If you’re feeling tense or sore, massage therapy may help you feel better. It has plenty of physical and mental benefits, including pain relief and relaxation.

Sometimes, you might not have the time to book an appointment for massage therapy, or you might simply need some pain management or relaxation in between professional sessions, in which case, a self-massage can be beneficial.

If you’d like to try self-massage for pain relief, here are some of the best and safest self-massage techniques to try at home.

What are self-massage techniques?

Self-massage is simply making use of your hands, tools, or objects to work on any sore muscles in your body.

During a self-massage, you use your hands or other tools to manipulate your own muscles. This involves kneading the skin and applying pressure in certain spots.

Picking up some self-massage techniques can be a useful way to soothe stress and ease pain caused by poor posture or even some chronic conditions.

To get started, you can use one of the common techniques below.

Using your hands to massage the head, neck, or feet

Using your hands is a great way to give yourself a self neck massage, a self foot massage or a self head massage. These areas are all easy to reach and don’t require too much pressure, making them easy to massage with the hands.

Using a foam roller to massage the legs, back and glutes

A foam roller is a useful tool for easing muscle pain in the:

  • calves
  • hamstrings
  • thighs
  • glutes
  • lower back
  • iliotibial (IT) band

Simply position the roller on the floor and place the body over top of it. Then, move the body back and forth over the roller.

Using a tennis ball to massage the shoulders, back, and pectoral muscles

A tennis ball or a golf ball is great for accessing harder-to-reach muscle groups like the shoulders, mid-back, or pectoral muscles. Use the floor or a wall and roll your body over the ball.

Be sure to be extra gentle if using a golf ball. You’ll want to use light pressure due to the hard surface.

Using specially designed self-massage tools

There are a variety of other self-massage tools designed to target specific muscle groups more accurately. These include:

  • neck and shoulder massagers
  • massage guns
  • cold or cryotherapy rollers
  • back massagers
  • heated massagers

What are the benefits of self-massage? 

Self-massage is a simple, convenient way to enjoy the benefits of massage therapy. As a DIY method, it can be done in the comfort of your own home.

Like massage in general, self-massage may help ease:

  • stress
  • headaches
  • muscle strain
  • muscle tension
  • pain

Additionally, if you receive professional massages, self-massage may prolong the benefits and provide relief in between sessions.

Other benefits include the following:

  • Self-massage is less expensive. Self-massage is practically free. While you can buy some tools, you can also perform a self-massage with nothing but your own hands.
  • You know your own body. Even though professional massage therapists are trained in anatomy, sometimes, you know your own body best. With a self-massage, you can hone in on the areas of your body that are causing you pain.
  • Self-massage is a great way to stimulate and rejuvenate the body. Massaging the muscles helps to stimulate blood flow and circulation in the body.

The best way to keep your body free of tension? Use a mixture of both self-massage and professional massage therapy.

What types of pain can self-massage help?

Self-massage may ease minor types of pain, including pain in the:

  • head
  • neck
  • shoulders
  • upper and lower back
  • glutes
  • hips

If your pain is due to a swollen muscle, you may also have nerve pain. This can happen when a muscle presses against a nerve. But by using self-massage to relieve muscle pain, you might reduce nerve pain too.

Below are self-massage techniques for common types of pain.

1. Self-massage for neck pain

Neck pain is often caused by overuse and poor posture. This can happen from everyday activities, like hunching over a laptop or phone, or reading in bed without adequate neck support.

If your neck feels tight and painful, try this therapeutic self-massage technique. It may also be helpful if you have a knot in your neck.

Steps to follow

  1. Lower your shoulders away from your ears. Straighten your neck and back.
  2. Locate the painful areas on your neck. Press firmly with your fingers.
  3. Gently move your fingers in circular motions. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  4. Continue for 3 to 5 minutes

2. Self-massage for headache pain and tension

If you’re experiencing headache pain, a self-massage may help release tension and increase relaxation. This may be particularly useful if your headache is stress-induced.

Here’s one way to do a head massage.

Steps to follow

  1. Lower your shoulders away from your ears. Straighten your neck and back.
  2. Locate the base of your skull. Place the pointer and middle fingers of each hand in the center, fingertips touching.
  3. Apply gentle pressure and slide your fingers outward or downward, moving in the direction that feels best.
  4. Move your fingers in small circular motions. Focus on the tense spots, along with the areas around it.

You can also massage your temples, neck, and shoulders.

3. Self-massage for back pain

Back pain is a very common condition. It can have many causes, including but not limited to:

  • muscle strains or spasms
  • nerve irritation
  • disc damage
  • structural issues

Gentle forms of exercise, like walking, yoga, or specific types of stretches may help ease back pain.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, and using heating pads or cold compresses on your back may help. Massage may also offer some relief, including self-massage.

Here are two techniques to try for back pain:

Lower back self-massage

This self massage for lower back pain works well for massaging your lower back. You don’t need any equipment.

Steps to follow

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Straighten your back.
  2. Place your thumbs on each side of your sacrum, the flat triangular bone at the bottom of your spine.
  3. Move your thumbs in small circular motions, moving up and down your sacrum.
  4. Apply pressure on any tense spots. Pause, then release.
  5. Continue as necessary, and remember to breathe deeply.

Alternatively, you can try doing this massage in a chair. Be sure to plant your feet on the floor and to sit up straight.

Tennis ball self-massage

You can also massage your back by lying on top of a tennis ball. The firm pressure of the ball can relieve tension in your back.

Steps to follow

  1. Lie on the floor on your back, with your knees bent.
  2. Place the tennis ball directly under the tense spot in your back. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  3. To add more pressure, gently rotate your body to lean on the tennis ball. You can also cross one ankle over the opposite knee to increase the pressure.

When you’re done, roll away from the ball, then get up. Rolling onto the ball could cause more pain.

5. Self-massage for foot pain

The feet can sometimes become sore due to uncomfortable shoes, overexertion, or conditions like arthritis and tendinitis.

This tension can be relieved at home with a few simple techniques.

Self foot massage with a ball

This self-massage for the feet will ease tension and pain in the heel, arches, and ball of the foot.

Steps to follow

  1. Place a tennis or golf ball on the floor.
  2. Balancing on one foot or sitting, place the other foot over the ball.
  3. Roll the foot back and forth over the ball, adding more weight to the ball if it feels good.
  4. Continue for 3-5 minutes.

Self foot massage with your hands

You can also give your feet a massage with your hands.

Steps to follow

  1. Hold your foot in your hands.
  2. Using your thumbs, rub in circles around the heel. Repeat 3-5 times.
  3. Rub in a straight line from the heel to the ball of the foot to ease pain in the arches. Repeat 3-5 times.
  4. Rub your thumbs from the middle of the ball to the outside edges. Repeat 3-5 times.

Even though self-massage can be an effective way to ease muscle tension, many people find that it simply doesn’t compare to getting a massage from a professional.

This is because when you give yourself a massage, you need to activate some muscles while trying to relax other muscles. When you receive a massage, the entire body can relax.

The most ideal situation will be a combination of professional massage therapy, and some of the self massage techniques that have been listed above. To book massage therapy at Evolve, kindly email info@evolvevancouver.ca

DISCLAIMER: These posts should not be used to self-diagnose or self-treat any health, medical, physical or psychiatric condition. Information shared via posts does not replace professional healthcare advice specific to your condition and needs. If you are unsure whether you would benefit from implementing tools discussed in these posts, please contact your healthcare provider.