- Karen Stoner, LMT
Massage Tools You Probably Already Own
We all know that regular massage by a knowledgeable and experienced Massage Therapist is the best way to keep pain, stress, and those annoying chronic aches and pains at bay. Unfortunately, getting a massage every day is not usually possible (or affordable, or wise, etc) This is where massage tools can come in. Massage tools are items designed to replicate the motions that massage therapy uses to provide relief for acute, muscle issues, chronic pain and problems, and overall self-care. They can range in style from electronic devices that buzz, vibrate, roll, and hit the muscle and surrounding muscle tissue to tools made from wood or plastic that allow you to press and dig into sore spots. These tools can be very useful to have on-hand at home, in a gym bag, etc to grab quickly to provide quick relief. But these items can get confusing, and often expensive. Fortunately, many of these tools on the market are very similar to everyday items that you likely already have laying around the house. Let's look at a few items that you probably already own, or at least can get much more easily and inexpensively than some massage tools.
Tennis Ball - probably my absolute favorite massage tool. Now I don't play tennis, so the first time I brought a tube of these things home, my parents were extremely confused (yes, I've been using these since I was a teenager). You can drop one on the floor and roll your feet on them or place them on a table to roll your wrists and forearms. You can also place it against your back while sitting on the couch or leaning against the back of a chair or a wall and just wiggle so that it rolls up and down, and gets into tight spots. It is also the best tool I've ever found for massaging the back of the neck, especially right up where the neck and skull meet. The ball is small enough that it gets along the sides and edges of the bony structures or the body, and the ball itself is both hard enough to provide pressure, but soft enough to give and not cause bruising or additional pain. To double up the value - 2 tennis balls in a big sock, and tie the end closed = the best tool ever. And don't limit yourself to just tennis balls - if you need pressure harder of softer, or a size larger or smaller, experiment! Lacrosse balls, softballs, golf balls, wiffle balls, rubber bouncy balls - the options are endless. Just experiment to find just what works for you.
A Can of Soup - Or anything, really - just a cylinder with ridges. This is a great rolling tool. The metal is hard but not super solid, and the ridges provide nice pressure to small areas. This is great for small areas like the forearms and wrists. Carpal tunnel or golf/tennis elbow can get relief from rolling the soup can along the arms. Either place the can on a table and lean on top of it while rolling it up and down, or use the other hand to roll it. If you are coordinated enough, you can also roll it between both wrists/forearms at the same time. The metal can is a little painful for the feet, but it would work in a pinch.
Rolling Pin - Similar to the can of soup, the rolling pin works great on larger areas. I've used it on my quads after a particularly long or rough leg workout or bike ride. It is great to help flush out fluid and lactic acid, while not quite digging into a massage, which might feel too painful on areas that are already sore. With this one, the quads are really the only area that you can do yourself - you'll probably need someone's help to do calves or hamstrings unless you are pretty flexible. I've also had my kids run the rolling pin over my back and rhomboids in a pinch. They have fun, think they are helping, and you get a little bit of relief.
Frozen Water Bottle - Everyone tries to steer you away form 'single-use plastic water bottles', and in many ways it is for good reason. But with that whole "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle" stuff, they often forget about the "Reuse" segment, and this helps with that. Refill a plastic water bottle, tighten the cap, and toss it in the freezer. If you are having pain accompanied with inflammation such as plantar fasciitis, or even overuse with lactic acid buildup, this is a great solution. Roll the sore area over the frozen water bottle to get relief. The ice helps calm down the inflammation, while the ridges in the bottle can be directed into grooves around the bone structures and provide nice pressure-point massage. If the bottle feels too hard or rough straight out of the freezer, let it thaw a little so the plastic gets more flexible and provides more "give" to soften it up for especially painful areas.
These are just a few examples. If you get creative and look around the house, there are plenty of things that can be used. I've personally even used my kids' toys in various ways. (Legos - as much of a pain as they are when you unexpectedly find one in bare feet, can be surprisingly therapeutic if used the right way.) Just take yourself on a scavenger hunt around the house, and get creative!
Now of course, massage tools, no matter how simple or complex they are are no true substitute for a massage from a real, live Massage Therapist. A real set of hands attached to a brain can help detect what the problems are, assess what needs to be done properly to fix the issue, (and it may not be where you feel the pain, but if you're in pain that may not be your thought process) and what techniques and pressure should be used to remedy the problem, therefore getting the best results and causing the least amount of discomfort or bruising. Tools are great to use between sessions for daily care, or to have on-hand for sudden emergencies or discomfort, but shouldn't be used as a replacement for the real thing.