16 Steps to Giving a Relaxing Head, Neck & Shoulder Massage

Remember, always give feedback on pressure and skip the bits you don’t like. If pregnant do not dig into base of skull or the area on top of shoulder where bra strap sits.

For an effective neck, head and shoulder massage you’ll be using five basic techniques as well as using your intuition. To judge if you’re using the right pressure, the tips of your fingers should turn white instead of pink and you’re also looking at the muscle to be moving underneath your hands.The easiest way though, is to ask for feedback from the recipient. At all times you and the recipient want to be comfortable. If you have any doubts as to whether it is safe to massage your Recipient (R), please seek professional and/or medical advice.

The 5 basic techniques are:

Rubbing – this is a really easy technique because it’s instinctive. When it’s cold we rub ourselves warm, when we’re in pain we rub the area. Rubbing speeds up blood flow which immediately increases oxygen levels in your body. It has a stimulating effect on the area and it’s great when you’re feeling low in energy, sluggish or listless. You can rub an area using the palm of your hand, the heel of your palm or the flat side of your fist, either the area between your knuckles or the side of your fist.

Cupping -this would be used around the shoulder blade and the top of the shoulders. This is a vigorous technique used to re-energise the body and is particularly useful when you’re feeling anxious or worried as it shakes off nervous energy improving your stature and boosting confidence. Create a cup shape with your hand by bending your fingers slightly at the knuckles, keep your wrists loose and bounce your hand off the body using the whole of your cupped palm.

Tapping is used in the same way as Cupping but this time either using the tips of your fingers over the scalp or the edges of your fingers bouncing together creating a rain like sensation.

Thumb circles – if the joints of your thumbs are sensitive at all or painful then you can use the knuckle of your first finger instead. This technique can be used to get into tight muscles around the tops of the shoulders and around the shoulder blade between the spine and the shoulder.

Kneading – when you are tense or stressed your muscle fibres shorten. Kneading counteracts this by stretching and loosening the fibres. Create an arch with your thumb and fingers over the part the body you are massaging, in this case the top of shoulders. Then using as much of your hands as possible in order to avoid pinching the skin, lift and role the muscle between your fingers and thumbs making sure your thumbs and fingers work rhythmically together. It is very similar to kneading bread or pastry.

1. First begin by placing your palms of your hands over the R’s shoulders with your thumbs pointing downwards towards the spine and fingers resting relaxed over the top of their shoulder down towards their collarbone.

2. Together take three deep breaths in and out.

3. Applying gentle kneading pressure with heels of hands and tips of fingers, work your hands in towards the neck and out again to the shoulders continuing the movement down the upper arms, as far as the elbow. Work back up again to neck. Repeat this sequence three or four times – into neck then down arm being one sequence.

4. With thumbs either side of the spine starting by base of neck, work thumbs in circular motion from the bottom of the neck down through the shoulder blade area taking this movement as low as is comfortable. Follow the same line back up to the neck repeating this motion 3 or four times. Up- and-down is one set. Repeat same technique but this time tracing the shoulder blade itself.

5. If using your thumbs for step 4 repeat above using the knuckle of your first finger getting slightly deeper.

6. Placing your left arm across your R’s chest to stabilise them, lay the flat of your right palm between their spine and shoulder blade just at the base of their neck. Rub up and down beside the spine, over their shoulder blade and the top of their shoulder in a circular motion moving outwards towards their armpit. This should be a dynamic movement starting in a small and gradually increasing your range until you cover the entire shoulders. Continue until R can feel the warmth in their back then repeat on the other side.

7. Place your left hand gently on their forehead to stabilise them and with your right hand make a C shape (between thumb and fingers) gently placing this at base of their neck. Hold R’s neck, then apply a constant and comfortable level of circular pressure. Make five slow circles at the base of the neck, then the middle and five just beneath the hairline behind their ears. Repeat this motion for 3 or 4 sets – up and down being one set.

8. Repeat the above motion this time scooping gently and lifting the skin upwards between your thumb and fingers. Maintain a constant pressure and rhythm and keep the same distance between each position. Repeat 3 or 4 sets.

Swap hands and repeat the above motions on the other side of the neck.

9. Place your hands back either side at the base of your R’s neck and in gentle circular motions rotate your knuckles up the spine to the base of their skull and back down again. Repeat 3 or 4 times.

10. Gently rest the whole of your hands on either side of R’s head with your thumbs resting in the base of their skull. Rotate thumbs under the base of R’s skull then applying gentle circular pressure move along the edge of their skull working outwards until you reach just behind their ears then back to centre. Repeat this movement 3 times.

The following movements can be done quickly or slowly with best results a mix up of tempo.

11. Use the pads of your fingers and thumbs to massage their entire scalp – you want to be able to feel the scalp moving under your fingers and thumbs over the skull of R’s head. Continue movement for about three minutes. Repeat movement using the heels of both hands – resting fingers gently on the head.

12. Applying gentle circular pressure to the areas just above R’s ears with the heel of both your hands in circular motion.

13. Very gently tap and cup over the whole of scalp.

14. Placing your thumbs gently on your R’s temples massage in small circles. 15. Repeat with heel of hands on temples squeeze in a holding motion.

16. Placing your hands over R’s ears, fingers pointing up to the top of their head, gently hold for the count of 10.

Further reading

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