Sedentary jobs, decreased activity levels, and increased stress have made us a less mobile population. Our muscles are overactive and tight, creating imbalances in our bodies, which can lead to poor posture, joint pain, and a host of avoidable injuries. Most of us can’t afford a live-in masseuse, and massages from our significant others are expected to be reciprocated (and who wants to do that?), so how are we supposed to alleviate our tense, overactive muscles? Below I have 3 options for you, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
Foam rolling is a newer trend in flexibility training. Foam rolling incorporates use of a large foam roller and one’s own body weight to apply a deep massage. Users are encouraged to roll back and forth over muscle groups, pausing on tight and tender areas known as “trigger points,” which encourages overactive muscles to relax. Foam rolls range in density, size, and price, so you’ll need to experiment and see which type is best for you. While some like the active full-body movement across the foam roller and the fact that it can also be used in strength exercises, others may find controlling their body weight to be difficult.
Ball rolling is similar to foam rolling in that a user uses their body weight to apply pressure, but instead of using a broad foam roll, a smaller ball is used. Unlike foam rolling, which works on larger muscle groups, ball rolling is a more targeted approach. One advantage to this method is that you can ball roll with common household items like a tennis ball, racquetball, or lacrosse ball. You’ll probably want to start off with something soft like a tennis ball and work your way up to something more dense like a lacrosse ball. All you need to do is place the ball between your body and the wall and roll around, looking for trigger points. While some prefer a more targeted approach, others may find such localized pressure to be a bit too much for their pain threshold.
Massage sticks have become popular in athletic training rooms across the world. Think of the massage stick as a rolling pin for your muscles. You control the amount of pressure applied and work the massage stick back and forth until your tight muscles begin to loosen. Massage sticks are convenient and allow you to isolate areas of the body more than foam rolling, but the sticks themselves can be pricey and some people find that the use of one’s arms to be taxing and just a trade-off of where their tension is.
As you can see, each method presents its own advantages and potential difficulties, but each is an effective way to help alleviate muscle tightness. Many health clubs, physical therapy clinics, and fitness stores will give you a chance to test out some of these techniques, so go ahead and give it a shot. You have nothing to lose but muscle tension!