Whether you are an avid gym-goer or an office worker, a foam roller and a spikey ball are among some of the most convenient tools for self-massage which alleviate discomfort arising from tight muscles or active trigger points.
Theoretically, these tools target the myofascial system – a layer of connective tissue that covers and connects the bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels – by reducing tension and improving blood flow. Ultimately, as the users’ pain levels decrease, the ranges of motion of specific muscles increase, thereby also enhancing the mobility of joints.
A Snapshot of Benefits offered by these tools:
- Reduction of muscle soreness
- Reduction of inflammation arising from the process of muscle repair
- Maintenance of muscle length and reduction of tension and tightness, hence preventing injuries
- Increase blood flow to muscles, joints, and fascia, enhancing mobility
- Promotes relaxation and overall well-being
As all of us tend to develop tightness or soreness in various muscle groups throughout our bodies regardless of the nature of our jobs or training routines, these tools would prove useful additions to your training regimen by aiding you to maintain the pliability of your muscles or simply for the purpose of self-management.
When not to use these tools
Though users can make use of a foam roller or spikey ball by simply lying on their tool of choice and applying pressure on tight muscles via their own body weight, the use of these tools is generally not advised for those with:
- A recent injury or trauma which has caused an open wound
- Inflammation of a joint
- Severe bruising in the form of hematoma
When in doubt, consult with a professional practitioner for advice.
How to use these tools
Generally speaking, you would want to use these tools by placing the tool of choice underneath specific areas of soreness. You would then put your body weight on the tool and slowly move back and forth and sideways to massage the area for up to 30 seconds or until the muscle relaxes, repeating for 3 to 4 times. It is essential that you keep breathing normally throughout the process.
Before getting on a foam roller, it is important to know which area to not put a foam roller against and that is your lower back or the lumbar area. As your lumbar spine is naturally curved backwards, putting extra pressure on this area via the foam roller would exaggerate this curvature, causing the jamming of joints on the backside of the spine and hence discomfort.
Common areas to foam roll include:
Begin in an elbow plank position with the roller placed horizontally across your quadriceps (i.e. front of thigh). Brace your core, roll up and down with the roller reaching just below your pelvis or above your knee. When reaching a tender spot, stay on it or oscillate with small movements for up to 30 seconds. Breathe throughout the process.
Begin by sitting on the floor with legs straight, foam roller positioned under the back of the thigh. Lift your body up with weight resting on the foam roller. Roll up and down between the the area slightly above your knees and glutes. When hitting tender spots, roll slowly for up to 30 seconds. Alternatively, cross one leg over the idea and focus on rolling one leg at a time.
Begin by sitting on the floor with legs straight, foam roller positioned under the back of the calf muscle. Lift your body up with weight resting on the foam roller. Roll up and down your calves by navigating forwards and back on your arms. When hitting tender spots, roll slowly for up to 30 seconds. May cross one leg over the other for extra pressure. You may also roll your ankles during the rolling process.
Sitting on the foam roller whilst propping yourself up on your arms, cross one leg over the other in a figure-of-4 position. Rotate sideways until a tender spot is felt. Linger on spot for up to 30 seconds.
5) Upper back
Begin by lying on your back with the foam roller positioned horizontally underneath your upper back, keeping the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Arms can either be down by your sides or crossed in front of your chest. Brace your core and lift the buttocks up into a shallow bridge position. Slowly roll up and down between your lower neck and mid-back, stopping at tight areas along the way for up to 30 seconds. For extra pressure, bring elbows together towards the midline in the front.
Begin by lying on your back at a 45-degree angle with the foam roller positioned underneath your lat. Keep your bottom leg straight and bend your top leg into a comfortable position. Roll from your armpit down to your mid-back area, focusing on tender areas, and oscillate slowly for up to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Spikey Ball Massage
Whilst the use of spikey balls is the main focus of this article, it is important to take note of the variety of similar massage balls available in the market which offer similar therapeutic benefits to the spiky ball itself.
Spikey balls can be used as direct replacements for a foam roller in the areas of use mentioned above. Below are a few areas that are better targeted with a spikey ball:
1) Upper traps and shoulder
Start in standing with the ball placed between your upper traps or any areas of tightness over your upper back and a wall, gently apply pressure against the ball using your bodyweight.
2) Hip adductors
Lie on your side with hips and knees bent with the ball between your legs. Locate the area of tightness of your bottom leg and apply pressure with the weight of your top leg by bringing it back and forth.
3) Plantar fascia
Place the ball underneath the arch of your foot and roll the ball back and forth between the heel and the ball of your foot.
Last but not least, although foam rollers and spikey balls can be a useful adjunct in the treatment and rehabilitation of an array of musculoskeletal conditions, including but not limited to:
• Buttock soreness
• Lower back pain
• Upper back or neck discomfort
• Hamstring tightness
• IT Band syndrome
• Rotator cuff tenderness
It is important that you have a sound understanding of your condition and the appropriateness of these tools to be used in the first place. Our friendly and knowledgeable physiotherapists are more than happy to demonstrate to you how to use them and design a home exercise program tailor-made for you. Make an appointment with us online or drop into the clinic for a session today!
Written by: Franklin Lam, Registered Physiotherapist, MPT (HKPU). Master in Physiotherapy
Stationed at our Wellington Street Branch, Franklin is an experienced physiotherapist and keen fitness enthusiast. He actively workouts in the gym and often goes on long runs around Hong Kong during the weekends. Franklin’s special interest is working with athletes to help them recover and enhance their performance. Read more about Franklin in his bio.
Get more personalized advice by booking a session and assessment with Franklin.