Rock or Roll
From an increase in serotonin and dopamine levels to an improvement in joint range of motion, the many benefits of massage have been repeatedly proven. When massage, as human to human contact, is not an option, take matters into your own hands. While you won’t get the same nervous system benefits, you can certainly ward off an injury and help a wound up muscle unwind.
As a massage therapist and coach, the following are the three key ways I recommend athletes roll to prevent injury. Rolling helps break up muscular “knots” which have developed from repetitive tear and repair of muscular micro-tears. Rolling also helps release the grip of muscle fascia (saran wrap-like tissue around our muscles and organs) thereby enabling the muscle to stretch more easily.
The number one tool I recommend an athlete purchase is the foam roller. A small 2 foot length roll will cost you less than $20 and save you a good deal of money in physical therapy. The foam rollers will help you address several problem areas: side of thigh (illiotibial band and tensor fasciae latae), quad muscles, inner and outer thigh (adductors and abductors), calves (gastrocnemius and soleus), glutes (medius, minimus and maximus), and your back muscles (erectors, traps, latissimus dorsi, etc). Be sure to roll over the area of concern for at least 60 seconds, at times coming to a complete rest with your body weight. Stretch the area after rolling to fully reap the benefits. Surf the web for a variety of ways to use the roller.
The next time you are running by a tennis court, pick up a couple of stray tennis balls. They might just become your new best friends on that plane ride or your commute to work. They are great to sit on or place between your back and the seat. Roll when you’re at a stop light. Tennis, lacrosse, golf or racquetballs: they reach the places a foam roller can’t. Try putting two racquetballs in a sock tied off at the end to limit the space between the balls. Position yourself such that the balls are cradling your neck to address those smaller hard to reach muscles. Address both of your erector muscles on either side of your spine by lying supine (face up) and rolling on the sock of balls. For plantar fasciitis (pain in the arch of your foot), roll the bottom of your foot over a golf ball to help stretch out the fascia. If you are experiencing pain in the lower abdominal area of your hip flexor muscles (psoas and iliacus), try lying prone (face down) so that you sandwich the ball between the floor and your gut, to the left or right of your belly button, near the restricted area. Roll and rest. Because of the location of the psoas, often by releasing a tight psoas you can alleviate low back pain.
If you can’t stand sitting in cold rushing water or it’s the dead of winter, grab an ice cup and start rolling it over areas of concern. Our sore muscles respond more quickly to ice massage than a bag of ice thrown on an injury. The ice “squeezes” out the “dirty” blood in our vessels thereby allowing “clean” blood to rush in and aid in healing the micro-tears. Keep some water filled paper cups in your freezer. Peel the cup as the ice melts while rolling it over the sore areas. Your muscles will thank you in the morning.
Stay on top of your niggles before they spiral into nightmares involving pinched nerves and a compensating gait that causes another injury to develop elsewhere. It’s better to roll than deal with rock-like knots in your muscles!