Massage is often thought of as a luxury relaxation activity for spa-goers or the ultra-rich, but did you know that regular massages can actually be very important for your health? This is especially true if you are one of the millions of people who experience chronic pain, tension, or headaches.
Massage, particularly a type of massage called ‘myofascial release,’ helps with these issues by targeting specific areas of the body known as trigger points—the tiny knots that can develop in a muscle if it’s injured or over-stressed—to release muscle tightness. These points are often behind chronic muscle soreness and joint pain.
Trigger points are different from other areas of tension in that a trigger point will refer pain, so when you press it your pain or discomfort will radiate away from that spot. For example, when you press a spot in your hip, you may feel pain radiate down your leg, or when you put pressure on area in your shoulder, you may feel pain or tension in your neck or on your head.
Fortunately, you don’t have to fork over the big bucks if you want to relax your muscles and relieve your pain. Here are three different techniques to relieve these painful spots by yourself.
1. Use a tennis ball
Use a tennis ball when you want to focus on a very small point or knot. To find your trigger points, move fingers along a muscle. Common areas are around the hips and buttocks, back, neck, and shoulders. When you find a particularly tight or tender spot, press the tennis ball into the spot, or if this it too painful, move it in a circular motion around the area.
You can spend anywhere between 30 seconds and several minutes on a specific point. As you press into it, take deep breaths, and consciously try to relax. You should be uncomfortable, but not in intense pain. After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, the area should begin to release and relax.
For a more intense release, you can put the tennis ball on the trigger point and lie down on top of it, so that your whole weight is pressing into the tennis ball.
2. Use a foam roller
Use a foam roller when you want to target a larger muscle or muscle group on the body. To foam roll, you use your own body weight to apply pressure to these larger areas.
Roll slowly for the most effective release: only cover 1 inch per second maximum. When you discover spots that are tight or painful, stop rolling and just rest on that spot for between 30 seconds and 1 minute. Again, try to consciously relax, and you should feel the muscle release and the pain lessen. Common areas to ‘roll’ are the IT Band (your outer hips and thighs), hamstrings (back of your thighs), or your back from your shoulders to your hips.
3. Use your own hands
If you don’t want to use a tennis ball or a roller, you can use your own hands and fingers to release many trigger points of the body; it just takes a bit more thumb strength and energy on your part. Like the tennis ball technique, this method is best for smaller areas.
Just as you did with the tennis ball, move your hands along the length of your muscles to find where your trigger points are. When you find one, press your thumb into it using as much pressure as necessary. Like you did with the foam roller and tennis ball, breathe deeply and try to relax as your press it. When you feel the area relax, move on to another point.
These myo-fascial release techniques are great ways to keep your muscles relaxed and your body pain-free. Just remember to go slow, so as not to injure yourself.
For the best results, do it regularly—every day if possible—until all of the kinks have completely dissolved.
-The Alternative Daily