Self Massage Therapy

Introduction into Massage

Michelangelo was believed to have said “to touch can be to give life” and there is a growing body of evidence to support this.

It is thought that our connection with touch begins from birth and we are not alone – many other living creatures are exposed to touch, initially through their mothers, during birth and grooming practices.

It is thought that touch has a huge impact on health including stress resilience and improved immunity as a result of its ability to activate the orbitofrontal cortex in the brain which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion.

As a social tool, touch increases bonding, reinforces relationships and is used as an indicator of safety and trust.

In one study conducted in 2019, the use of human touch was shown to improve the wellbeing of older adults in an example of holistic nursing.

In particular warm touch has been demonstrated to impact the vagus nerve which is responsible for the parasympathetic nervous system – resting and digesting.

As mammals, humans are not designed to be isolationist creatures however, in an age where touch presents its own challenges (legally, socially and culturally), touch within a professional setting in the form of massage is often sought. 

Massage often conjures images of luxurious day spas and while that is true there are many other different kinds of massage.

Let’s begin with an introduction into what massage is: in a nutshell, massage involves rubbing, kneading, and pressure on muscles, connective tissues, tendons and ligaments for the improvement of health.

It is usually performed by qualified professionals and can be used as a solo treatment or an adjunctive treatment to help people cope with other illnesses such as cancer.

Many studies have shown that massage therapy can reduce stress and anxiety, improve pain management and improve sleep quality.

It has also been used to reduce post-operative nausea and support women throughout pregnancy and labour.

A 2004 Cochrane systematic review found that massage of pre-term or low weight infants was associated with improved weight gain as well as a reduction of hospital stay.

Another review conducted in 2006 demonstrated that it helped with mother-child bonding, improved sleep and decreased hormones associated with stress.

Used in sports performance and rehabilitation, massage has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of situations including pre-event physiological and psychological preparation, performance, recovery and rehabilitaiton. 

All of this evidence goes to suggest that massage in its various forms is safe and effective with minimal side effects.

Depending on the style of massage, some people have noted bruising and tenderness following a massage treatment.

This is usually mild and self-resolving.

A good tip is to not eat anything heavy and drink plenty of water before and after the massage.

Try to allow plenty of travel time before and after – rushing to and from appointments is counter productive.

Communicate clearly with your practitioner as some people have underlying health conditions that may impact the treatment.

These may include being on certain medications, allergies, blood clotting issues, burns, infectious skin conditions, nerve damage or weakened bones.

Many massage therapists will also play music (music therapy) or incorporate essential oils (aromatherapy) into the treatment.

Due to the intimacy of touch, if you feel uncomfortable with the massage at any time, you should alert your practitioner and cease treatment.

This course is not designed to diagnose or treat, rather it is for general use and aims to encourage you to explore the use of basic massage techniques on yourself for general health and wellness. 


  • Brummitt J. (2008). The role of massage in sports performance and rehabilitation: current evidence and future direction.North American journal of sports physical therapy : NAJSPT, 3(1), 7–21.
  • Bush E. (2001). The use of human touch to improve the well-being of older adults. A holistic nursing intervention.Journal of holistic nursing : official journal of the American Holistic Nurses’ Association, 19(3), 256–270.

Massage Styles

As touch is a natural part of the human experience, many cultures have developed specific touch practices to impact health.

The rise of medical technology and research has also generated styles and techniques designed to improve specific areas of health.

The list below outlines some of the more common massage styles used: 


One of the gentlest forms of massage, this uses flowing motions combined with a massage oil that has essential oils added to it.

This combines the healing properties of essential oils through direct application and inhalation to further promote circulation, muscle relaxation and pain relief. Aromatherapy massage is typically done on backs, arms, legs, face and neck. 

Deep Tissue

Slow and deep strokes by the fingers or special tools are used to apply pressure to the muscle structures that lie deeper under the skin’s surface.

