Self Applied Massage

On this page we show how you can be your own body work specialist, so that you can keep yourself largely free from muscle pain by performing a simple daily self-massage.
 Initially you should be able to eliminate existing acute or dormant "trigger points" by using this technique (and maybe a visit or two to a professional bodywork person).. This way, you can achieve a state where your muscles become limber and in a non-contracted condition.
 Then, as an on-going basis, you massage out any new trigger points as they may come up, and also warm up your muscles each morning (similiar to stretching). This keeps your muscles supple.
Translation: I want to show you how to keep doing the things you did when you were young, with no limitations!

Something to consider before you embark on this muscle work: Let's say you really "throw out/pull/overstretch" some muscle(s) such as your lower back (perhaps by picking up that 50 pound bag of pea gravel, or your 4-year old grandkid who no longer is light as he/she was as a baby)! If it really hurts to touch or massage the affected region, maybe it would be well to have a session with a body work pro. They can tell you if whether or not there was some partial tissue damage. If so, it would be well to let the area heal for a while before trying to massage it.

So, this self-applied massage can be done while standing up, or while sitting. It is best done in the morning, usually before breakfast. Why is that? Because you will start your day with your muscles all warmed up and partially stretched. This alone will make you less likely to "pull" a muscle during the day.
 When you first start doing this, you will encounter some tender spots. (I'll point out the most likely areas in the pictorials below.) These will usually be trigger points. You can massage these out over the course of several sessions, usually by applying a firm pressure, along with a short stroking motion. Details and good tips on the technique are in the Trigger Point Manual. Nonetheless, when you are just starting out, it will be well to work the area only briefly. Then move on to other areas. After a few days, or maybe even a week or two for some spots, you will find that the tenderness will be gone.
 You might be tempted to really press hard on these irritated areas, in an effort to "release" the trigger points. I urge you to instead to start out with relatively light pressure and/or strokes. If you feel a burning sensation or other irritation, then stop, since you might simply be "spreading inflammation around"! The result will be that you are even more sore. Just revisit the area the next day.
 Oh, and one final note: Drink some water after you work on trigger points! This was the number one tip from the body work pros. They would even give me a bottle of water to drink on the way home. Why? Because you've just released a good deal of toxins and they need to be flushed out.

The Self-applied Massage


Start with the arms

Muscle names: biceps, triceps, et al.

Your hand and arm muscles are about to get a workout, since they'll be applying pressure to various points through this procedure. So It's well to warm up these muscles beforehand.
 The idea is to simply massage the arm and hand muscles with firm and yet relatively light strokes. In this image we're starting with the biceps, on the left, and the triceps, on the right. You are stroking along the length of your entire upper arm.


The forearms and hands

Muscle names: Extensor carpi, extensor digitorum, flexor carpi, bradioradialis and many others (forearms). Opponens pollicis, adductor pollicis, et al (thumb area)

Massage the muscles on the forearm (left) and then work the hand muscles around the thumb (right). Rub all around the thumb and the palm area. It's also beneficial to massage the back side of the hand between the thumb and first finger.
 I would like to emphasize that all this should be kept quite simple. The "warming up" of the arm/hand muscles can be done in just a few seconds, actually.
 Now that you have warmed up your arms and hands, you're ready to use them to massage everything else.


The front and back of the armpit

Muscle names: pectoralis (front), subscapularis (back)

NOTE: Likely tender areas!
 Left side. Massage the pectoralis section that is right next to the armpit. When you do this for the first time, you will find tender spots. There are usually several trigs in this area. Just massage them and move on. After some weeks of this activity, you will be able to massage this area without discomfort.
 But do note that, depending on how much exercise you do, or how much yardwork/sports/lifting that you have been doing, tenderness may arise from time to time in this area and the area shown on the right.

The whole point of the daily self-massage #1:
 After you have been doing this daily muscle work for a while, you'll be keeping your muscles supple and preventing any trigger points from causing your muscles to be in a state of contraction.

Right side: Now reach under your arm and massage the muscle that's in the back of the armpit. This is the "subscapularis", and will also likely contain tender spots. It might be helpful to lean against the wall (or the chair back if seated) to help reach this muscle. That is, if you are doing the right side, lean your left shoulder against the wall in order to help push your left arm into a better position to grasp the muscle.



