How to use a massage ball
Like a foam roller, a massage ball can also be used to help release tension in our achy muscles after long hours spent in the office or after a workout. One of the differences being that it can get to those hard to reach areas such as the upper back, buttocks and feet. “Knots” or “trigger points” can be massive sources of pain in our bodies and using self-massage techniques can be very satisfying. Before diving in, there are a few important things to know which will help you achieve the best results.
Why a massage ball
Massage balls are affordable and small and therefore they can easily fit into a suitcase or handbag to use wherever you go. They also promote self-sufficiency so there is no need to rely on anyone else. Notwithstanding, it does not always give the same results as a traditional massage delivered by an experienced therapist
Find the right ball
There are many different types of massage balls ranging from very smooth and firm like a lacrosse ball to small and soft like a squash ball. Other balls include a tennis ball and the trusty spikey massage ball. To each his own but if you’re new to using a massage ball, perhaps start with a spikey ball or a tennis ball.
Where and when
Since they are so conveniently easy to use, you can use them almost anywhere for example against a wall, the back of a chair, on the floor or use your hands. Some office workers keep them at their desks as a reminder to use them during the day to help with releasing built-up muscle tension from poor posture or stress.
Start with only a few knots at a time, the most painful area being first. The idea is to trap the knot in the muscle with the ball and apply gently to medium pressure until the painful sensation has faded. Once you have the correct spot (and you will know when), hold it there and try to relax until only about 80% of the ache remains. When pressing too firmly, the sensation can be too painful for you to relax which defeats the purpose of using the massage ball in the first place, it could also potentially irritate the area. You are looking for a “good pain”.Roll the ball around to look for more tender spots or just enjoy gently going back and forth over the tight muscle. If you feel the muscle needs it, you can repeat it twice a day. After releasing the knot, follow it up with gentle stretches to the same muscle. It’s okay to lightly exercise the muscle afterward but avoid fatiguing it for 24 hours.
Here are a few basic areas to get you started:
With your back against a wall, place the ball between your neck and shoulder blade. Gently lean into the wall and roll up and down or sideways. Hold still to release any knots as you find them.
Use the ball with your opposite hand to rub over your upper trapezius muscle (the slope of your neck into your shoulder)
Start by placing the ball on tender spot in your buttock and apply pressure by leaning against the wall with your body. Find the tender spot by rolling up and down and sideways, sometimes it may be necessary to turn the body all the way to the side so that the ball is pressing into the side of your hip. Careful not to press on any bones. You can also do this lying down on the floor or sitting on a chair, but this is not advised for first timers as it’s more difficult to control the pressure.
In either sitting or standing, take off your shoes and step lightly onto the ball. Roll the ball back and forth on the bottom of the foot.
- YC Chan et al, Short-term effects of self-massage combined with home exercise on pain, daily activity, and autonomic function in patients with myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome, Journal of Physical Therapy Science, vol 27, no 1, 2015, p. 217-221
- Paul Ingraham, Tennis Ball Massage for Myofascial Trigger Points, Pain Science, 2018, https://www.painscience.com/articles/tennis-ball.php, accessed 7 April 2020.
- Paul Ingraham, Basic Self-Massage Tips for Myofascial Trigger Points, Pain Science, 2019, https://www.painscience.com/articles/self-massage.php, accessed 7 April 2020.