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Heal Yourself: 17 Tricks for a Soothing Self-Massage

Massages can relax your muscles, relieve stress, and boost your energy, but you don’t need a professional masseuse to reap its benefits.

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Self-massage: Use a tennis ball to relieve tension

For tense feet, try this technique from Melanie Brunette, Associate Spa Director at Canyon Ranch wellness resort in Lenox, MA: Place the arch of your foot on a tennis ball (or golf ball if that seems too big), leaning one hand against a wall for support. Gradually put more weight on the foot as the ball presses into your arch. Slowly move your foot around to target your heel, forefoot, and toes. A tennis ball can also relieve tight hips. Sit on the ball, then wiggle your backside around and hold it still on areas that feel especially good. Plus, you can use a tennis ball to reach the space between your shoulder blades or in your lower back. Lie on the floor with the ball under spots that are hard to reach with your hands.

For back pain: “Take two tennis balls and tuck them tightly into the toe of a sock and lie down on them so that the balls are pressing on the muscles on either side of the spine and the spine itself is nestled in between the balls,” says Brunette. “Then relax into the balls and take a few deep breaths. Move the balls up a tiny bit and repeat. Do this 10 to 12 places along the thoracic spine.”

Here’s more about the health benefits of massage, and here are more brilliant ways to use tennis balls.

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Self-massage: Give your neck a break

Every hour, give your body some relief from hunching over your computer at work. Clasp your hands together behind your neck, and apply pressure to each side of your spinal cord with the bottom of your palms. Rub up and down slowly. Then press into the trapezius muscle along the left side of your neck just under the base of your skull using the fingers on your right hand. Tilt your head to the left, then rub in downward motions, working your way to your shoulder. Repeat three times, then switch sides. The front of your neck can also get tight while you work, so finish by stretching it out. Lay your head back to allow the top of your chair to press into your neck, just below the skull, and hold it there for 20 seconds. These are other ways to recover from sitting too much.

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Self-massage: Hammer out kinks twice a day

Starting with your legs and arms, gently thump your body from top to bottom with your fists. Then pummel your torso from bottom to top. Using this technique in the morning will wake up your body and mind, while doing it in the evening beats out tension and stress, leaving your mind calm. One caveat: Avoid using this technique if you’re on a blood thinner or you could end up with bruises.

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Self-massage: Massage your calves after wearing heels

Walking in heels all day can shorten your calf muscles over time, so give them some release with a good rubdown. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and then clench your ankle with your thumb placed just over the Achilles tendon. Moving an inch at a time, work your way up your calf, adding pressure and releasing until you reach your knee. Repeat on the other leg.

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Self-massage: Rub your belly after eating

Help stimulate digestion by rubbing your tummy after a meal. Using one or both palms, rub your abdomen in clockwise circles—the same direction that your food moves through your intestine. Here are more home remedies for an upset stomach.

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Self-massage: Massage yourself pre- and post-workout

Massages increase blood flow to your muscles, which can be helpful before cardio, strength training, or stretches. Thump your legs and arms with your fists before exercising to encourage blood flow to those areas. A post-workout rubdown can help speed muscle recovery. Using your fist or palm, rub your muscles toward your heart after a sweat session to reap the benefits.

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Self-massage: Give tired eyes some heat therapy

Staring at a screen all day can leave your eyes tired and strained, but a little heat can help them relax. Quickly rub your hands together until the palms start to heat up, then cup one hand over each eye to let the warmth soothe them.

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Self-massage: Massage your hands when you put lotion on

Clasp your fingers together and rub the bottoms of your palms together in a circular motion to target the bottom of your palms, suggests Laura Allen, a massage therapist, educator, and author of the Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Examinations. Without unclasping your hands, use your thumb to rub the area under the thumb of the opposite hand. Work outward in circular motions toward the center of your palm, then repeat on the other hand. Pull your hands apart and knead your wrists, palms, and the area between your fingers with your thumbs and index fingers. Gently tug each finger one by one, and finish by pinching the webbing between each finger.

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Self-massage: Make a heating pad for a soothing massage

Fill a tube sock three-quarters full with uncooked rice. Secure the opening with a rubber band and then pop the sock in the microwave for 2 minutes. Once it’s warm, rub the sock up and down your legs for a relaxing hot massage. Better yet, add 2 cinnamon sticks and 1 tablespoon cloves for an aromatic experience. You can save the sock for future use until the spices lose their scent. These are other ways you never realized you could use your microwave.

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Self-massage: Ease tired feet

Sit down on a couch or chair and lace the fingers of one of your hands through the toes of one foot. Spread your toes out, and use your palm to rotate the joints of your forefoot forward and back for a minute. Take your hand away from your toes and then hold your ankle with one hand, using your other hand to rotate your foot gently clockwise. Start with small circles and gradually work up to larger circles as your ankle warms up. Switch to counterclockwise circles and then repeat the process with your other foot.

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Self-massage: Open your sinuses

Sinuses clogged from allergies or a cold? Rub out the pressure with your fingers. Press your finger pads just above your nose and rub outward, going over your brow line. Repeat two or three times. Then place your fingers beside the bridge of your nose under your eyes, and rub down and outward. Next make small circles on your cheekbones with your thumbs, working your way out toward your ears. Finish by rubbing your temples in small circles with your thumbs. Find more natural allergy remedies here.

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Self-massage: Pinch tired arms

This technique can release tension and boost blood circulation after sports like cycling and tennis that leave your arms in need of some TLC. Cross your left arm over your chest and pinch the triceps of your right arm, near the shoulder, with your thumb and index finger for a few seconds. Release and move down an inch at a time, pinching and releasing until you reach your elbow. Then move on to the bicep of your right arm near your armpit, pinching your way down to your elbow again. Repeat on your left arm. Here are other exercises to ease muscle pain.

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Self-massage: Give yourself a hug

To ease shoulder tension, cross your arms across your chest and hold your shoulders. Squeeze each shoulder three times, then work your way down your arms with your hands, pressing and releasing down to your wrists.

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Self-massage: Relax with a lavender-scented foot rub

Add a boost of relaxation to a nighttime foot massage with lavender oil, which can be found at most health food stores. The soothing scent will help you unwind while the oil softens your dry feet as you gently massage them. After your rubdown, slip on some comfy socks to keep the oil from getting on your sheets when you crawl into bed. Here are more homemade foot scrub recipes to pamper your feet.

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Self-massage: Use pressure for headache relief

Stand behind a padded chair, bending forward from the hips to rest your forehead on its back. Relax your body to provide soft pressure for about 30 seconds. Sit down on the chair and grasp your hair, gently pulling it for two or three seconds. Continue pulling different sections of hair, working from the top front to the sides and the back until you’ve hit your whole scalp. This technique stretches the fascia along your scalp to release tension and leave you refreshed.

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Self-massage: Keep a DIY massage box at work

Fill the bottom of a shoebox with golf balls and leave it under your desk. Take your shoe off and rub your foot over the golf balls whenever you need a little relief.

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Self-massage: Squeeze a tennis ball

To refresh fingers and hands when they’re tired, squeeze a tennis ball. As a bonus, the action will keep your hands strong for other self-massages. Keep a ball on your desk so you can use it regularly.