The Art of Self-Massage: Three Tips to Get Started
As a long-time distance runner I’ve had my share of aches and pains. Some have been quick healers, while others, like hamstring tendonitis, took a little time – and some therapy.
Regardless of what aches, a massage is worth a million dollars to undue those lactic acid knots, elongate the muscles, and help the healing process that needs to take place when you work out regularly.
Of course, it would cost a million dollars if I got a massage each time I had an ache or pain, which is the reason I have turned to self-massage.
Quite a few years ago I purchased a foam roller. If you don’t have one, you need to invest $25 or so to get one. Foam rollers are devices you can use to ‘roll’ on for massaging your muscles and fascia which, when tight, can cause pain.
While I use this method regularly, particularly after running, I was still suffering low back pain. I’ve tried a variety of techniques, stretches, and heat and ice tricks to ease the pain; but it wasn’t until I talked to a massage therapist, who put her finger on the spot and about knocked me over, that I knew what the muscle was called: the quadratus lumborum, or ‘ql’.
A quick search ALSO informed me it could be the cause of my past hip pain, and that tennis ball massages on particular trigger points could ease the pain. (As a side note, after only a few days of rolling on the ball several times each day, it nearly HAD eliminated the tightness and pain I’d been experiencing in my low back for a while.)
While one thing I love to do for low back pain is yoga , learning self-massage works as an additional measure for easing muscle pain.
If you are interested in learning the technique of self-massage, you can find numerous web sites and books on the topic. But here are a few basics to get started.
1. Foam rollers. You can find this great device at a sports store, running shop, or even Amazon, which is where I’ve purchased the several I’ve owned. Some have fancy knobs that are meant to get into trigger points and release pain; others have flat surfaces. Mine is a regular foam roller, but I’ve used one with knobs and it was fantastic as well. To use, simply rest on the floor. Place the roller beneath your body and roll back and forth on it. Massage should be done toward the heart for the most part. If you find a sore area (chances are you will, especially in the beginning, and the pain could literally make you feel like you might vomit!) you’ll know where you are the tightest. Spend time after exercising to stretch out that area, too.
2. Tennis balls. This little yellow ball is my very best friend, particularly when it comes to low back pain! Tennis balls get into the smaller muscles and those areas that need a bit more attention. I use the tennis ball several times each day on my lower back to work the ql muscle. I massage up the spine and then out toward my side. When I find a tender spot I hold it for a few seconds on the spot to release the tension. I also use a tennis ball on my hips, glutes (which helps with sciatic and piriformis pain) and near my shoulder blades, as this is an area that always feels kind of tight. One tip I learned from two different massage therapists: for those suffering from sciatic pain, keep a tennis ball in your car and sit on it while you drive. This will help relieve the tension in that area.
3. Golf balls. Even the tiniest of sports balls can be used for self-massage. If you are on your feet a lot, or if you run for fun and exercise, try self-massage on your feet. Stand with a golf ball on the floor. Place your foot on the ball (I start in the middle of my foot) and roll it toward your toes. (I often feel a pop, or release, when I massage my feet in this way.) Hold the ball under your toes, at the base where the toe meets the foot, and roll it around in small circles. Run it up the sides of your foot, too, to release tension in that area.
Do you have any tips or ideas for self-massage? What do you use, and how do you use it, to help ease the knots in your muscles?