It's taken me a while to get to it, but it's time to discuss self massage and ball rolling, AKA self myofascial release work. No, I don't mean using a spikey foam roller or a baseball, but I mean rolling areas on areas of tension and discomfort out on dense rubber balls intend to bring some relief.
There are many kinds of tools at your disposal, actually, from dense lacrosse balls to small inflatable spheres, squishy foam rollers, vibrating balls, and more. and it can be difficult to figure out where to start.
Why are you telling me to do this?
Let's start with some questions: If you could have someone massage the big knots at the top of your trapezius every night, would you do it? When's the last time someone dug into your glutes in a massage? How's your back feel these days? Do you have neck pain or a tight jaw? Do you wear elevated heel shoes and have sore feet? Back pain? Knee pain? One sided shoulder issues?
Did you answer yes to any of these questions? Then rolling could help you! Without going super in-depth into fascia, adhesions, and knots (which i will definitely do another time), rolling out tissues can prepare your body for movement, rehydrate tissue, improve circulation, and create generally a better relationship in your myofascia. I wish musicians could have more regular bodywork sessions, similar to professional athletes, but we unfortunately don't often get that treatment at a low cost. Self massage is an amazing way to keep that change in your tissues on a daily basis after rigorous practice.
Brooke Thomas, a rolfer, wellness lady and movement maven, goes through some of the benefits of foam roller vs. rubber balls vs. lacrosse balls here at Breaking Muscle, so give that a look. I started my rolling experience on lacrosse balls and then moved to Yoga Tune Up® balls, and am now a YTU® teacher, so I may be biased, but I do believe that rolling in general is terrific, and softer implements are generally better. For sensitive folks who prefer less pressure, the Franklin Method inflatable balls can be great, or taking balls to the wall.
Side note, here’s a great article from the 2012 Journal of Bodywork and Manual Therapies about Stress Transfer mediums (aka. what you use to massage oneself or another person) and how they impact fascia, muscle, and the nervous system. The overall conclusion of the article is that “This study suggests, under the conditions described, that using a weaker STM during manual therapy techniques may improve stress transfer. “ When we use a tough, non malleable object for massage (or if a manual therapist uses intense pressure without gradually transitioning to that point), the body’s nervous system may be jostled and the soft tissue may not respond in the intended way. If you’ve ever had a really intense massage where someone immediately dug into your tissues with no warning, you’ve experienced this. When we use self massage as a tool, we our calling upon our different pressure receptors in our muscles, fascia, tendons, and ligaments to help create a change in our tissues globally. It’s not like the massage is taking away the tension or releasing it (where does it go?), but it’s creating change from within our nervous system, and also helping the body get to a place of rest and digest.
Here are some reasons to use self massage:
-You control your own roll-out experience, spending as much or as little time and pressure on areas as you see fit.
-Portable and affordable!
-More specific than a foam roller.
-Rolling is a great way to continue feeling good after a massage, rolfing session, yoga class, etc, or to prepare the body for a specific task such as squatting, running, lifting, practicing a musical instrument, etc.
-Rolling is great way to recover from some overuse and tension.
Rolling can temporarily change how you feel, but you also have to address the ways you move, practice, or live your daily life to see long term change. This also means that you may need to strengthen areas of weakness rather than always rolling! Rolling is just one of many tools in a recovery and self-care toolbox, and can help you down regulate your nervous system or increase your proprioception, but other changes are also necessary if you have a nagging pain in your hip, shoulder, or back. (And as always, rolling is not a substitute for medical advice! I’ve had students come in with a pathology expecting to be fixed, and if something is seriously amiss in your tissues, rolling is not always the answer.)
Are you ready to get started? Here's a video that tackles the perpetual knots in the upper back, what I like to call the Trapezius Armadillo. (Violinist/violists have huge knots on the left side!)