A man enjoying a lower back massage.

Lower Back Massage (Instructions, Self-Massage, Benefits, and More)

A man enjoying a lower back massage.

Lower back pain is common in adults, and one of the biggest reasons for doctor’s visits and missed days of work. There are a lot of possible causes for back pain, and a lower back massage is often an effective short-term treatment.

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Giving a Lower Back Massage: Step-by-Step Instructions

One of the best things about giving a massage for lower back pain is that you don’t need a lot of special tools or equipment. The techniques themselves are pretty simple, and it feels good to know that, by giving a friend or loved one a massage, you may help them feel a little better.

Before you get started, remember to use only gentle pressure to avoid any discomfort, and never apply any direct pressure to the spine. Depending on the cause of the lower back pain, applying pressure to the spine can cause additional discomfort or worsen an injury.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for giving a lower back massage:

1. Have the person receiving the massage lay on their stomach on a massage table. If you don’t have a massage table, you can use a mat or blanket placed on the floor or a cot or mattress. They can remove their shirt if they feel comfortable doing so. If not, make sure they are wearing loose-fitting clothing. Massages are more effective when you give them by making direct contact with the skin, so you have to be able to easily move their shirt out of the way.

2. Place a pillow under their chest and rolled towels under the forehead and ankles to provide support. This is more comfortable for them and helps maintain proper alignment while you work on their back. Cover their legs with a towel and tuck it into the waist of their pants. This protects their clothing from massage oil, which can leave stains that are difficult to remove.

3. Rub some massage oil between your hands to warm it, then spread it across the lower back using long, smooth strokes. You can add some essential oils if you wish, but remember that essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin. Use a massage oil that can also act as a carrier. Ask the person receiving the message if there are any essential oils they prefer and make sure they do not have a sensitivity before using one.

A man having a lower back massage at a massage parlor.

4. Begin massaging, focusing on one side of the back at a time at first, and finishing the massage by working on both sides at once. If you’re not sure what to do, here are a few simple techniques you can try:

  • Keep your fingers straight and spread your thumbs, pulling the lower back muscles away from the spine by slowly turning your wrists, one hand at a time.
  • Extend your arms and stack your hands, placing the bottom palm against the person’s lower back. Then, move your arms in a circular motion, keeping your wrists locked. Start near the hips and move your hands outward and upward. Then, repeat on the other side.
  • Make a fist with each hand. Place the knuckles in the middle of the back, and then move them to the hips, smoothly and gently, avoiding the spine.
  • Splay your fingers and place your hands on the lower back, near the hips, with one hand on either side of the spine. Apply gentle pressure, sliding your hand upward, adjacent to the spine.
  • Slide your thumb along the muscles next to the spine in an upward motion. You can do each side separately or both at the same time.
  • Place your fingertips just to the side of the person’s lower spine and press down, using slightly more pressure and pulling your fingers away from the spine and toward the hips.
  • Ask the person if they have any areas that are particularly sore or tight and have them identify exactly where the pain is. Use your thumb to apply firm pressure to these spots for five seconds each, moving it in small circles to loosen the muscle. Make sure that you are not pushing on the spine or any bones when doing this variety of trigger-point massage and stop if the person experiences pain.
  • End the massage by placing your hands on the sides of the lower back and moving them back and forth.

5. Throughout the massage, make sure you ask the person if they are comfortable with the amount of pressure you’re using and adjust as needed. If they experience any significant pain during the massage, stop, and recommend that they see their doctor.

Professional Lower Back Massages

There are a variety of massage techniques that are appropriate for lower back pain. While some of them are safe to try at home, others should only be performed by a trained professional massage therapist. Here are a few techniques that can be extremely effective relieving pain and tension in the back that should only be performed by professionals.

A man enjoying a deep tissue lower back massage at a spa.

Deep tissue massage is a technique that trained experts can perform that uses increased pressure to reach deep muscles and connective tissues. This technique can be helpful with a muscle strain or pull, but, again, should only be performed by those with proper training.

A close look at a massage therapist doing a lower back massage on a client.

Swedish massage is a gentle technique that uses a variety of specialized movements, including kneading, tapping, and vibration. This type of massage may appear simple, but it takes a lot of training to perfect.

A physical therapist massaging the lower back of a patient.

A sports massage is used to prevent or help injured athletes return to normal play. It’s usually done a few hours before a game or practice to loosen the muscles and prevent further injury. Because this type of massage usually involves an active or recently healed injury, it’s best left to the professionals.

Self Massage

It’s possible to self-massage your lower back using a few simple tools. There are a few ways to go about doing this.

First, place a mat on the floor and lie on your back. Place two tennis balls under your lower back with one on either side of your spine. Bend your knees and use your feet to move your body up and down over the tennis balls, rolling then against your lower back. If you need to change the amount of pressure, use your legs to lower or lift your body as needed. This technique also works with a foam roller.

If you prefer not to lay on the floor, it’s easy to modify this self-massage technique by leaning against a wall and placing the tennis ball between it and your back. Then, use your knees to move your body up and down, rolling over the ball. Press against it as needed to get the right amount of pressure.

What Are the Benefits of Lower Back Massage?

A lower back massage is most effective for treating acute back pain. It shouldn’t be considered a cure for chronic back pain as the results are temporary and there is usually some underlying medical issue. That said, if you experience back pain regularly and a massage gives you brief periods of relief, it’s a technique that may help improve your quality of life.

Massage is increasingly being recommended as a complementary treatment for a range of medical conditions, including anxiety, digestive disorders, stress, insomnia, and fibromyalgia. It improves circulation, eases tension, and improves lymph flow.

What Type of Back Pain Is Lower Back Massage Effective For?

A man experiencing lower back pains.

There are two types of back pain: acute and chronic. Acute back pain usually resolves within three months. Most people only have it for a few weeks. Chronic back pain, on the other hand, lasts longer than three months.

As we mentioned, massage has been found to be more effective with acute back pain, but it can still provide some relief to those with chronic back pain. When effective, massage may alleviate pain enough to temporarily improve mobility and allow for less pain medication. Just remember that it is a treatment, not a cure, meaning it will alleviate symptoms but they will likely come back.

Multiple things can cause acute and chronic back pain, including sitting for too long, lifting heavy objects, falls, being sedentary, or having poor posture. These can happen to anyone, which explains why back pain is so common.

Some serious medical conditions can cause back pain, too, including arthritis, osteoporosis, or a ruptured, bulged, or degenerative disc. If you’re experiencing lower back pain and are not getting any relief from self-massage, it might be time to seek out additional treatment. A professional massage therapist may be able to adjust your spine or show you techniques you can use at home to get some relief.

If your pain is severe or worsening to the point that it interferes with your daily life, see your physician. Your doctor can diagnose any serious medical issues and recommend treatment options, which may range from over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, physical therapy, or massage.

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