When was the last time someone touched you? Made you stop and think, didn’t it? The fact is, most of us could benefit from a lot more warm, caring touches than we get in our hectic, daily lives. So it’s no wonder, then, that many clients consider the massage the best part of the nail service. “The massage is what all my clients rave about,” says Robin in Hamburg, N.Y. “They say they come in just to be rubbed.”

“I look at the massage as the highlight of the service because that’s where I really connect with my clients,” adds Debra J.Krasniak, a nail technician at Bubba’s Hair Styling in Brunswick, Maine. “That’s when the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ come.”

If the same can’t be said of your clients, chances are you could use a refresher course on your manicure and pedicure massage techniques. “Everyone can do a nice manicure or pedicure, but not everyone takes the time to do a nice massage, which is the part that keeps clients coming back,” says Mende Gibbs, a nail technician at A Perfect Face Day Spa in Ocean City, Md.

Attitude Is Everything

When it comes to massage, most nail technicians know everything they need to about hand and foot anatomy, says Della Perry, marketing director and certified massage therapist at the Mueller College of Holistic Studies in San Diego, Calif., (800) 245-1976. In her work doing educator training for Creative Nail Design, Perry focused on the psychological and emotional aspects of massage.

While massage offers many therapeutic benefits, including improved circulation and reduced swelling, lower blood pressure, greater joint flexibility, and pain relief, Perry asserts that from a nail technician’s perspective, the mental and emotional benefits a client reaps are more important. Hand and foot massage, as part of the nail service, can satisfy a client’s need for a caring and nurturing touch, reduce stress and anxiety levels, and increase her awareness of the mind-body connection, she says.

“For a lot of clients, their nail technician is the only person who listens to them and spends so much time in physical contact with them, holding their hands,” Perry notes. If you view massage as taking that physical contact to a higher, emotional level, Perry says it becomes clear what a positive impact it can have on a client’s sense of well-being.

“In society as a whole, there is a huge lack of self-esteem,” she says. “I think for people to build their esteem they need to do self-honoring and pampering things, such as getting manicures and pedicures. If you, as a nail technician, can view the massage part of the service as where you’re sending the message, ‘You are worthy; I care about you’, that client will go out feeling great.

“The whole idea is to have a domino effect. If you can get someone to experience their body through massaging their hands or feet, as they relax they’ll suddenly remember to breathe slowly and deeply, relax their shoulders, and let the tension ease away.”

For these reasons, Perry urges nail technicians to remember, as they review the basic manicure and pedicure techniques below, that their attitudes and intentions are just as important as the mechanical moves they use.

“As you work, you should be focusing on the client and thinking to yourself thoughts like, ‘I hope this feels good to her; she will leave feeling great,’” she reminds. “Your mental mindset has to be good. I teach students that we are projectors and receptors: Clients pickup on what you’re putting out, and you have to be careful not to pick up what they’re putting out. The three most important points I teach are to be grounded in your emotions and energy, have boundaries, and have clear intentions.”

It’s All in the Hands

A good hand or foot massage usually incorporates four basic massage techniques: effleurage (long, gliding strokes), petrissage (kneading movements that press and roll the muscles under the hand or fingers), friction (a light or firm rubbing back and forth of the hands across the skin), and pressure point (direct pressure on a hard, knotted spot). A massage should always begin and end with effleurage.

“The most important principle of massage is that the strokes should always be toward the heart,” says Allen Boxam, a licensed massage therapist and owner of The Relax Station massage therapy school and day spa in Kingwood, Texas. “The most distal points from the heart are the hands and feet, so stroking toward the heart helps increase the circulation and remove toxins.”

As a general rule, he adds, you should always massage lightly at first. “You need to warm up the tissues and get them ready; then each stroke can go deeper, stretching the muscle and bringing in endorphins,” he says. “A minimum of three strokes over every area is the rule for massage, so spending 10 minutes on both hands or both feet would be very effective. In a full body massage, we usually spend 3-4 minutes on the hands and five on each foot.”[PAGEBREAK]

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.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.