Some creative tips on using an ordinary tennis ball and other massage tools to self-treat muscle knots and myofascial trigger pointsby Paul Ingraham, Vancouver, Canada BIOCredentials & qualifications. I am a science journalist and former massage therapist. I’m wrapping up a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree, and I am on the editorial team of Science-Based Medicine. My main qualifications are many years of workaholic study of therapy science, modest clinical experience, and thousands of conversations with readers from around the world (including many experts). For more, see Who Am I to Say? Information about my qualifications, credentials and professional experiences for my readers and customers. The basic idea of tennis ball massageThe basic idea of tennis ball massage, or any massage with any kind of ball, is simply to trap the ball between your body and something else: usually the floor, sometimes a wall, another body part, and a few other creative options.
Everything else is a variation on this theme!
The therapeutic goals of tennis ball massageThe goal of tennis ball massage is to achieve a “release” by applying just the right amount of pressure: enough to do some good, but not enough to irritate the knot. The sensation should be clear and strong and satisfying, what we call “good pain.” If you are wincing or gritting your teeth, you need to be more gentle. You need to be able to relax.
Once you have adjusted yourself to achieve the right pressure, relax as much as possible and wait for the sensation to fade to about eighty percent of the original intensity. This is the “release” — a change in the physiological state of the tissues, or a “melting” of the knot. This can take anywhere from ten seconds to several minutes.
Where to massage with your tennis ballTennis ball massage is usually the most effective in the muscles of the back and the hips. Many other locations are awkward (especially for beginners), and you may find it difficult or impossible to apply consistent pressure.
Lie down on a tennis ball, placing it in approximately the right location. You do not have to be precise. “Explore” by moving slowly and gently, until you’ve got just the right spot.
The sensation should be clear and strong and satisfying; it should have a relieving, welcome quality — this is what we call “good pain.”
See the “Perfect Spots” series of articles for several highly recommended places for massage.
Tips and tricks for longer lasting trigger point releaseTrigger point massage often provides only temporary relief. Here are some basic tips and tricks to help make it last as long as possible:
- Treat only a few knots at a time, starting with the worst spots.
- Use heat in conjunction with treatment.
- Avoid fatiguing the muscle for about 24 hours after treatment.
- Move and stretch the muscles after the release of each knot.
Pressure probably has two main therapeutic effects on muscle knots: it creates a small, local stretch that tends to inhibit the motor nerve and/or separates sarcomeres to the point of breaking the vicious cycle of spasm, and it deforms the tissue and literally squashes stagnant tissue fluids out of the area.