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Tennis Ball Massage for Myofascial Pain Syndrome

by on July 4, 2010

As you may know, at GUS we are big fans of the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies. Joe Weir and I were talking about one “humble” but very popular tool for trigger-point self-therapy and for self-massage in general, as is discussed here:

Tennis Ball Massage for Myofascial Pain Syndrome

You can find a great deal of information on trigger points on that site, btw. Both Joe and I know how useful it is but we were also discussing it’s limitations.

The thing is most people use a tennis ball on the floor. They roll around on it to target the thighs and glute medius..things like that. While I have done this quite a few times myself there are a few problems/limitations:

1. If you weigh a lot the tennis ball will collapse.

So, you can use a lacrosse ball or you can purchase a self-massage ball of some kind, which are available in different degrees of firmness. This could be useful because if you are new too to self-massage something like a lacrosse ball may be too hard for you.

The website a just linked mentions a “Kong” pet toy as a massage tool. Which may work also but I would think this would be awkward since they are not perfectly round. But whatever the case:

2. Lying on a ball and rolling around on it is very difficult because you can’t adjust the  pressure that well. With all your body weight pressing down on a tender spot centered on a ball you will be concentrating more on getting some of your weight off than you will on getting the ball in the right spot.

Which brings us to…

3. This method is more “self-massage” than “trigger-point” therapy. The ball is really a step up from a foam roller. A foam roller is general myofascial release and works over large areas of the tissue. While you can stop and concentrate the rolling over the more tender spots, or pause over those areas, as some sources recommend (whole nother subject) you need something smaller and more accurate to really target specific details. So in comes the tennis ball or other ball.

But when it comes to honing in on trigger points, the best tools are really the fingers of a trained expert. The second best tools are your own fingers. But for self-massage there are many areas of the body where using your own fingers is just not practical. Either because you cannot reach or because it is difficult to get the leverage you need to apply enough pressure.

So we need a tool which is both accurate enough and allows us to reach and apply the pressure we need. We need to be able to easily control the amount of pressure we are using.

Before I get into that tool I want to remind you of a great trick for using a tennis ball on your back without having to lay on it and roll around. Clair Davies mentions this in the TPT Workbook. Simply put your ball inside a long sock. Use the end of the sock as a handle and place the ball between your back and a wall. This way you can keep the ball from falling as you use the wall to apply pressure and work the problem areas on your back.

But to really get at my trigger points I theracaneuse my fingers. When my fingers don’t work I use my Thera Cane self massager. If possible I am more addicted to my Thera Cane than I was to my foam roller when I first got one. It allows you to reach and pinpoint the knots in your back and elsewhere while giving you the leverage to control the pressure. Clair Davies gives tips for when and how to use the Thera Cane in the Trigger Point Workbook.

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  1. Ron permalink

    I’ve owned a Thera Cane for almost 20 years. It’s a great tool for some body parts, but not others, and its hard contact points can cause additional inflammation if you apply too much force to bony areas. Like tennis or lacrosse balls, it can also be tedious to use if you’re treating multiple trigger points. My tool of choice is the RumbleRoller. It’s as convenient to use as a foam roller, but gets in as deep as a Thera Cane, and its flexible bumps work much better around muscle attachments.

  2. Sorry but that is a completely different tool. It’s basically a bumpy foam roller. Great for SMFR but trigger point therapy is specific. You must be able to find and hone in on ONE point and treat that point with a specific technique. This would not accomplish that for you. The Backnobber is another choice besides the theracane and there is also the Buddy Back. I don’t have experience with either of those. But general SMFR and self trigger point treatment are not the same thing and these tools, the thera cane and the rumble roller are meant for different purposes. I appreciate the recommendation of the probuct though. It looks interesting.

  3. Ron permalink

    It’s easier to position the Thera Cane on a single trigger point if you already know where that point is. IMO however, it’s easier to identify new trigger points with the RumbleRoller because its bumps continuously probe multiple areas. And you may be surprised at how well the RumbleRoller digs into a single point when you’re in a static position. Both of these tools have been valuable additions to my therapy program.

    • Well you can recognize trigger points by referred pain patterns. Then locate the supposed area you would expect the trigger point to be based on that pain pattern and palpate for tenderness/pain. That’s why I recommend the Trigger Point Therapy workbook. Takes the guess work out of it and the probing and searching.

      I have no doubt that it helped you and I am not saying it’s a bad tool.

  4. Massage Tables permalink

    When it comes to massage therapy how could you not have heard of Thera Cane? It is a very well known product in the industry. Good article, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks. Yes, we’ve heard of the thera cane. We’ve mentioned it many time before. This time we were talking about tennis balls. There is always more than one tool in the tool box.

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