How To Do A Back Massage

The back is arguably the most important structure of the body in terms of health. All the nerves of the body (except the olfactory nerves that run through the sinuses) travel up and down the body through the spine, protected by the vertebra. Vertebrae can easily become misaligned, placing pressure on nerves branching out to the organs. The muscles of the back are huge and often cross each other. Tension in the muscles puts pressure on tendons and ligaments that can push and pull the vertebrae Many things can cause muscles to tighten, but notably stress and poor posture tend to be the main protagonists. Massage can be so healing for sore backs, but emotionally healing too, so today we’ll think about how to do a back massage. 

How To Do A Back Massage on Yourself?

Let’s address that first. You can’t do one well. There are gadgets to help you, but a machine does not have the power to connect with your humanness like a person can. If you have someone close to do one for you, fabulous, but ideally you would visit a professional. That’s what aromatherapists are brilliant at. 

However, let’s have a look at how to do a back massage on a family member or friend

What Can We Learn From The Body When We Learn To Do A Back Massage?

British aromatherapy has a slightly different bias, I think, or I guess it used to have. That is massage is / was our main way of administering the essential oils, rather than roller balls for example. We lean very heavily on the healing power of touch. 

One of the first things we were taught as massage therapists was to listen with your fingers.

I have only ever heard three other aromatherapists say it. All of them were British and all of them were brilliant therapists. I do think that this idea may have been how many of them learned. It teaches me a lot about everyone I place my hands on. 

It also tells you enormous amounts about the state of mind you should be in when you massage. Learning how to do a back massage is easy, but the difference between stroking oils in and how to do a back massage well, is where you place your attention. You need to really concentrate on what’s going on with that person, to move your mind out of your world into theirs. And, believe me, that’s easier than it sounds. A full body massage takes about 90 minutes to complete, and the back takes about 40. That’s a long time not to let your mind wander off about tomorrow's deadline or to think about how hungry you are or what you should make for dinner. 

Listening to your fingers means being aware of what every inch of their skin is saying. Where do they flinch from tension? What parts are not so spongy and feel tight from stress? What makes them hold their breath, or in some cases, where did you touch that made them inexplicably want to cry? Your fingers should inform everything.

In American parlance, I guess you would call it being present. 

How To Do A Back Massage to Read Tension

Reading tension is not an exact science, but it does inform a lot of what oils you might want to choose from then on in. 

Imagine you were sitting in a chair at work, and you could sense your boss behind you. Think about how it feels when someone is talking behind your back. As you picture it, your muscles are so used to reacting to things when that does actually happen, they probably told you where that tension manifests. 

If so, you just learned something else there, that your body reacts to your thoughts. 

Now, think about how your back hurts from period pains. If you have ever had any reason to suffer marital or sexual difficulties, you may already have perceived how they manifest in the same place. 

Money, then. Picture how money difficulties can feel embarrassing and you might try and hide them because how people perceive that might affect your identity. When you worry about how someone might see you, or what they might think about you, it often manifests around the solar plexus. We find money worries manifest as tension down the sides of the back. 

Not all tension exhibits this way, so we do not tell the story of the back to the client. Rather we wait for the words to confirm or deny what we read, but keep in silence.

Now, to my mind, there are three stages of doing a back massage, and they should be laid over each other, so they all happen at one time. But it is easier to explain how to do a back massage in three separate stages. 

We’ll call the person who lies on the couch, your model.

The Steps of How to Do A Back Massage 

Lie your model face down on the massage couch with their arms beside them. 

Stand at their head. Now we’ll put their oils on.

Place your hands either side of the spine, with your fingertips touching the edge of the vertebrae.

How to Do A Back Massage Effleurage 

Effleurage simply means a long, slow, sweeping stroke. We use this to oil up the back. Try to remember, that if we can help it, we always want to keep contact with our model. Always keep at least one hand, or part of your arm, on their back. 

Use your body weight to lean forward so that your hands press down and push down along the spine down to the hips.

Now swivel your hands till they come to the outside of the body. Open your hands out, spread your fingers, then step back, so your arms are pulled back up along the outside of  your model's torso.

Repeat this three times

How to Do A Lower Back Massage 

Walk down to left hand side of the body and place yourself by their hip. Turn your body so you are facing up towards the head. 

Using the tips of your fingers of your right hand and then adding pressure by placing you left hand over it to give it strength. 

Gently work tiny circles around the fleshy part of the hip. Work round, making little circles, and work in a circle, so that you cover the whole of the hip area. 

Work around it three times. 

Then use your fingers to work deeply, smoothing over the hip, so that you are working into the muscle slowly and carefully. 

Repeat three times. 

How To Do A Back Massage Steps- The Sides. 

Now we are going to work up the side of the spine. 

We never want to work on the spine only either side of it. 

So working from the hip - again making little circles with our fingers - we are going to make little circles all the way up the spine until we get to the shoulders. 

Then we are going to smooth down the side of the body to come back down again. 

Repeat. Do this cycle three times, circling up the spine and then smoothing down the side.

Now take your right hand and make a cup. 

Place the cup, arching over the spine. 

Put your left hand on top of your right hand, so your fingers and the base of your palms are touching the soft piece of skin either side of the vertebrae. 

Again pushing down allowing your body weight to do the work for you, step forward working up towards the shoulders. Spread your hands at the top, and pull down the body again. 

Replace your right hand into a cup. Place the left hand over. Repeat the step forward twice more. 

