your hand so you don’t pinch the skin on top of the muscle. c) Don’t put your fingers too far around the front of the neck – you don’t want to choke anyone!
Technique Number 4 (Neck Extensors)
Stand to one side of your partner. If you’re standing on the right, make a C-shape with your left hand and place it over the back of their neck. Then press gently into the sides of the neck with your fingers and thumbs and while maintaining this gentle pressure, do a large circular kneading action with your left hand. This movement may remind you of picking a cat up by the scruff of the neck, so sometimes it’s called a C-lift or C-scoop. Do 6 circles in one spot and then move up or down the neck an inch and repeat. Massage along the whole length of the neck, being careful not to pinch the skin at the back of the neck. Insider’s Tip: The key here is to not slide over the skin, but to move it with the fingers, so you don’t burn or irritate the skin.
Technique Number 5 (Base Of The Skull)
Still standing to the side of your partner, you’ll now do some kneading. Cup one hand around the base of their skull. Then gently rest your other hand on their forehead for support. Next, using your hand that’s cupped around the base of their skull, move your fingers in a small circular motion, pressing into the skull as you knead. Do 6 to 8 little circles, then lift your fingers, move them a little closer to the center and repeat the kneading action in order to complete several sets. To do the other side of the skull, simply move to the opposite side of your partner. Insider’s Tip: Move the skin and hair with your fingers, instead of sliding, so you don’t pull their hair.
End your massage with several gentle stroking actions down the head and back. Imagine the gentle motion when you’re brushing lint or pet hair off the back of someone’s shirt. Use both hands at the same time, or one right after the other like someone swimming using the dog paddle. The main thing here is to create an even feeling for your partner.
Overall, it should take about 5 minutes to perform all of these techniques. If you want to massage longer, just do more sets of each technique. And remember, you can repeat any of these techniques several times before going onto the next one.
If you have specific health concerns, consult your medical doctor. The information in this article is educational only and is not intended to replace the advice of your personal health care providers.
This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any e-zine, newsletter, blog or website. The author’s name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with every production.
Chris Simon is a Certified Chair Massage Practitioner specializing in relaxation massage for stress and muscle tension. He’s been providing on-site chair massage to people in their homes and employees at their workplaces in Hamilton and throughout Ontario since 1999. Visit www.hamilton-massage.com to learn more. And for illustrations of all five massage techniques visit www.bodyworkbiz.com/courses/downloads/illustrations/q4ghlqre.zip