Now a little work on your face and jaw

Muscle names: Masseter (jaw)

Left side: Place your fingers above the bridge of the nose and stroke outward. Your fingers should actually be right on the top of your eye sockets. This actually has a soothing (and partially clearing) effect on your sinuses.
 Right side: Stroke the backside of your jaw muscles repeatedly, using a relatively firm pressure. This helps greatly with TMJ issues! After you do this, gently stretch your jaw by placing your hands on your lower lips and chin, and pulling downward - not too hard. If you feel discomfort at the back of the jaw, let up a bit. Hold your mouth open for a few seconds, maybe even longer.
 After holding your mouth open, stroke the backsides of your jaws again.

The whole point of the daily self-massage #2:
 You can self-treat your TMJ!



Next up is the neck muscles

Muscle names: Sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, suboccipitals, splenius, semispinalis

NOTE: Likely a tender area.
 Stroke up and down on the back of the neck. That is, start as shown on the left, and stroke down to the position shown on the right.
 Make sure your head is relaxed and erect. You don't want to be massaging muscles that are in a state of tension because your head is bending forward!


Some work on muscles near the neck

Muscle names: Upper trapezius

Now firmly pinch the muscles on top of the shoulders. To do this, fold your thumb into your palm and then pinch the muscles between your fingers and the folded thumb. Move up the side of the neck, pinching repeatedly until you reach your hairline. These areas, along with your neck itself, will likely be tender when you start this daily treatment, and for that matter any time you have been working at the computer for a while, or doing physical work, or exercises - that is, just about all the time!

The whole point of the daily self-massage #3:
 You'll soon find that these daily massages feel quite good, since you will be smoothing out all your daily posture sins, poor workspace habits, and/or "weekend warrior" excesses!

Now for the Theracane Work

Having prepped your arm muscles (and maybe working any sore area if necessary), and having massged your neck, now it's time to reach for the Theracane to massage your upper and lower back, your glutes, and your hamstrings.
 As noted on the prior page, I prefer to pad the "business end" of the Theracane with a couple of children's tube socks, held in place with some thin nylon twine. But I decided to remove the padding for the pictures below.


The Upper Back

Muscle name: Trapezius

NOTE: Likely tender areas!
 The left side shows one way to hold the T.C. (Theracane). for upper and lower back massage.
 We start with part of the upper trapezius and stroke downward, as shown on the right. You might find it very helpful to bend over while working on this area. This gives you more leverage to apply pressure to the muscle and to help keep from slipping over the protrusion at the top.
 For greater pressure, do this while laying on the floor. SEE "Applying Greater Pressure" below.
 Note that you are just inside the shoulder blade (scapula). It helps also to swing the arm over a bit to help move the scapula out of the way and expose more of the muscle underneath.
 So for example, if you are massaging the right side, swing the right arm toward your left side. Or, just twist yourself to the left.
 More trapezius? Are you getting the idea? You'll come to not like your trapezius muscles! They're the ones that cause the most upper back and neck pain.

back back

Maintaining spinal alignment

Muscle names: rhomboids, serratus, quadratus lumborum.
 Possibly also semispinalis, and other deep spinal muscles.

NOTE: May be tender areas next to the spine

There are two sets of short muscles in the upper back that connect individual vertabrae to the scapula (shoulder blade). And there are others in the mid/lower back that connect individual vertabrae to some of the ribs and/or the top of the pelvis.
 You want to keep these muscles loose and free of trigger points, so that they don't pull on the vertabrae. This will help make chiropractic "adjustments" last longer. This helps you maintain spinal alignment and eliminate nebulous pains along the spine.
 You work these muscles by applying pressure right next to the spine. These areas may be tender at first, but you should find that the tenderness will subside with subsequent treatments. Don't forget to make small strokes along these muscles. The direction is not important, but it is important to not go back and forth.
 In my experience, if I have an ongoing dull pain in the upper back that is not relieved by theracane work, it's ususally time to visit a chiropractor for some "alignment" work.

back back back

More Tools of the Trade: Vive Double Lacrosse Massage Ball set

Massage Balls

 To help massage the muscles that connect directly to the vertabrae, it is often helpful to place a joined set of Lacrosse Balls behind you on the wall, such that your spine is between them. Move up and down by bending your knees while leaning firmly against the wall. This is also really good exercise for your leg muscles!
 This is shown on the left. Try it on all portions of the back - upper, middle, and lower.

 To order a set, just click on the Amazon link on the right. The package also comes with a single Lacrosse Ball, which can be used to massage other muscles by placing it against the wall or on the floor.

Lacrosse Balls

Shoulder Areas of Upper Back

Muscle names: Supraspinatus, infraspinatus, deltoids

While you are tending to your upper back, you will find it comforting to massage the muscles in the shoulder area next to the scapula (left), and sometimes the deltoids (right).


