If you suffer from aches, pains, or stiffness, you might assume you have two options: spend a fortune on a massage therapist or just live with it.But there’s a third option: self-massage.
Foam rollers, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, sticks — they’re all cheap, convenient, simple to use, and incredibly effective. Use them for just ten minutes daily, and you can reduce muscle pain and tension while increasing your flexibility.
Self-massage tools increase blood circulation and smooth out “knots” in your muscles and connective tissues caused by dehydration, overuse, and injury. The longer these adhesions go untreated, the tighter the surrounding muscle becomes and the more pain you feel. Here are six ways self-massage can help. Watch the videos to see James Kilgallon, CSCS., creator of Mazlo’s Body Maintenance Program, show you how to perform each technique.
1. You will reduce lower back pain.
If you’ve never experienced lower back pain, you’re one of the lucky few. The lower back is a prime target area for pain because the spine, made up of 33 small bones called vertebrae, must carry the weight of your whole body. Lifting weights, running, jumping, and chronic sitting all place stress on the lower back.
One highly effective way to reduce lower back pain is to massage the quadratus lumborum (a back muscle) and the erector spinae (muscles running along the outside of the vertebrae) with a small, dense ball like a lacrosse ball.
2. You will relieve tension headaches.
Do you slouch at a desk all day? Do you feel stressed out and overwhelmed? If so, you’re a prime candidate for throbbing tension headaches. Tension headaches are often caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck. They can be relieved by kneading the upper trapezius muscle (located near your neck and shoulder) with a massage stick.
3. Your hips will become more flexible.
Why do you need stronger, more flexible hips? Well, if you’re a runner, you’ll run faster. If you’re a cyclist, you’ll pedal with more power. If you lift weights, you’ll lift heavier. If you don’t do a lick of exercise, you’ll be able to bend over to pick up a dropped pen without groaning.
Plus, if your hips can move every which way, you’re less prone to injury and better able to perform basic movements like squatting and bending. Yet most of us have limited hip mobility and flexibility. That’s because our quadriceps (upper thigh) muscles are tight; so are our iliotibial (IT) bands, the bands of connective tissue that run along the outside of the upper thigh. Foam rolling the quads and IT bands will loosen up this tissue.
4. Your posture will improve.
Hunching over your computer all day creates muscle imbalances; in other words, some muscles become short, tight, and overactive while others weaken out of neglect. The resulting imbalance leads to pain and makes us prone to injury. Enter the “peanut” tool. Rolling your back on this simple device (you can make it yourself!) will loosen and relax your back muscles, so you can hold yourself in a more upright, natural posture.
5. You will reduce foot pain.
Whether you’re sedentary or you work out daily, you may have encountered pain in the connective tissue (plantar fascia) that spans the bottom of your feet. It can be caused by injury, overuse, a sudden increase in activity, even weight gain.
At first, plantar fasciitis isn’t awful. You feel tenderness in your heel or arch, typically first thing in the morning, and the pain subsides as you start walking around. But as the condition progresses, stepping from your bed onto a hardwood floor feels like stepping onto a bed of nails, and the burning pain follows you around all day.
Massaging the soles of your feet with a tennis ball can remove adhesions in the plantar fascia that can’t be stretched out. It also sends blood flow to your feet, warming up your foot muscles for additional exercises you may do.
6. Your shoulders will be more resistant to injury.
Shoulder pain and injury is more common than you may think. Whether you feel a twinge of pain while picking up your kids or have severely limited function and chronic discomfort from too much overhead pressing, self-massage can help. The best tool for releasing adhesions in the shoulder muscles is a lacrosse ball.