Massaging the back can relieve the recipient's stress and ease muscular pain and tension. The best back rub can be achieved when the person being massaged is lying comfortably, face down, with his or her bare back exposed. The recipient may also sit flatly on a hard surface. Warm oil prevents friction between the fingertips and the skin on the back. Motions should be gentle at first, and evolve to a firmer touch, with emphasis on areas of the back that are tense or sore. A combination of up-and-down and circular rubbing will ensure most muscles in the back are targeted.
It is important that the recipient be as relaxed as possible before beginning a back rub, as extra tension may result in painful muscle cramping during or after the massage. Soft music and dim lighting can help calm the individual. He or she should lie on the stomach, without any pillows under the head that might make the spine uneven. Professional massage tables often have face rests with holes in the center, so clients can stay face-down without discomfort. Amateur back rubs may be conducted while the recipient rests one of his or her cheeks on a towel, or sits up straight on a thin mat or towel.
Oils recommended for back massages include jojoba or grapeseed oil, since these are nourishing to the skin, and unlikely to cause irritation. The oil may be heated in a specially designed warmer, or rubbed rapidly between the hands before beginning the back rub. If the massage begins at the top of the back, oils should be applied in the area between the shoulder blades and neck. Masseuses who start from the bottom should apply oil just above the pelvis, near the small of the back.
A back rub should begin with soft pressure, to warm the muscles and assess trouble areas. Long, gentle strokes between the pelvis and the neck typically loosen a tense back. Pressure can be increased gradually, and the masseuse should transition from using the tips of the fingers to the heels of the hand. Eventually, the heels of the hands should be used at the bottom half of the back, then the pressure should switch to the fingertips as the hands reach the upper half of the back. The fingertips may swivel along the shoulders and down the sides of the back, with the heels of the hands applying the pressure as the hands reach the lower regions.
Circular motions made with the fingertips can be used to target the area between the shoulder blades, with pressure increasing based on the tension in the back and the comfort level of the recipient. This type of pressure may also be used on and around the back of the neck, with thumbs and forefingers applying vigorous rubbing if necessary. Dialogue with the recipient is important, so the masseuse can assess whether he or she is applying too much, or too little, pressure.
The masseuse should never apply pressure to bone, such as the spine or the shoulder blades, since this might be painful or sensitive to touch. As the back rub comes to an end, the person who is massaging should gradually maintain a gentle up-and-down motion, similar to the technique used in the beginning of the treatment. This allows the muscles to cool, and gently constrict. The recipient should be offered a full glass of water after the back rub, as some holistic medicine experts believe that massaging the muscles releases toxins that must be flushed from the body with adequate hydration.