Roll away tension and pain

With the hectic, fast-paced environment we live in today, it’s no wonder our bodies are always tense and sore. Lack of sleep, hard work and not enough time to just chill and relax typically catch up with you. Not everyone can afford massages on a regular basis. It sounds heavenly but let’s be real. Self-myofascial release (SMR) could become your new best friend.  By applying pressure to sore muscles and letting your body relax, you’ll find your muscle tension will slowly start to melt away. That’s where foam rollers, tennis balls, Theracanes and the like come in handy. It’s not the same as a professional massage but it does run a close second. Here are some tricks to help you get by. It just takes a few minutes to do and a glorious few minutes it will be.

First up, the foam roller. I think everyone should have one of these. If you really want a bang for your buck, get yourself one and use it. You can usually find them at the gym if you want to give it a try. I start and end my workout on one of these.

Foam rolling upper back
Foam rolling upper back

Trigger points, or knots are areas in muscle fibers that are tight, tender and painful. They can also cause pain to radiate to other areas in the body. When you apply pressure to these adhesions you’ll feel some pain or discomfort. It should be the “hurts so good” type, not the “grin and bear it” kind. Slowly roll over the area, when you come to a sweet spot pause momentarily (30-60 seconds) and relax. You should start to feel the muscle release. If the area is too painful to apply direct pressure, work the surrounding areas instead, gradually work to loosen the entire area. The goal is to bring your muscles back to their former glory where they’re elastic, healthy and are ready to act in a moments notice.

Foam rolling lats
Foam rolling lats

If you’re a runner, cyclist or just work out your legs a lot, rolling out your IT (iliotibial) band is a must. It’s not a muscle but a thick band of fascia (thick connective tissue) that runs on the outside of the pelvis and down to the knee. If it’s tight and it probably is, it can cause major pain in the lower back or knees. The IT band demands respect, be good to it and it’ll be good to you. Roll it out.

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Foam rolling IT band

Our bodies are amazing machines. They adapt to whatever life throws at them. Stress, trauma and over usage can cause weakness and muscle imbalances. It may not seem like a big deal but over time the body will recruit different muscles to compensate for the weak link. It can lead to decreased range of motion, loss of flexibility, pain and muscle adhesions. Myofasical release is a great way to help restore muscle function by increasing blood flow, improving joint movement, and restoring good posture. It also feels amazing.

Foam rolling calf
Foam rolling calf

Foam rollers come in several different colors. The white ones are softer while the blue and black are more dense. Never roll over a joint or bone. If the pain is too much, stop doing it, it’s not a competition. Onto tennis balls…

Tennis balls are fabulous for working in between the shoulder blades. Put the tennis ball in between your shoulder and a wall and roll it around in there. Once you’ve found a good spot, rotate your arm in a circle forwards and backwards. There may be a spot that your arm just kind of sticks or clicks, pause there and breath. This can also be done while laying on the floor for a more intense effect.  You’re able to get to the muscles in the upper part of your shoulder easily while laying down.  If you want to bring out the big guns, use lacrosse balls.  They’re more dense than tennis ball and will give you deeper pressure.  Start with tennis balls if you’re a beginner and more on if you need more.

Tennis ball in shoulder blade.
Tennis ball in shoulder blade.

One of my favorite tricks is to put two tennis (or lacrosse) balls in a sock, tie a knot in it and use it at the base of your skull. Stay on either side of your spine.  You can turn your head side to side, just move slowly, it’s heavenly!

Two tennis balls in sock on neck.
Two tennis balls in sock on neck.

Then there’s the Theracane. I affectionately called mine Rod. It’s great for getting into those pesky spots in your back and neck.   I find it a little difficult to apply pressure while trying to relax at the same time.  It may work wonders for you though.

Theracane in shoulder.
Theracane in shoulder.

I encourage you to try it out today. I typically send my clients home with instructions how to do SMR.  This is how you can do self care on a dime.  I hope you find relief from your pain and suffering.

*Photos were done by Maya, my five year old daughter*

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