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As a home remedy for the old, familiar backache, massage has an ancient—and often misunderstood—history. Twenty-three centuries ago Hippocrates, mindful of amateur practitioners of the art, wrote: "A person must be experienced...for things that have the same name have not the same effect." Contrary to widespread notion, massage isn't a "beating-up" process; you don't slap or pound the pain away. Rather, the more gentle the rub, the more soothing the results. The principle is by rubbing the skin to produce localized heat, which in turn opens the capillaries and stimulates the flow of blood so as to wash away the ache.

For an effective massage, the patient must lie comfortable and relaxed. Atop a table is best but a bed, if not too soft or low, will also do. First, the back is thoroughly lubricated with cold cream, mineral oil or liniment to ease the chafing. Then the masseur, with his hands cupped to the contours of the body, strokes the back in one continuous motion. This technique, the most common form of massage, is known as effleurage. As with all manner of rub-down, the hands always remain in contact with the skin. The only time pressure is applied is when the direction of motion is toward the heart. After massaging, the residue of lubricant is wiped off and witch hazel or rubbing alcohol is rubbed in. The diagrams below are a simple guide to effective massage, which in tutored hands will give your aching back no end of pleasure.

With hands relaxed, hugging either side of the spine, stroke up the middle of the patient's back, across the shoulders and down the sides of the back again. Work both hands together and apply gentle pressure when moving up the back. This massage can also be done in the opposite direction: up the sides with pressure and lightly down the spine to the waist. Keep an even tempo of 15 strokes a minute for 10 minutes.

As with straight effleurage, cup the hands to the contours of the back. Move them rhythmically in large circles, working up the back from the waist to the shoulders. Keep fingers together to avoid digging into the skin. Masseur's sleeves should be rolled up and any rings removed. The patient should lie flat with his neck and stomach completely supported underneath by pillows. Continue the massage for 10 minutes.


next week: massage for a stiff shoulder and kinked neck