Self-massage techniques

Self massage is, like all bodywork, an art. I started it many years ago when no one could help me with my pains and I couldn’t afford a good therapist, respectively.

Back then I was very active but injured myself on a frequent basis. Today I am still active, but suffer hardly from injuries or muscle and joint pain. And if it happens, I now know what to do and I recover usually very fast.

I said it is an art to massage yourself, which is true, but it’s easier than learning the piano or the guitar. The are not too many guidelines, which I think is really good as it forces you to experiment a lot.

After learning the key principles on what muscles cause which problems and how they relate to each other, things start to get really intuitive. But now I am getting already way too far ahead.

On this page you will learn about the most effective self massage techniques I know of that can eliminate your muscle and joint pain, or simply lower your muscle tone.

First I am going to tell you what all those techniques have in common and then I will discuss each of them and their field of application.

1. Common features of the self-massage techniques

The first common feature is that all techniques work extremely well if applied correctly.

The second feature is, that their benefits go beyond general relaxation and transient well being. With the self massage techniques you will learn here, you really can focus on

  •  eliminating excessive muscle tension
  • eliminating trigger and tender points
  • increasing your range of motion
  • speeding up your rehabilitation after injuries
  • improving your posture

The third common feature is that all these massage techniques will achieve that through relieving excessive muscle tension by communicating with your nervous system – more info on that below -.

The fourth common feature is, that you have to work slow and precise. You do not want to just press around your muscles. Uncoordinated “rubbing” won’t do the job. Here, precise work and patience are vital for success.

The reason for this is, that with self massage you mainly want to normalize muscle tension and eliminate tender and trigger points. In order to do so, you have to „communicate“ with your nervous system as it is the control station for your muscular tone. You do that by applying mechanical force on your muscle while focusing the massage exclusively on tight and/or tender areas. If you work fast or imprecise – just rubbing around –, your brain will simply not be able to properly detect excessive tension, nor will you be able feel the tiny trigger points.

This is why you want to concentrate only on tight or tender spots. You want to get rid of them? Then you have to focus on these areas as this is where the problems are located. It is really that simple, yet not always easy.

Last but not least, these massage techniques have in common that you can and should apply them frequently. How frequently? As long as you are in pain I recommend practicing self massage on a daily basis. If you have time, even two or three times per day. Afterwards it is up to you, how often you do it in order to keep your muscles smooth and your pains away.

But now let’s get started with the actual massage.

2. Self-massage with a ball

A massage ball is without a doubt the ultimate allround tool for self massage. It’s cheap, small and extremely versatile. In most cases you won’t need any other tool.

With a ball you can work your

  • Hips
  • Back
  • Neck
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Arms

Place your  ball on the desired area and muscle, respectively. By slowly rolling over that area, notice tender spots. Massage each of them with 10 – 15 slow strokes, while concentrating only on the painful area.

3. Self-massage with your hands

This is a further self massage technique and as its name suggests, you will use your hands in different ways. They are absolute precision tools. Contrary to a tennis ball, they can feel very precisely where a muscle is tight or where the taut band of a trigger point is located.

On the other hand, your hands tire pretty quick and thus are prone for overuse injuries. So, when using your hands for massage, make sure to keep your sessions short and stop immediately when you feel any discomfort.

You will use your hands mainly on your…

  • Neck
  • Armpits
  • Arms
  • Hands

As with the  ball, you want to focus only the painful spots in a muscle. Don’t just rub around and keep in mind that precise work does the job.

3.1 The Finger-technique

Put your fingertips on the muscle you want to massage, just right before a tender spot.

Now pressurize the tissue and slowly pull with your fingers over this area. BUT: Your fingers are not sliding over your skin but moving it and thus massaging the underlying muscle tissue.

The best part with this technique is, that you are forced to work very accurately as it doesn’t allow you a big range of motion.

As soon as you passed the tender spot, release the pressure, return to your starting point and repeat. Aim at a maximum of 15 strokes per tender spot in a muscle. If you cannot bear more than 5 strokes, that’s also OK too.  Over time you will work yourself up to 15 reps.

!Whenever possible, use your free hand to support your massaging hand. This way you can exert more pressure and at the same time safe your joints!

3.2 The thumb-index-finger-technique

With this technique, you are rolling the corresponding muscle between your thumb and index finger. It’s great to work small muscle groups but is limited to those that can be “pinched” or  “pulled away” from its surrounding tissue. For massage, pinch the desired area of a muscle and roll it for a maximum of 10 times between your fingers.

!With this self massage technique your hands will tire VERY quickly, which is why you should only use it when necessary. And even then, keep it short!

3.3 The thumb-technique

As with the finger-technique, you will massage only a very small area of a muscle with a maximum of 15 strokes. What is important here, is to support your thumb with your index finger and not to fully extend your joints but keeping them slightly bent and actively stabilized.

3.4 The knuckle-technique

Here you will massage yourself with your knuckles and an open fist. Make a fist, without closing it tightly. Now place its knuckles on the corresponding muscle. Pressurize the tissue and execute a very slow stroke all along the muscle’s belly. Slow down even more as soon as you encounter a tender area.

!Really pay attention to keep your forearm and your hands as loose as possible!

4. The pressure-motion technique

The press and move massage technique works extremely well if you want to lower the tension of a whole muscle.

This makes it an allround massage technique. Furthermore it is a little easier than the trigger point massage as your work will be a little bit less specific.

This is because you will focus on a „whole“ muscle or even whole muscle groups instead of just one tiny spot.

What you are going to do here, is pressing on a muscle or pinching it and then making it move. While you do so, you will feel your muscle sliding under or between your fingers – or your chosen massage tool –.

Every time you hit a tender spot, slightly increase the pressure and slow down the movement. This way you really show your nervous system that there is too much tension located. In turn, it will relieve it.

First, palpate the muscle you want to massage, then pinch or pressurize it and make the muscle move. Repeat the movement about 20 times for each tender spot in a muscle/area.

But don’t get bound on those numbers. It’s better to go with your feeling and do as many reps as you feel you need.

What is important here, is to move slow and conscious. Only this way you will give your body the time it needs to lower the tension in the area you are working on.

5. What self-massage tools will I use?

You can use a foam roller, cane, ball, your hands, knuckles, fingers or elbows. It all depends on where you are going to massage. But do not worry! In all the massage videos here on Painotopia I will show you what tools work good on the areas you want to massage.

That are the very basics of your self massage. It goes without saying that there is more to learn but for now it’s enough. You are set to start your self massage and your own bodywork.