Tight and achey muscles but can't get in to have a massage or treatment?
Massage and hands-on work is a great way to relieve muscle tension, but sometimes it can be hard to find the time.
Thankfully there's an array of self-care tools including massage balls out there to help you. But you may not be so sure how to use them.
Benefits of massage balls
- Quick and easy massage tool
- Treat yourself between massages or treatment
- Improve blood flow
- Improve muscle recovery
- You can control the pressure
Smooth or Spikey?
Laura Randall our Osteopath will take you through the benefits of each type of massage ball.
Benefits of the smooth ball:
These myofascial balls are great to get into more sensitive areas, or if you're just starting out with massage balls.
Benefits of the Spikey Ball:
The spikey ball is a bit harder with little nobbles to get into all the nooks and crannies. If you need some deeper work a spikey ball can be great to get deeper into your muscles.
Quick and easy tips to relieve tension
- Roll your feet for 5 minutes to relieve tired and achey feet
- Lay on your back with the ball under a trigger point, lay there for a couple of minutes until the trigger point releases
- Place the ball under your neck as you lay over it
- Roll the ball over your muscles to improve blood flow
When Not to Use Massage Balls
There are times when it's not appropriate to use massage balls. If you're unsure seek professional advice.
- Fresh injury
- Broken skin
- Too painful or uncomfortable
- Makes your symptoms worse
Dr. Nick’s Spiky Break-Down FAQ
What do Massage/Spiky Balls do?
The key concept behind the use of spiky and other massage balls is that the application of pressure to an area of the body can be useful in order to obtain various health benefits. This parallels the effects of deep tissue massage techniques when you see a manual therapist such as an osteopath, chiropractor or massage therapist. Therefore, any object, being spherical in nature or otherwise, can be used to apply pressure and achieve the desired result. Just as the bear scratches its back using the bark of a tree, so too can we use a golf/tennis/lacrosse ball, or even a foam roller for that matter, to massage our muscles and improve tissue tensions.
As I said, the object need not be a ball at all. There have been several occasions when I’ve been crippled by pain while travelling abroad and I’ve resorted to digging into the pantry to pick out two cans of tinned beans just to roll out my lower back – repeatedly falling on your neck when trampolining isn’t recommended! As long as those cans don’t open while you’re on top of them you’re good to go! With that said, it is probably less often when you find yourself in a position where you don’t have access to at least a tennis ball at the bare minimum.
What to Look for in a Massage/Spiky Ball?
The benefit of using a spherical object like a ball is that you can roll along or across the length of your muscles, simulating the action of having a massage. If we’re talking specifically of massage balls, there are four main differentiating factors: size, density, friction component (how grippy the ball is), and whether or not the ball is spiky. The first three factors are by far the most important. A golf ball is small, extremely firm and generally has a low friction component. A similar-sized ball is a squash ball which is small, less firm but very grippy. Size and density are fairly self-explanatory, a small ball is easier to work into tight spaces like between the ribs or into the small muscles of the foot, and the density determines how much pressure you can exert. Similarly, a large ball covers more surface area and can be better suited to penetrating deeper into the larger muscle groups – much the same as a foam roller is generally better suited to releasing the larger muscle groups. The friction component can be important so that the ball doesn’t slide out from under you if you’re lying on it or leaning against it on a wall which can be quite important too. There are various ‘points’ of view in relation to how important the spikes on spiky balls are. It is theorised that they elicit a greater stimulation of local blood flow in the capillaries, but there appears to be little if any evidence to back this up.
Personally my favourite all-round self release tool is a lacrosse ball. For the enticingly low cost of $5-10 this ball has all of the qualities I like in a massage ball. It’s very firm but not unyielding, is small enough to be useful to get into smaller knots and muscle groups but still large enough to release deep tensions in the quads and glutes, it also has a high friction component, meaning you can use a lacrosse ball on a slippery wooden door or flooring and it’s unlikely to slide out from under you. A tennis ball is a close runner-up because of its ubiquitous nature and having similar size to a lacrosse ball, but rubber cricket balls and baseballs work too. I also really like golf or squash balls for releasing the small muscles of the foot.
Some Tips for Application
- Putting a massage ball in a sock is a great way to target difficult-to-reach back muscles when leaning against a wall. Hold the end of the sock in your hand and hang the ball down to the desired area of your back or shoulder.
- Taping two tennis/lacrosse balls together to form a ‘peanut’ is a great way to apply even pressure to the muscles on either side of your spine while still leaving a divot for your spine to notch into. This is a much stronger way to release your spinal muscles than using a foam roller and has the significant benefit of not being deflected by the shoulder blades. Best results are achieved by lying on the peanut and using your body weight to apply pressure.
- For some people, it can be a daunting process to workout [sic] exactly what and where to apply pressure to. My advice is always to take an open-minded approach. Use the massage ball as a way of exploring and discovering your body in a new way. Really try to feel the tensions in your body and use that new information to guide your self-release exercises. Personally, I’ve always seen it as a form of masochistic meditation like Vipassana – you have the ability to stare down your pain and master it. All the while, the degree of pressure and pain is totally up to you, so try to enjoy!
Osteopath, Herbalist, Western Acupuncturist & Psychosomatic Therapist.
Jin is an intuitive therapist with 12 years of clinical experience. Her passion is the mind-body connection and how our physical body is a manifestation of our emotional state. She loves to get to the root of people's issues by delving deeper.
Jin's areas of special interest are frozen shoulder, jaw pain, sacro-iliac joint pain and pregnancy related issues.
Favourite technique: Jin uses a variety of treatment modalities but her favourite for getting results is dry needling and psychosomatic therapy.