Can massage balls relieve muscle pain? Yes, here's 3 steps to success.

Massage balls relieve muscle pain

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.

1. Choose the right massage ball

Massage balls are either spiky or smooth.

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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.

3 massage balls

These are the massage balls I use for deeper trigger point work. There are 3 balls in the set – each with a different level of firmness. So they’re great for experimenting with. 

2. Warm up the area you're working on

warm up before using a massage ball

Warming up the area of pain is going to have 3 effects:

  1. It feels assuring and comforting – sending signals to the brain to relax.
  2. It decreases muscle tightness.
  3. 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.

A trigger point is a hyper irritable spot within a taut band of muscle.

Janet Travell

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.

massage ball on piriformis

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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