A tennis ball is a handy tool that you can use in the self-treatment of knots in your muscles, technically known as trigger points. Too many trigger points is known as myofascial pain syndrome.
I personally could not live without my collection of tennis balls. I often refer to Pain Science.com if I’m looking for an eloquent explanation as to why or how something works. What follows is a very useful article as to how you can use a tennis ball to relieve knots in your muscles.
The basic idea of tennis ball massage
The basic idea of tennis ball massage, or any massage with any kind of ball, is simply to trap the ball between your body and something else: usually the floor, sometimes a wall, another body part, and a few other creative options.
Everything else is a variation on this theme!
The therapeutic goals of tennis ball massage
The goal of tennis ball massage is to achieve a “release” by applying just the right amount of pressure: enough to do some good, but notenough to irritate the knot. The sensation should be clear and strong and satisfying, what we call “good pain.” If you are wincing or gritting your teeth, you need to be more gentle. You need to be able to relax.
Once you have adjusted yourself to achieve the right pressure, relax as much as possible and wait for the sensation to fade to about eighty percent of the original intensity. This is the “release” — a change in the physiological state of the tissues, or a “melting” of the knot. This can take anywhere from ten seconds to several minutes.
Tennis ball massage is usually the most effective in the muscles of the back and the hips. Many other locations are awkward (especially for beginners), and you may find it difficult or impossible to apply consistent pressure.
Lie down on a tennis ball, placing it in approximately the right location. You do not have to be precise. “Explore” by moving slowly and gently, until you’ve got just the right spot.
The sensation should be clear and strong and satisfying; it should have a relieving, welcome quality — this is what we call “good pain.”
Tips and tricks for longer lasting trigger point release
Trigger point massage often provides only temporary relief. Here are some basic tips and tricks to help make it last as long as possible:
- Treat only a few knots at a time, starting with the worst spots.
- Use heat in conjunction with treatment.
- Avoid fatiguing the muscle for about 24 hours after treatment.
- Move and stretch the muscles after the release of each knot.
Why tennis balls work for trigger points
A knot or trigger point is a clenched patch of muscle tissues. The nerve that controls the muscle is firing too quickly, and the tissue is full of waste molecules produced by the “revving” tissue.
Pressure probably has two main therapeutic effects on muscle knots: it creates a small, local stretch that tends to inhibit the motor nerve and/or separates sarcomeres to the point of breaking the vicious cycle of spasm, and it deforms the tissue and literally squashes stagnant tissue fluids out of the area.
Remember, don’t assume that all pain is completely muscular. Pain has many different causes; always have a qualified practitioner rule out other disorders.