As a result of pressure used, it is not recommended for people who are sensitive and should only be used after the superficial structures are relaxed.

Hot Stone

Technically not incorporating massage techniques, warm stones are placed on the back and other muscles to induce relaxation.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial release uses gentle pressure that is held for longer durations to stretch the myofascial complex which is the thin layer of tissue that wraps around muscles and is considered a key part of musculature.

Neuromuscular Therapy

Problem areas are manipulated to treat chronic pain, tender muscles, circulation, trapped nerves, problems with posture or injuries caused by repetitive movements.


Employed by trained practitioners and often combined with aromatherapy, pregnancy massage is designed to reduce stress, swelling, muscle and joint pain while improving circulation.


Another style of massage that has its origins in Asia, reflexology uses hands, fingers and thumbs to stimulate areas of the feet that correspond to body organs and systems. In this way, reflexology may be used to impact the whole body. 


Remedial massage is one of the most popular forms of massage as it is used to relieve pain and inflammation of muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues.

The techniques used in remedial massage include deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, stretch therapy, joint mobilisation and myofascial release.


Designed to improve performance and speed recovery, techniques used in sports massage tend to target specific muscle groups and joints.

Techniques include effleurage, vibration, compression, range of motion, deep tissue massage and trigger point therapy.


In Swedish massage, techniques are geared to induce relaxation.

Typically gentler than a deep tissue massage, techniques include effleurage, petrissage, friction and tapotement. 


A traditional Japanese form of massage, shiatsu uses the fingers and palms to apply pressure to acupressure points to relieve stress, tension and balance the body’s energy in continuous sequences.

Pressure applied to the acupressure points is usually held for a few seconds to generate change.


Thai massage techniques incorporate both energy and physical techniques.

Unlike Shiatsu massage, stretching and deep muscle compression are combined with joint mobilisation to result in a more active treatment


  • Ajimsha, M. S., Al-Mudahka, N. R., & Al-Madzhar, J. A. (2015). Effectiveness of myofascial release: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 19(1), 102–112.

Massage Techniques

Despite the various massage styles around, they tend to share common techniques.

For many massage styles, combinations of the following techniques will be used depending on the presenting issues. 


Otherwise known as stroking, this is the gentlest and most common technique where hands are passed continuously over the skin in one direction only to increase blood flow, encourage relaxation and establish a connection.

It is typically used to begin and end massages.

Strokes are typically long for limbs and circular for the back although it is effective for following musculature. 


Also known as kneading, this is similar to working with dough! The skin is lifted, pressed, squeezed, pinched and rolled. 

Percussion / Tapotement

This technique is energetic and involves beating, pounding ad vibrating to improve circulation and break up tight, knotted muscles. 

Myofascial Release

Techniques are designed to stretch and release the fascia which is a web of connective tissue that wraps around muscles and connects to bone structures and organs.

Forming a key part of musculature, releasing restrictions can improve function and relieve inflammation.

Trigger Point Therapy

This technique applies direct pressure to areas of muscular hyperactivity or areas of skeletal muscle that produce pain when pressed.

It is thought that these trigger points are the result of muscle fibres becoming hard and knotted.

By applying pressure to these points, the trigger point may be relieved to improve inflammation and range of motion.

It is interesting to note that this technique crosses over traditional acupressure points.


The use of friction increases the local circulation to an area and can help to reduce adhesions.

There are different friction techniques including transverse or cross-fibre friction.

Transverse friction techniques are usually used on tendons and ligaments where there is built up scar tissue that causes pain and restricted movement.

In transverse friction, pressure and motion is applied in a transverse direction to the muscle fibres in a bid to break down the tissue. 


Massage Techniques in Rehabilitation Medicine,

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America,

Volume 10, Issue 3, 1999,

Pages 631-649,ISSN 1047-9651,

  • Goats GC

Massage–the scientific basis of an ancient art: Part 1. The techniques.

