Can massage balls relieve muscle pain? Yes, here's 3 steps to success.
Massage balls are great for self-care. They really do work at relieving muscle pain. Here’s 3 to simple steps to get them working for you.
Massage balls are either spiky or smooth.
Spiky massage balls are good for superficial work – just under the skin.
Use them to open up the fascia. You can think of fascia as a stretchy membrane that holds everything in place.
Smooth massage balls are better for deeper work – that’s where we’ll find irritable spots known as trigger points.
These balls are made of dense foam with a bit of give in them. They need to be firm enough to be able to apply enough pressure. They also need enough give so as not to just bruise us.
2. Warm up the area you're working on
Warming up the area of pain is going to have 3 effects:
- It feels assuring and comforting – sending signals to the brain to relax.
- It decreases muscle tightness.
- It helps the fascia become pliable – allowing the ball to sink in more easily.
Grab a hot water bottle or microwave heat pack and apply it to the affected area for about 5 mins (not too hot mind!)
3. Find and release those trigger points with the massage ball
Think of a trigger point as that spot that when pressed, gives you the kind of pain that whilst a bit uncomfortable also feels like it is relieving the pain or releasing the tension.
I’m deliberately not calling it a knot, because, as you will have discovered, not all knots are painful.
We’ve all had a massage where the therapist has skirted over the bit we wanted them to work on and instead eagerly pounded at a knot that wasn’t bothering us.
The term trigger point was first coined by Janet Travell, in the 1960s. Travell was a doctor and personal rheumatologist to President John F. Kennedy.
Travell describes a trigger point as a hyper irritable spot within a taut band of muscle.
This hyper irritable spot also has these features:
- If you press on it – it hurts
- It can create ‘predictable’ referred pain
Travel mapped out and documented these trigger points and their pain patterns.
How to do it
- Go easy. You know your body better than anyone. So go gently and in a way that’s safe for you.
- When using the massage ball – we’re looking to create the pain to a degree, but not too much.
- If we were to score the pain between one and ten – one being no pain and ten being unbearable. We need to stick below a 7 out of 10.
- If it’s above a seven it’s not going to work and we’ll likely just make the problem worse.
Place the ball where you want to work and lean against a wall or the floor.
Slowly allow the ball to roll and sink deeper.
You’re looking for trigger points. It will feel a bit sore, hot, hard or tender.
When you feel something like that, hold the pressure for 8-12 seconds.
Not too much pressure – stay below a seven.
Look out for the sensation changing – maybe the pain will ease, or move a bit.
Then roll onto another area and do the same again.
You can revisit these trigger points a few times. Then it is good to stretch that muscle when done.
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