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Just the Right Touch - Massage Techniques for Manicures

Give a client natural-looking nails and she’ll book another appointment. Give her a melt-to-the-floor” hand or foot massage, and she’s yours forever.

While you’re massaging, always maintain physical contact with the client, Perry reminds. If you need more massage lotion or to scratch an itch, keep one hand on the client. Beyond these general guidelines, Boxam and Perry emphasize there is no right or wrong to do a hand massage.

To begin her hand and arm massage, Gibbons puts a dollop of lotion in her hand and starts with long strokes on the top of the hand, working all the way up to the elbow with long, gliding strokes. “Next, I move to the underside of the arm and work back down to the hand with some sweeping strokes,” she explains. “Then I do the top of the arm again, perhaps doing some petrissage.”

Gibbs uses a similar technique, but tends to work both areas at once. “I apply light pressure to the underneath of the forearm using circular strokes with my palm while at the same time massaging the top part with my fingers,” she says.

As they move to the hand, both Gibbs and Gibbons tread very lightly around the wrist because it is more delicate and bony. They make up for it on the palm, though. “I use a lot of thumb pressure in the palm area,” Gibbons notes, adding that she spends a lot of time in particular on the fleshy area below the thumb and index finger. This tends to be a tight, sore area for people, especially if they work on the computer a lot, and they really benefit from this part of the massage.

“As I massage, I am feeling for tense spots, and when I feel one I spend more time in that spot, and less in those where I don’t feel tension,” Perry reminds. After working those areas with a circular pressure-type stroke, Gibbons moves to the fingers, using what she describes as a light “milking the cow” motion on the fingers using her index finger and thumb. This helps loosen up the joints and increase the blood flow to the fingertips, and allows the client to relax clear to her fingertips.

As you massage, use a firm pressure that’s guided by what feels right to you as well as the feedback you get from your client. “Always ask the client what pressure she would like,” Perry advises. “But avoid question like, ‘How does that feel?’ because she’ll say it’s fine. You have to ask things like, “Would you like more pressure or less pressure?”

Foot Fancies

In the foot massage, you’ll use a very similar technique to that of the hand massage, but the technicians we asked recommend that you focus more on the bottom of the foot and incorporate friction massage.

“I start off with effleurage, sweeping up and back down the leg, always supporting the client’s leg with my other hand,” Gibbons explains. “Then I do petrissage, using my fingertips to knead up one side of the leg and back down the other.”

“I use the most pressure around the calves and the feet,” Gibbs adds. As she transitions to the foot, Gibbs also spends some time on the ankles, noting clients love to have the small ankle bones massaged.

After massaging the lower leg, Gibbons moves to the bottom of the foot, starting again with effleurage and petrissage before working the pressure points on the heel, arch, and ball of the foot. “I spend most of my time working on the bottom of the foot,” she notes, adding that on the toes she repeats the “milking of the cow” motion she uses on the hands.

Before finishing, Perry also recommends incorporating the friction technique on the bottom of the foot. “When you’re rubbing back and forth on the foot with the palms of your hands, get the whole foot vibrating so that the calf jiggles,” she explains. “If I can get the shoulders to move gently, then I know, I’ve got the vibration going up through the body and that the client is relaxing.”

And for a real “feel-good” sensation, Boxam recommends “slapping” the bottoms of the feet. The nail technicians we asked spend anywhere from 5-10 minutes on each foot and leg.

‘Special Needs’ Clients

While the massage therapists we ask say there are few medical conditions that prevent clients from having a massage, you should always ask a client about her medical history before working on her. In particular, you should refuse a massage to clients who are running a fever, have swelling or an injury in the area you’d be massaging, or have athlete’s foot (if it’s a foot massage). Additionally you should avoid massaging directly over bunions and corns, as this could irritate the condition and cause the client pain. Varicose veins are another area you want to avoid completely as these veins are already weakened and damaged.

For clients with medical conditions such as diabetes or high or low blood pressure, Perry says you can do a massage on them as long as they are under a doctor’s care, and that doctor has given permission for the service. Because these are circulatory disorders, though, many massage therapists recommend proceeding cautiously and using a lighter touch as these clients may have decrease sensation on their feet and hands because of their diseases. They are also more prone to developing infections, so take special care not to break the skin.

The same holds true, she says, for elderly and pregnant clients. The elderly tend to have thinner, more delicate skin, more prominent veins, and brittle bones. Many also are much more susceptible to bruising. For this reason, use a very light touch to start with, proceeding according to their comfort level and what they want. “I find the elderly are much more touch-deprived and they really benefit from the touch and nurturing you can give them during the service,” Perry notes. “While with pregnant clients, you also want to avoid the ankle area, because it is connected to the reproductive organ and could trigger contractions.”

Clients with arthritis in their hands pose another special need, but mostly require additional care as you work around problem joints. “Ask these clients how they are feeling,” Perry recommends. “Joint manipulation is not always contraindicated because some people with arthritis find it relieves the pain. I would find out what their doctor recommends, and then go by how it feels for them.” Boxam also recommends a paraffin dip for arthritic clients, as the deep heat often relieves their symptoms, at least temporarily.

“There is no wrong way to massage a client’s hands or feet,” Gibbons concludes. “A massage therapist can help you master some of the techniques, but if you give clients a firm rubbing massage, they’ll enjoy the relaxation.”


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