British Journal of Sports Medicine 1994;28:149-152.

Massage Tools

While massage typically only uses the practitioner’s hands, there are a few useful tools that can enhance a massage experience. 

  1. Oils 
    When massaging, oils help to provide slip and enable a smooth glide to create a more relaxing experience.
    Most massage therapists prefer vegetable based oils such as sweet almond oil, coconut oil, jojoba oils that are light and absorb quickly. These oils are also free from fragrances and colours.
  2. Essential Oils
    The use of essential oils when blended with massage oils enhance the therapeutic qualities of the massage by encouraging relaxation, circulation and relieving inflammation. Essential oils are volatile substances which should be treated with care. When using in a massage, 30 drops to 50mls of carrier oil is an ideal ratio. The essential oils will be taken up through inhalation as well as through the skin. 
  3. Stones 
    These are special flat stones that are heated (although they can also be used cold) and then placed on the body (usually on the back alongside the spine) to impart warmth and encourage relaxation. If the stones are used cold, they can be used to relieve inflammation. 
  4. Reflexology Balls
    These spiky plastic balls may often get mistaken for dog toys but they are fantastic for rolling under the feet to relieve tight sore feet and give yourself a back-friendly reflexology treatment. Keeping the ball cold can also help relieve pain associated with spurs. 
  5. Trigger point tools
    These can be both manual or electric and are designed to help target specific areas of tightness. There are a huge variety available designed to help improve reach and pressure. Percussive trigger point machines look similar to drills and can be adjusted to provide low to high frequency percussion. 
  6. Rollers
    These can look a little like rolling pins and are made from wood or plastic and come in a variety of lengths that can be used to help relieve inflammation and target the fascia. Foam rollers in particular can also double for sport recovery to prevent injury. 

Daily Massage

For many, a weekly or monthly massage is a luxury that is simply not affordable but that does not mean that they should be deprived of the benefits of massage.

Starting the day off with a 10 minute massage is an ideal way to relieve stress, increase body awareness, improve wellbeing and decrease pain and inflammation.

For a self-massage that you can do daily, start with a warm shower or bath to help relax.

You may also like to create some ambience by listening to music or using some massage oil. 

To begin, start from your head using firm finger tips in a circular motion across your scalp.

Slowly move down to your temples, forehead and trace around the facial structures using gentle motions moving down and outwards.

You can try to use the palms of your hands on each cheek and gently manipulate the tissue in circles before moving outwards to the ears.

There are many pressure points behind the ears which can also be targeted using gentle pressure.

The structures behind the neck also benefit from gentle stretching and smooth, downward pressure.

Moving to the front smooth the skin around your neck gently downwards.

From here move towards your arms, begin with one arm before moving to the next and move from the shoulder down to the fingertips.

You can try to use compressive techniques here to encourage lymphatic circulation.

Massaging the hands and gently pulling on each finger can also help to relieve stress and osteoarthritic pain.

Gentle stretching of each finger and wrist rotations may also be comfortable here. Don’t forget to do the other side!

Moving down towards the chest, use broad sweeping strokes with the palm of the hand to exert a gentle pressure.

Take care not to press to hard.

For ladies, this may be an ideal time for a breast examination.

Moving towards the stomach, take care to be very gentle.

To encourage digestion and relieve wind, a gentle pressure moving downwards may provide comfort.

The legs and feet will be next using compression and effleurage.

Take care to note any tender points and gently loosen them using gentle pressure in a circular motion.

For tight fibres, consider cross-fibre techniques.

Pay attention to the calves which are often prone to cramping.

Massage here should be firm but not hard, working along the fibres with care.

When massaging feet, take extra time and experiment with what feels good.

Trying to do your own back massage without tools may be difficult but you can still work on glutes which often carry a great deal of tension.

Kneading and trigger point techniques may be useful here.

Try to finish off your massage by going back to your hands and taking some time to relax.  

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