The Lower Back

Muscle names: longissimus, iliocostalis, quatratus lumborum

NOTE: More tender areas!
 The left side shows a possible way to hold the T.C. for working the lower back.
 Start low, press firmly, and stroke upward a few times, as shown on the right.

shoulder shoulder

Applying greater pressure

Muscle names: Various

Having a little extra discomfort in the back muscles? You can apply greater pressure by lying on a mat and prying up with the T.C.
 Left image: Working the upper trapezius. For your left side, hold the left arm in front of you as if reaching for something on the right. This pulls the scapula out of the way to expose the trapezius a bit more. Pry up slowly with the right arm until the T.C. knob slides out near your shoulder.. (Not too much pressure. Roll to the right a bit instead of having all your weight on the T.C.)
 Right image: For the lower back muscles, just hold the Theracane with both hands and let your elbows rest on the mat. Apply pressure by flexing both arms, while stroking the muscles.

 The white sleeve on the Theracane knob is a child's tube sock attached with some twine wrapped around the sock. As mentioned above, I have removed the sock for all the other pictures for clarity, but I actually prefer a bit of extra padding on the hard knob of the T.C., so I left the sock on for some of these pictures.


Working on the glutes

Muscle names: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Place the T.C. on the lower part of the glutes and pull upward. You can use quite a bit of pressure here. The gluteus maximus is the biggest muscle, and it covers the medius and minimus.
 NOTE: If you have lower back pain, massaging the glutes firmly can often eliminate, or vastly reduce, the back pain! The reason is not clear, but perhaps some of the lower back muscles have their "insertion points" in this area.

The whole point of the daily self-massage #4:
 This "quick" reduction of back pain only comes after you have done the self-applied massage for a month or more, and have released - or have begun to release - all your trigger points.
 Slipped or stumbled on something and ended up with a sudden pain in your leg? Felt a sharp twinge in the back while lifting? Not to worry. Just go work the area with your Theracane or hands and then go on about your business. The pain doesn't go completely away, but it will after a few more sessions later in the day - or a couple the next day.
 But the point here is that such events no longer condemn you to a week of discomfort vaguely shrouded by aspirin or anti-inflammatories.


Your hamstrings

Muscle names: Biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus

This is the last item for the T.C. Start just behind the knee (left side) and stroke toward your bottom (right side).
 Do this both on the inner and outer sides of the back of your legs. For example, if you find that the back of your thighs are uncomfortable when you drive, working the outer edge of the backside of your legs will help.



And Lastly, the Foot and the Lower Leg

Muscle names (foot): Adductor digiti minimi, flexor digitorum brevis, adductor hallucis, flexor hallucis ("hallucis" is the big toe)

NOTE: Likely some tender areas! For example, have you noticed that your foot hurts when you step on a shovel? That's muscle trigs on the bottom of your feet. You can eliminate them!
 Grasp your foot and massage various areas. Pay particular attention to the outer edge, the areas around the ball of the foot, and the area between the ball of the foot and the big toe.
 This can be done while standing propped against the wall (left) or sitting (right).
 Once you release all the trigs in your feet, you might find that all those wierd pains experienced from time to time while walking will disappear. And you just might find that this helps relieve random pains in the leg muscles.
 Conversely, working out the trigs in the calves (below) may stop some intermittent pains in your feet.
 NOTE: As discussed in the Trigger Point Therapy Handbook, it is quite common for trigger points to "refer" pain to other areas.


The Calves

Muscle names: Gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis posterior

NOTE: Likely some tender areas, particularly for you ladies that like platform shoes!
 Now place your "supported fingers" on the lower calves next of the foot and stroke upward.
 "Supported fingers" means you are supporting the fingers of one hand with those of the other hand. This way you can apply lots of pressure without wearing out your fingers. In some areas where you are using your thumb, it's sometimes well to support it with the other thumb.
 Standing position shown on left, sitting on right.


More Detail on the Calves

Muscle names: flexor digitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus

While you are working the lower leg, from time to time you can massage the "flexor digitorum longus". This muscle is responsible for flexing the toes upward. It is on the front side of the leg, next to the tibia bone. This is the side facing "outward" (where the fingers are positioned in the images).
 From time to time you can also massage the "inner" side as well. This is the "flexor hallucis longus". This flexes the big toe upward. You may find that either of these muscles is tender if you do a lot of walking.
 Standing position shown on left, sitting on right.


