How to Give a Massage
Keeping it Simple

Do you want to learn how to give a massage? You really can’t duplicate the effectiveness of a professional therapeutic massage, but any massage can be therapeutic to some extent. I’ll give you some simple guidance on this page to help you give someone a massage that they will appreciate.

Your first hurdle is probably the lack of a massage table. A table massage is so much easier on the one giving the massage, as well as more comfortable for the recipient. You could purchase a BestMassage table for around $60 at (See all Professional Massage Tables) Buy one for your wife, so she can use it on you! But, look out! What goes around comes around!

Assuming you don’t have a massage table, use the floor or a firm raised surface that doesn’t sink in like a bed. A bed is too wide to work around all sides and its softness causes your recipient to sink with applied pressure.

Once you learn how to give a massage, the demand for your hands will probably require a massage table at some point!

If you want to learn how to give yourself a massage, click here.

What to Wear?

The person learning how to give a massage, the "giver", should dress in cool clothing, because you will warm up quickly from the effort it takes!

Have the recipient undress to their comfort level. To keep them warm use a large towel or sheet to cover the body, only uncovering the body part you are massaging at the time. Then cover that part and move to the next, uncovering that area.

Where to Start

The only way to learn how to give a massage is with a willing recipient. (One probably won’t be hard to find!) Start with the recipient lying on their stomach, hands at their side.

Use pillows under the chest/neck area to try to keep the neck as straight as possible. A horseshoe shaped pillow works well for this. A Massage table has a hole for the face. Try to duplicate this, if possible with pillows. For comfort, put a pillow under the ankle when they are on their stomach and under the knees when on their back.

When first learning how to give a massage on the floor kneel over the recipient so that your body weight is above him or her or at a 45 degree angle, or so. Determine if you want to give a full body massage, or just focus on a problem area. For a full body massage start on the back. In general, massage toward the heart, but every stroke does not need to be in that direction.

Back Massage

Warm up the muscles of the back by laying your hands flat on each side of the spine. Use light friction to warm up the muscles by rubbing your hands back and forth across the entire back. Look for a pink hue on the skin (light colored skin), which indicates warmth and increased blood circulation to the area.

After the warming rub, put massage oil or lotion on your hands. You can buy some made for massage, or use something simple like olive, vegetable oil or hand lotion. Warm it up by rubbing your hands together first.

Apply the lotion to the entire area of the back with a light massage stroke. This is called “effleurage.” (Repetition of gliding strokes.) Do this lightly until the lotion is spread evenly across the area to be massaged.

Now you can go deeper with your strokes. The deeper the stroke (harder pressure), the slower you need to go. Going fast and deep at the same time is painful. Slow down as you increase pressure! You might find yourself using too much pressure when you are just learning how to give a massage.

Repeat strokes as much as you both feel you need to. When you are ready to wrap up the massage on the back area, end with light feather-like strokes covering the whole area before ending. It’s relaxing after deep pressure. The big mass of muscle on each side of the spine is the main area people like to have massaged, but don’t forget the sides also.

Protect Yourself

To protect yourself, especially when first learning how to give a massage, you need to be careful not to overextend your wrists, fingers or arms. This is why it is necessary to use your body weight behind the strokes, instead of pushing sideways with your wrist or fingers bent. Protect your joints from injury. 

To do the stroke with your fingers they need to be straight. Stack the fingers of one hand over the other in order to create support and to increase surface area when you’re using them as massage “tools”. When using your palm for pressure make sure not to “hyper-extend” your wrist. Try to involve your body weight into the strokes, not just your hands and arms.

You should work on an entire one side of the back before moving to the other, starting at the top, working toward the waist. Starting just below the neck, apply gliding pressure along the side of the spine until you reach the waist. Do this slowly several times. You should only increase pressure as the muscles begin to relax. Then you can begin to go deeper, using your body weight to increase pressure a little at a time.

Pay Careful Attention

Your recipient will have to let you know the pressure and number of times needed for each stroke. Pay careful attention to their reaction in response to what you are doing. Let up the pressure if they communicate that you are going to deep.

You might find yourself having to focus on problem areas for much longer than you expected. Let the recipient tell you what to do. You might have planned to do a whole body massage, but end up spending a lot of time on troubled areas that you and the recipient discover together.

More Advanced Tools

If deeper pressure is desired, you will need to switch “tools”. You can use your forearm, elbow at a 90 degree angle. Keep your wrist and hands relaxed. With your body weight behind it, apply slow, gliding pressure with your forearm.

If even deeper pressure is desired, use your elbow. Start lightly by applying pressure with the area just behind your elbow. Use your other hand on the recipient’s body to support your stance. Keep your wrist and hand relaxed to avoid getting sore or injured. (Click videos on the right to watch.)

If you find a small problem area, you can use the point of your elbow to apply pressure and hold it. We won’t talk about “trigger points” specifically here, but this is approaching trigger point therapy. For now, you’re just learning the basics of how to give a massage.

Another "tool" you might want to discover when learning how to give a massage is “soft fists”, either two-handed or one hand. With a fist, use the back of your fingers to apply gliding pressure. Always lead the stroke with your thumb out front and your wrists straight to avoid injury to yourself.

