Massage For Dummies
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Whether you want to get a massage or find out how to give one, there are some important tips and guidelines to keep in mind. Safety is of the utmost importance, so be sure that you’re aware of contraindications and vulnerable spots on the body before giving your loved one a massage or settling in for one yourself.

Important rules for giving massage

Giving a massage is great, but it’s even better when you take time to remember important massage-giving rules. They help you perform your best work and, most importantly, give your partner the best experience possible.

Review these rules before you begin giving a massage:

  • Do no harm: This guideline is the number one rule for giving a massage. Make sure you’re aware of the moves that you shouldn’t make, the places that you shouldn’t press, and the conditions you shouldn’t treat.

  • Think 3-D: Try to visualize the invisible physical structures beneath the skin that you’re affecting with your hands during the massage.

  • Use your whole body: Remember to use correct body mechanics in order to save your own body from overexertion while applying just the right amount of pressure for your partner.

  • Focus on the other person: A massage is no time to be thinking about politics, sports, the weather, or your upcoming turn to receive a massage yourself. As fully as you can, focus on your partner, what they’re feeling, and how you can make them feel better.

  • Go out of your mind: After you figure out the moves, practice the technique, and focus on your partner with all your concentration, you can stop thinking. Let go of your extraneous thoughts — and even your thoughts about doing a good job.

  • Get creative: Go ahead, go crazy; just let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling and go with your intuition. As long as what you’re doing is generated from caring and commitment to your partner, it’s going to be the right thing.

  • Let love flow: Certain people develop an ability to send a very distinct and palpable sensation of love into their fingers and palms. You can feel it when they touch you. Everyone else has the potential to develop that ability, so why not use massage as an opportunity to explore your own innate abilities to send a powerful message of caring to others through your touch and presence?

Important guidelines for receiving massage

Receiving massage may seem like a passive activity, but knowing and following a few important guidelines can make you a better massage recipient and help you to get more out of your massage.

Let these massage-receiving rules guide you to a great experience on the table (or floor, or couch . . . you get the idea):

  • Keep breathing: While receiving a massage, focus your mind as fully as possible on your breathing to bring your awareness back to your body.

  • Stay loose: If you’re not engaging your mind to relax your own muscles, you’re missing many of the massage’s benefits and effects.

  • Let go: Don’t help your partner give you a massage. Just lying there like a noodle is really the best thing you can do.

  • Stop thinking, start being: When you’re getting a massage, don’t think about what you should have done or plan to do. A massage is time to be here now.

  • No pain, no gain? No way!: Although certain muscle knots and patterns of tension do respond well to firm, well-focused pressure, you don’t necessarily need to experience it for yourself. Harder massage isn’t always better massage; sometimes the lightest touch can achieve the most profound benefits.

  • Listen to your emotions: If you encounter an emotional peak during a massage, relax, breathe, and allow it to happen.

  • Blissing out is okay: Sometimes massage makes you feel more than great; it makes you feel ecstatic, rapturous, and filled with bliss. Go with that feeling.

  • It’s cool to be nude (or not): The key for massage situations is to respect the attitudes of both people at all times. If either person feels uncomfortable with any kind of skin exposure whatsoever, you’re much better off to keep that area covered than to cause discomfort.

  • You’re the boss: You have complete authority to change anything that may be making you uncomfortable during a massage.

  • Be grateful: During the massage itself, spend some time being grateful for what you’re experiencing in the moment.

Massage contraindications to avoid

Contraindications (conditions that make massage unadvisable) can bring down a great massage for both you and the recipient. If you are aware of the contraindications pertaining to massage, you’ll be a much safer massager and/or recipient.

Following are the contraindications for massage:

  • Fever or infectious diseases: When you have a fever or infectious disease, your body is trying to isolate and expel an invader of some kind. Massage increases overall circulation and can therefore work against your body’s natural defenses. Plus, it exposes the massage giver to the virus as well.

  • Inflammation: Massage can irritate inflamed conditions including anything that ends in –itis, such as phlebitis (inflammation of a vein), dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), arthritis (inflammation of the joints), and so on.

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure means excessive pressure against blood vessel walls. Massage affects the blood vessels, so people with high blood pressure or a heart condition should receive light, sedating massages and check with their physicians to see whether they can receive more vigorous massage.

  • Hernia: Hernias are protrusions of part of an organ (such as the intestines) through a muscular wall. They should be dealt with by trained medical professionals.

  • Osteoporosis: Elderly people with a severe stoop to the shoulders often have this condition, in which bones become porous, brittle, and fragile. Massage may be too intense for this condition.

  • Varicose veins: Massaging directly over varicose veins can worsen the problem. However, applying a very light massage next to the veins in question, always in a direction toward the heart, can be beneficial.

  • Skin problems: Avoid anything that looks like it shouldn’t be there, such as rashes, wounds, bruises, burns, boils, and blisters. These problems are usually local, however, so you can still massage in other areas.

  • Cancer: Massage increases lymphatic circulation, and cancer can spread through the lymphatic system, so massage may potentially spread the disease. Simple, caring touch is fine, but massage strokes that stimulate circulation usually aren’t recommended. Always check with a doctor first.

  • HIV infection: HIV isn’t contraindicated itself — it can’t be transmitted during massage if there’s no exchange of bodily fluids. However, some of the infections that people suffering from the later stages of AIDS experience are contraindicated, and you should avoid those infections.

  • Pregnancy: Most women love to receive massage during pregnancy, and giving them one is perfectly fine as long as you educate yourself on a few special precautions.

Vulnerable massage areas to avoid

Some vulnerable areas of the body are exposed during a massage. Highly trained massage therapists can actually work in these areas, but if you’re not a massage professional yourself, you should stay away from these areas.

Avoid the following spots of vulnerability:

  • Front of the neck/throat: You’ve heard of the expression, “Go for the jugular,” right? Well, this spot is where you find it. Steer clear of this area that also contains the carotid artery and major nerves.

  • Side of the neck: It’s not quite as sensitive as the front of the neck, but you should still treat it gingerly.

  • The ear notch: The little notch just behind your jawbone and beneath your ear contains a sensitive facial nerve, so don’t go shoving a finger into it.

  • The eyeball: This one seems like common sense, but don’t poke your fingers directly into your massage partner’s eyes.

  • The axilla: The axilla is the armpit, which is ticklish for many people. This sensitive area is full of nerves, arteries, and lymph glands.

  • The upper inner arm: Just down from the armpit, along the inside of the upper arm, is a sensitive, nerve-filled area along the length of the arm bone. Pressing too firmly here creates that yucky-nervy feeling.

  • The ulnar notch of the elbow: Otherwise known as the funny bone, this spot contains the ulnar nerve; if you touch it too hard, your partner may curse at you in several languages.

  • The abdomen: This area is filled with many squishy important bits known as organs. Be especially gentle around the upper abdomen along the ribs, the area home to the liver, gallbladder, and spleen.

  • The lower back: Don’t press too hard on the kidneys, found just to both sides of the spine and below the ribs.

  • The femoral triangle: This area is often referred to as the groin. It’s the inner part of the line in front where your leg meets your body. Pressing too hard here can actually cut off circulation to the leg.

  • Popliteal area: Popularly known as the back of the knee, this spot is sensitive to pressure.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Steve Capellini, LMT, is a licensed massage therapist, trainer, and consultant. He has authored several books and has appeared on TV and in magazines.

Michel Van Welden, PT, NT, received his training at the Physical Therapy Institute of Paris, specializing in orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation.

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