Lower Part of the Soleus

Muscle name: soleus

From time to time, massage the lower part of the big soleus muscle, on the lower part of your calves. This is where the thumbs are positioned in the images
 Standing position shown on left, sitting on right.


Last Self-massage: the quads and the "I.T. band"

Muscle names: Quadriceps: rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis. Side of thigh: iliotibial band

Using supported fingers, stroke your quadriceps repeatedly (shown on left). Note that the quads really like to be massaged, and will reward you with some "feel-good" endorphins.
 Next massage your iliotibial band (shown on right), an area along the sides of the thighs with a distinct tendon.
 You can sound like a real bodywork jock by referring to this as the "I.T. band". Likewise, the upper trapesius on the back is often referred to as the "upper trap".


Some Stretches to do After your Muscle Work

You will find that after you do this daily self-massage, you will have warmed up quite a bit. This self-massage is a great way to take away the early morning chill before you eat breakfast. It's also a good time to do a few of your favorite muscle stretches.
 NOTE: The keyword is after your self-massage! Your muscles should be warmed up a bit first.

Stretch Guidelines:

No stretching on muscles with trigs! Muscles with active trigger points are muscles that are already contracted and tight. Trying to stretch these muscles is a bit like trying to stretch a rubber band that is holding a 10 pound weight!

Stretches should be gentle! This ain't exercise. It's actually a form of relaxation. Pull the desired muscles slowly at first and then with gradually increasing force. If there is any discomfort, pause, let the muscles adjust, and then maybe resume stretching. Or stop and go to another muscle group. You can even empasize the "relaxation" part by exhaling slowly when pulling on the muscles.

After a few weeks of the self-applied massage and gentle stretching, the muscles will become pregressively less "stiff", and you will notice that you are able to go tighter with the stretches.


Calf Stretch and Psoas Stretch

On the left, we show the typical calf stretch. Lean against the wall or a doorway and stretch your calf muscles, both left and right. In this picture I am stretching the right calf.
 On the right is the psoas stretch. The psoas attaches to several lower vertabrae on the top of the muscle and to the greater trochanter (top of the femur) on the bottom. It is stretched by standing more erect than you would in stretching the calf muscles, and by "locking" your back and hips together. It's a subtle stretch and a bit difficult to master at first. But if properly done, you can feel the stretching action inside your abdomen. I'm showing the left side in the picture; do both sides.
 Do this stretch carefully! The arms should be low, even with your chest so the back is not arched. I have noticed that if the arms are held high, some upper back muscles seem to really object!
 Nonetheless, this is an important stretch, since it helps eliminate the "old person slump"!

stretches stretches stretches

More Stretches

On the far left, I show a good stretch for the quadriceps.
 NOTE:The quadriceps do not LIKE to be stretched! So pull gently at first, since they will initially object. Slowly increase the tension; you may even have to let up a bit and then begin to squeeze again. This is a good one to remind you to be mindful, to forget about rushing to finish this pesky muscle work so you get on with your daily activities, and to relax. After a few gentle stretches, your quads will open up and you can give them a stronger pull.

 In the middle image is shown a good stretch for the glutes and lower back muscles.

 And on the right is shown a good stretch for those of us who are "tight". This stretches various muscles in the upper legs, as well as the lower back. You cross your legs and then lean forward gently. OR: you can pull the bent knee upwards, gently at first, then with stronger upward pull.

Three More Stretches

Finally, I lean over and touch my toes (with 3 or 4 "warmups" before trying to fully touch my toes).
 Another great maneuver is twisting the upper torso, so as to stretch the trapesius.
 And finally turning the head from side to side (gently) to stretch the neck muscles.

stretches stretches stretches

A Final Reminder: Make It All Last!

Doing all this muscle work would be a great way to start your day in the morning. Preferably every day, but at least consider it two or three days a week. Remember, it is quite possible to eventually eliminate muscle soreness from your life.
 But don't let the Well Being Mindfulness stop after these self-treatments. Keep it thoughout the day. How? By observing your posture throughout the day. You know. Everything your mom, your chiropractor, your massage therapist have been telling you to do:

Stand and walk upright (like you are winning the war against gravity).

Sit up straight. No, really!

And don't be reading books or working on laptops with your head down (and having to be supported by all your suboccipital muscles). Prop up the books and get an external screen for that laptop - if you use one on a daily basis.

And last but not least. . . let your shoulders relax every chance you get. They're all scrunched up right now, aren't they, supporting your tensions, your worries, your work-related stresses, maybe even your weekend or vacation plans. Play some soft music and listen to that quiet voice that says "Be still."


Copyright © 2019 J.A.