Another "tool" you might want to discover when learning how to give a massage is “soft fists”, either two-handed or one hand. With a fist, use the back of your fingers to apply gliding pressure. Always lead the stroke with your thumb out front and your wrists straight to avoid injury to yourself.

Leg Massage

If you are ready to move on to other areas after the back go ahead and do the same kind of strokes on the back of each leg. Warm up the whole leg first with friction, as you did on the back. Start the deeper strokes by gliding the full length of the leg.

Then go to each section, knee to hip, ankle to knee, locating any spots that need focused attention. Your strokes can continue all the way up on the side of the buttocks, as long as your oil or lotion has been applied there. Finish your stroke by curving down the sides. Repeat the strokes slowly and gradually deeper, as desired by your massage recipient.

When first learning how to give a massage, you (and the recipient) will often be surprised at how painful certain areas are to pressure. Start light and increase pressure as acceptable and desired by your recipient.

Look for those “trigger” areas and hold a little pressure on them, if acceptable to your recipient. With time, those triggers will become less sore and the result can be noticed in other areas away from the sore spot.

Do not apply pressure to the back of the knee. This spot has nerves, arteries and veins that you do not want to compress. On legs and all areas let up pressure as you go over bony areas. For other areas to use caution around, see the list at the bottom of this page.

Foot Massage

Most people like a soothing foot massage, so don't be afraid to do them when learning how to give a massage. The best tools for the bottom of the feet are soft fists (see above) or thumbs. Do the overall foot and then glide from the heel along the sole to each toe. Grasp the toes with toes between your thumb and forefinger. Gently rock each toe back and forth.

You can do the front of the feet with the recipient on their stomachs. Or, you can do the front of the feet once they turn over.

Massage with your fingers around the ankle bones in back and forth circular friction. Then massage in between the tarsal bones (on top of the fore foot).

The Flip Side

Now turn your recipient over on their back. At this point in learning how to give a massage I’ll provide some detail for the neck area. Warm up the neck and top of the shoulder areas with your hands. Turn the recipient’s head to one side to work on one side at a time. Use lighter more detailed pressure on the neck.

If they feel any discomfort as if a nerve or artery is being pressed on, lighten up. Soft fists are good to use in this area as the fist can curve with the area being covered. Massage the bottom of the skull down the neck and curve out to the shoulders with your strokes. At the base of the skull behind the ear use your fingers to press along the bottom of the skull down to the start of the spine. Repeat on the other side.

At this point, tuck the “drape” sheet under their armpits with arms outside the sheet.

Chest Massage

Start the frontal massage on the pectoral muscles (below the collar bones). Warm the area up. Use your soft fist in the corner where the collarbone and the sternum meet, upper chest area. Glide from the center out to the shoulder.

Arm Massage

Next massage the arms with the same basic movements as with the legs. The arms are easy to add some “circular massage”. Wrap both hands around arm and wring back and forth. Or, grab the muscle mass in your hands and lift up the tissue away from the bone and then bring it back down, letting it fall into place (called “milking”). 

Abdominal Massage

Some people don’t like their abdomen massaged. This area goes from below the ribcage and between the hip bones. Massage the abdomen with light pressure in a clockwise circular motion. To stimulate peristalsis (normal movement of the digestive organs) use circular motion on the areas of the large intestine.

The large intestine goes up the right side (ascending colon), across the middle (transverse), and then down the left side (descending colon). Always in clockwise circular motion, massage the descending colon from top down.

Add the transverse colon (across) from right side to left then down the descending. On the right side of the abdomen massage the ascending colon from bottom to top across the transverse, right to left and then down the descending colon again.

When first learning how to give a massage, it might be best to skip the abdominal area.

Front of Legs

Use the same basic pattern as the back legs. The middle quadriceps muscle glides over another muscle right under it and tends to flip back and forth under applied pressure, which is uncomfortable. A good way to avoid this is to use soft fists on each side of the middle muscle pressing toward the center as you glide up the leg.

Three muscles wrap around the inside of the knee and attach just below the inside knee. Tightness in these muscles can cause knee pain. Massage this area with light pressure and follow the muscle mass up past the knee.

The lower leg is bony, massage on the sides of the bones to avoid pain.

Comforting Closure

It is comforting and relaxing to close with very light feather strokes that give closure to the massage. Feather stroke the top of the legs down to the feet. Then do the same with tips of fingers along shoulders and head ending at the top of the head. Relax your open fingers on the body and drag them across.

At this point you will have begun to learn how to give a massage. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Your recipient will greatly appreciate what you have done, as long as you clearly receive and respect their communication to you about what is acceptable and what is not.

When learning how to give a massage, the hardest thing to grasp at first is that you do not know what level of discomfort the pressure of your massage may be causing. It is important to listen and watch for reactions, then adjust according to that communication. Ask the recipient often where they would like you to keep working, how deep or easy and when to move on. Keep the massage a team effort, communicating, listening and responding carefully.

This is a general lesson on how to give a massage of the whole body. I will continue on other pages with more details for some specific areas. Beneficial touch is therapeutic. Take the time to discover the soothing and healing benefits of massage!

Caution Areas

Do not apply deep pressure to these areas: • Just under the ear

• Front neck/throat area

• Armpit

• Front and back of the elbow and knee

• Umbilical area

• Kidney area, on the back by 11th and 12th rib.

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Hippocrates said, "The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day."

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