Sports massage is part of the regular routine for many top runners. Various myofascial techniques and other treatments can be crucial to keeping muscles recovering on time and effectively for the next challenge. Although many runners’ schedules or budgets don’t allow for regular massage, many tools have been created to help runners address these needs as well as possible on their own. Perhaps you have even seen this bewildering array of devices at your last marathon or half marathon race expo, but were overwhelmed with the amount of choices. Here is a quick guide to a few of the most common devices…
Foam rollers are typically cylindrical sections of foam (kind of like firm pool noodles). The athlete puts body weight on the roller and moves along the muscle, applying pressure to tight spots until they “release” or ease. Foam rollers are relatively inexpensive, starting at $10-$20, and are widely available in various densities. They are likely the most popular tool in this area and often referred to as the “poor man’s massage therapist.” Check out our video on how to use the foam roller here.
Other cylindrical devices
The foam roller is excellent, especially for general and daily use, and for runners unused to the sensation (i.e. PAIN) of massage or self-massage on knotty spots. However, when the athlete becomes accustomed to the discomfort or has some more specific / pin-pointed areas of concern, other devices may be able to hone in more tightly on the problem area, or are at least designed to do so. Some of these span from home-remedy items such as the harder cylinders of PVC tubing, Nalgene bottles, and rolling pins, to commercially available tools such as the Trigger Point grid foam roller or Rumble Roller, to smaller hard roller devices with grooves intended to target the bottom of the foot. If your target area is clearly identified, small, and/or deep, these tools might provide more immediate or fully satisfactory relief.
For times when you don’t have the space or appropriate location to lie down on the floor (or when you need to travel with a self massage assisting tool), objects like the Stick or the Tiger Tail provide a handheld alternative. Instead of using body weight downward on your affected body part to move back and forth over the roller, with a Stick or Tiger Tail, you apply pressure manually to the muscle, by holding the Stick with both hands at either end, quickly and firmly rolling the tool back and forth over the affected area to stimulate blood flow and ease tense spots.
While rollers typically move backward and forward, at times, certain spots are positively affected by oscillation in a variety of directions. A spherically shaped object can often provide welcome relief if this is the case. Glutes are a good example of a muscle area where a spherical object can help significantly when a cylinder might have more difficulty reaching the tight spot. Again, household items, such as softballs, lacrosse balls, golf balls, and tennis balls, can provide a wide range of densities that cater to the needs and pain thresholds of various runners and their problem spots. Alternately, commercially designed balls with grooves, bumps, and other features, can meet your needs if they are able to dig in just in the ways that help sort through your tense spots.
Thinking out of the box…
Runners can be highly motivated to solve their own injury problems, and from these situations have bloomed many innovative instruments. The R8 roller essentially used rollerblade wheels (four on each side) and tension through a connecting plastic span, to apply pressure on both sides of a muscle at once, without the need for too much elbow grease on the part of the user. Backnobbers work through innovative shapes and oddly formed items to reach parts of the body most difficult to reach effectively through other means. Trigger Point also has developed a Cold Roller, a small roller with a gel core that maintains a cold temperature for an ice bath / rolling combo effect. The Moji 360 takes the Stick concept, subs in ball bearings for the cylindrical loops to facilitate circular motion, and allows for a new dimension to a popular tool concept. For those with a higher pain threshold, various “scrapers” and long tools can be found to simulate an aggressive muscle stripping from a therapist.
As a company that values the individuality of each runner with a personalized plan to match, we also know that these tools will more effectively and appropriate for some runners than others. Many running stores will provide opportunities to try them out, and many runners might find the opportunity to experiment by using the tools of other running friends on an initial basis before purchasing one. With new innovations coming out week to week, we are living at a better time than ever before to address muscle tightness needs by self massage. We encourage you to investigate the best practices for your body, in hopes that 2013 allow you to have the consistent recovery and performance you are hoping to achieve.