If you have visited my massage office and complained of a stiff neck, sciatic pain, or low back pain, chances are I told you to use tennis balls to work on the area when you got home from the massage. Tennis balls are my favorite self-care massage tool.
You don’t need expensive tennis balls like you use on the court. You can buy three for a dollar in the pet section of most discount stores like Dollar General or Dollar Tree. If you put a couple in a sock or the leg of an old pantyhose, you can create a second tool that allows you to get to many hard-to-reach places as well.
When you add some stretches to your self-care treatment, you can often relieve pain between massage visits. Indeed, it sometimes may seem that a massage wakes up latent trigger points. While the therapist hopes she has released all your knots, sometimes an area hurts worse after the massage as the body adjusts and realigns itself. A tennis ball on the area can finish releasing any of the “knots” that just don’t want to go away.
Just like the pressure applied in a neuromuscular therapy session, the tennis ball forces blood, lymph and toxins out of the muscle tissue. When the ball is removed and the blood rushes back, the tissue is flooded with oxygen and nutrients, and the tone of the muscle is reset. If you follow the trigger point treatment with stretching, you can often induce the muscle to keep its tone permanently.
The piriformis attaches on one end to the sacrum and on the other to the head of the leg bone at the hip socket. When it gets tight, it can cause back pain, hip pain, or leg pain. Leg pain is especially likely if the tight muscle entraps the sciatic nerve.
Place the tennis ball in the center of the fleshy part of your gluteals. Roll it around until you find the sore area, and situate the ball there. Relax into the ball allowing gravity to assist you in the release. Breath deeply until you can no longer feel the soreness. Move to a new sore spot an repeat until the muscle is relaxed, then repeat on the other side. Afterwards while still lying on your back, stretch the muscles by placing the ankle of one leg just above the knee of the other (like you are crossing your leg) and pulling the lower knee toward your chest. Repeat on the other side.
I also do a variation of this by lying on my side with my lower leg straight and my top leg bent and crossed over the lower leg so that my upper buttocks are rotated forward. Then I can easily reach the piriformis with my hand holding the ball. I can press and roll the ball until the trigger points are released. I do this in bed rather than on the floor.
One of the most common complaints is stiff neck or headache pain. The occiput release allows the skull to release any jamming from the spine. The release can cause deep relaxation and improved movement.
Massage therapists usually use their fingers to create the release, but tennis balls are a great way to get a similar result at home. Putting two in a sock and then lying on them is the best way. Be sure they are positioned at the bottom of the protrusions at the back of the skull on both right and left. Relax into the release for up to five minutes. Follow up with neck stretches front, back, and side to side.
The inside of the thigh from pubic bone to various intervals along the femur is the site of the adductors. The job of the adductors is to stabilize the hip joint and move the leg toward the midline of the body. When these muscles have trigger points, pain can be felt along the top of the thigh and down the inside of the leg to just above the ankle. They may be the
culprits in medial knee pain.
To release the adductors, drape a folded blanket or towel along the front edges of a straight-backed chair with a hard seat to act as a cushion. Sit forward on the chair, and spread your legs. To release the right adductors, hold the tennis ball in the left hand and place the back of the left hand on the right side edge of the chair. Lean your body to the left and place your right thigh over the tennis ball. Begin at the groin and work your way down the inner leg, holding the points that are painful until you feel the release. Stop just above the knee. Repeat on the other side if necessary. Do lunges to further stretch the released adductors.
Tennis balls have long been used by dancers and athletes for self-care. Yoga instructors frequently suggest them to help their students care for injuries and achieve deeper poses. make them part of your self-care practice.