When giving a good back massage, there's a fine line between "Ooh, that's the spot" and "Ow, you're killing me." For novice massagers, stick to slow, rhythmic pressure on the muscle tissue, which will feel like a piece of firm steak. Don't rub on the bones or joints, which can make any back pain worse. Keep your movements relaxed and your voice soothing and use a little massage oil to prevent friction. By the end of the massage, both you and the person you're massaging should feel more relaxed and calm.
Remove any jewelry from your hands and wrists. The contrast between your skin and your jewelry will distract the person you're massaging, and rough jewelry might scratch the person's skin. You'd also need to wash the oil off your jewelry later if you left it on. A smooth wedding band shouldn't interfere with the massage.
Lay a beach towel or a blanket onto a bed or cot. In a pinch, the person can lie on a couch and you can sit in a chair or kneel on the floor beside the couch. The floor is also an option, especially if you have carpeting.
Instruct the person to disrobe completely from the waist up and remove any necklaces. If you or the other person isn't comfortable with being uncovered, you can also perform massage with the person wearing a thin t-shirt or tank top. You can either lift the shirt to massage with oil or leave the shirt in place and skip the oil.
Tell the person to lie belly-down, face pointing to either the right or left. The person can also sit up straight if that feels more comfortable. Just make sure you can reach the person's entire back, from the neck to the top seam of their pants.
Locate the person's trapezius muscle, shoulder blades and vertebrae. The trapezius is a large, meaty muscle that runs from the base of the skull, down the back of the neck, out to the tips of the shoulders and then down to the middle of the back in a diamond shape. Many people carry tension in the trapezius from stress and slouching, especially around the base of the neck. The shoulder blades are bone and shouldn't be rubbed, but locating them will give you access to the surrounding muscle tissue. Likewise, concentrate on the muscle around the length of the vertebrae, not the vertebral bones themselves.
Warm a quarter-sized amount of massage oil between your palms. The warmth will help the oil rub into the back more smoothly.
Place your hands on the trapezius muscle. Apply medium pressure with your thumbs and the fleshy parts of your palms and fingertips. Use slow, rhythmic movements and ask the person for feedback. Spend about a third of your time, or 10 minutes out of a 30-minute massage, on the trapezius.
Rub with your thumbs and palms around the perimeter of the shoulder blades, using medium pressure. Add more massage oil if necessary and work your way down from the trapezius to the middle and lower back. Move slowly in circles with your palms, taking care not to rub on the vertebrae, the shoulder blades or the back of the rib cage.
Place your hands on either side of the vertebrae on the lower back, just above the hip bones. People who bend and lift things during the day often have soreness in this area. Lean forward slightly as you straighten your arms so that you're using your body weight to apply medium pressure. Ask the person for feedback and if there is any pain, lighten your pressure. Rub in slow circles with your palms.
Use your body weight rather than the strength of your hands to provide pressure, which will keep you from getting tired too quickly. Lean in for greater pressure and lean back slightly for lighter pressure. If the person is sitting up, have the person brace against a wall or the arm of the couch to provide resistance against firmer massaging.
Apply a little massage oil to your forearms and use them to rub the back if your hands get tired. Try not to lose contact with the person at any time during the massage.
Apply medium to firm pressure and rub in small circles over any tight spots or knots that you encountered during the massage, using your thumbs and fingertips. Ask the person to tell you if there's any pain, which creates tension and will make knots even worse. Spend 30 seconds to one minute on each knot.
Finish the massage with slow, sweeping motions on either side of the vertebrae from the lower back, up to the neck and down again. Use light pressure all over. This softer, all-over stimulation will relax the person and help signal that the massage is at its end.
You can also finish a massage by rubbing either side of the back of the neck with your fingertips, using slow circles and light to medium pressure. Extend this motion up onto the scalp to provide extra relaxation.
Consider your own position as you're giving a massage. If you have to twist your torso or stretch your arms to reach the person's back, you'll tire out quickly. Position yourself directly above the person -- or directly behind if the person is siting up -- to make the massage as comfortable for you as it is for the other person.
Consult a health care professional before massaging someone with chronic back problems or a back or neck injury. A home back massage is not a replacement for chiropractic, massage therapy or physical therapy services.