How to Do A Back Massage - Moving Left

Remembering to keep contact with your model, head round to the left hand side of the body so you are standing facing the side of your mode, l by the side of their hips. 

Make the same cup with your hands

This time, work the left hand side of the body, doing the soft area (rather than over the spine) and swivel your hands out to trace down again.

Repeat three times 

Remaining at the side of the body, reach up and  place your fingers at the top of their spine. 

Using the index finger and middle finger, place one either side so you make a fork, rake down, vertebrae by vertebrae, feeling the tension, listening to your fingers about where any stress might be, right down to the lower back. 

Leaving one hand on their back, place the other back at the top of the spine and fork down again two more times. 

How To Do A Back Massage Petrissage.

Petrissage is designed to improve the circulation and make the blood flow better after we have smoothed out the muscles. This is the pummeling you see therapists do. 


Make that same cup with your hand,  this time we're going to clap down as if we're horses clippety-clopping on their back. 

Working from the bottom of the back, up to their neck, all over that big muscles and down again.

Repeat three times up and down the left-hand side of the body.


You will have seen hacking, It is straight hands, using the side of the hand by the little finger. 

The knack to this is to keep your hand rigid, but make it floppy at the wrist. 

Working up and down the muscle from the base up to shoulders and back down again.

We only do that once because it can be quite shocking. 


Now nudging is far more complicated to explain than it is to do. It feels very odd to perform, but works the muscles very deeply. 

Standing at the hip again, this time facing the spine.

Place your left hand onto the body, near the outside of the torso, with you elbow sticking out and your fingers pointing across your body. 

Now place your right hand just above it, so the tips of our fingers are level with the wrist of each other's hand. 

Now push your elbows outwards and upwards towards the spine so it twists your hands.

Keep working this way all up the back. 

Twist and move the muscle underneath the skin. 

Working from the base of the back again up to the shoulders then back down again. 

Place one hand at on the shoulders at the top of the body so you don't lose contact with your model as you walk round the table to the right-hand hip and repeat the entire left had sequence on the right hand side of the body 

Now Up to The Shoulders

Move up to the models head. 

Place your thumbs underneath their shoulders and gently massage at the shoulders to loosen off the muscles. 

Stay there about three minutes

Notice that it is likely to be sensitive so use plenty of oil. 

Rather than wearing your thumbs out, use the power of the wrong between the first finger and the thumb. 

Now, hook the thumbs as  far under the shoulder muscles as you can. 

Now in the same way as you did with nudging, pull your elbows sharply into your sides, to make the thumbs flick over and through the tense shoulder muscles. 

Again, repeat three times. 

Move round the side of your model and gently massage underneath their shoulder blade using the side of your finger to get right under to touch those muscles there. 

A skilled masseur will be able to lift the mat at the shoulder blade, but there is no reason for you to do that, simply work on the muscles connected to it. 

Now make a spider with your fingers so that they are rigid, like a bridge and tap tap tap over the shoulder blades to encourage blood flow back in. 

Then gently smooth it around three times,  working that muscle but soothing it after all that work. 

Keep your hand on their shoulders and walk round the other side of the body to work their right hand shoulder blade.

How To Do A Back Massage - Finish

Move back to the head

Do some really long slow effleurages like we did at the beginning, smoothing the oils in and pulling those muscles. 

When you feel ready, inform your model you are done, and to take their time getting up. 

Healing Hands 

When I explain how to do a back massage I also like to add two more points. 

A good masseuse can encourage their model to relax without asking them to do so. 

This is done using breath. Bring your model’s awareness to their breath. Tell them to concentrate on their breathing. Now, consciously match it. Over time, slow yours down and they will follow suit. 

Next, it is good practice to imagine healing light going into their back all the time. 

To do this, I imagine myself like a radio transmitter, drawing light from the sun. Let the light flow through you rather than trying to give them your energy, if you will. 

My Best Essential Oils  Back Massage Recipes 

For Painful Backs

1tbs Grapeseed Oil (Vitis vinifera)

1tsp Almond Oil (Prunus amygdala)

3 drops Lavender Essential Oil (Lavandula angustifolia)

1 drop Juniper Essential Oil (Juniperus communis)

1 drop Cedarwood Essential Oil (Cedrus deodara)

Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

For Emotional Tension

1tbs Grapeseed Oil (Vitis vinifera)

1tsp Almond Oil (Prunus amygdala)

3 drops Rose Geranium Essential Oil (Pelargonium asperum var roseum)

2 drops Roman Chamomile Essential Oil (Anthemis nobilis) 

1 drop Ylang Ylang Essential Oil (Canaga odorata)

Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 37 weeks of pregnancy.

For Pregnancy

1tbs Grapeseed Oil (Vitis vinifera)

1tsp Almond Oil (Prunus amygdala)

3 drops Rose Geranium Essential Oil (Pelargonium asperum var roseum)

2 drops Roman Chamomile Essential Oil (Anthemis nobilis) 

3 drops Lavender Essential Oil (Lavandula angustifolia)

Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. Before that, it is fine to massage with just the carrier oils. 


1tbs Grapeseed Oil (Vitis vinifera)

1tsp Almond Oil (Prunus amygdala)

1 drop Ylang Ylang Essential Oil (Canaga odorata)

1 drop Jasmine Absolute (Jasminum grandiflorum)

1 drop Cedarwood Essential Oil (Cedrus deodara)

Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 37 weeks of pregnancy.

So, now you know…how to do a back massage. Massage is a wonderful therapy, but with essential oils becomes mystical, luxurious and oh, so much better. 

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