From an increase in serotonin and dopamine levels to improved range of motion in joints, the 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 aches and injuries, and help a wound-up muscle unwind.
As a massage therapist and coach, I recommend the following three key ways my athletes should "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 (the saran-wrap-like tissue around our muscles and organs) thereby enabling the muscle to stretch more easily.
The number one tool I recommend to my athletes is the foam roller. A small 2-foot long roll costs less than $20 and will save you a good deal of money in physical therapy. 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)
- Back muscles (erectors, traps, latissimus dorsi)
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.
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 during 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 all reach the places a foam roller can't.
Put two racquetballs in a sock and tie off the end, squeezing the balls tightly together. This tool is best used to massage the following areas:
- Neck. Lay over the sock so the balls cradle your neck to address those smaller, hard to reach muscles.
- Back. Address both of your erector muscles on either side of your spine by lying supine (face up) and rolling on the sock of balls.
- Feet. 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.
- Abs. 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, grab an ice cup and start rolling it over areas of concern. Sore muscles respond more quickly to ice massage than to a bag of ice thrown on an injury. The ice helps squeeze out the dirty blood from the wound thereby allowing clean blood to rush in and aid in healing the micro-tears. Your muscles will thank you in the morning.
Tip: Always keep water-filled paper cups in your freezer. When applying the ice to your wound, peel the cup as the ice melts.
Stay on top of your aches before they spiral into nightmares. It's better to "roll" than deal with rock-like knots in your muscles.
Amanda McCracken has been racing triathlons competitively for 14 years and coaching athletes for 10 years. She resides in the mecca of triathlon, Boulder, Colorado, where the trails are her playground.