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Self-myofascial release techniques using a tennis ball

Use of a tennis ball for self-myofascial release

Self-myofascial release isn’t a new concept. It can help with recovery and pain relief. Here’s a few exercises that can relieve pain using a tennis ball.

Self-myofascial release might sound technical, but it’s actually pretty simple. It’s also known as self-massage. A lot of people refer to it as this, as they’re more familiar with massage. Plus, people are more enthusiastic about learning these techniques. One way in which self-myofascial release can be used  to relieve pain is with a tennis ball. This blog post adapted from Justin Price’s The BioMechanics Method for Corrective Exercise features some techniques that can be used involving a tennis ball.

What is self-myofascial release?

The term myofascial refers to the muscles and fascia that surrounds them. The prefix myo- simply means muscle. Therefore, self-myofascial release is a massage technique of applying continued pressure to an area of myofascial tissue that contains restrictions, tightness, inflexibility, adhesions or lacks proper movement.

These layers of fascia can get tears in them when muscles are overused or experience trauma. If these tears don’t heal properly, then the various layers of fascia can adhere together in spots (called adhesions) which cause pain and discomfort. These adhesions also help our muscles work in the ways they’re supposed to. This enables our bodies to stay strong and move naturally.

When we use self-myofascial release, pressure is put on these adhesions and then released. This allows us to get back to optimal physical performance levels. Read more about myofascial release and how it works in our blog post,  A guide to myofascial release from Ruth Duncan.

Benefits of self-myofascial release

Self-myofasical release has many benefits, these include:

  • Increasing circulation and blood flow
  • Increasing joint flexibility
  • Reducing adhesion and scar tissue
  • Aiding in preventing injury
  • Eliminating tension in muscles
  • Releasing endorphins to help reduce pain
  • Relieving mental stress

Although there are many benefits to using self-myofascial release techniques, they’re not appropriate for everyone. Techniques shouldn’t be used on the following:

  • Swollen, badly bruised or acutely inflamed areas of the body
  • Clients who have acute rheumatoid arthritis
  • Clients that have had an aneurysm
  • Broken bones
  • Pregnant women, if the exercise requires them to assume prone of supine positions for prolonged periods
  • Clients that have hypersensitive skin, hives, eczema or rashes.

There are other situations in which self-myofascial release techniques shouldn’t be used, details of these can be found in Justin Price’s The BioMechanics Method for Corrective Exercise

Types of Self-Myofascial Release

There are two kinds of self-myofascial release techniques: general and specific. Both are very effective for rejuvenating and regenerating muscles affected by musculoskeletal imbalances. They can be used to rehabilitate and restore the health of soft tissue structures. This prepares soft tissue structures for movement and aids recovery.

General Techniques

General techniques are those that affect large areas of the body (Figure 15.1). Devices such as foam rollers are perfect for this type of massage as they have a large surface area. Find out more about using foam rolling techniques in our blog post How to foam roller your IT band to relieve tension and knee pain. 

self-myofascial release techniques

Figure 15.1 Example of a general self-myofascial release technique

These general techniques can be used to address wide ranging muscle and soft tissue dysfunctions. They are great for the beginning stages of a corrective exercise programme. As they take less time to affect large areas, this makes them perfect for people who are short on time. They can also be useful for increasing blood flow and flexibility before and after exercise.

Specific Techniques

Specific self-myofascial release techniques target individual muscles and precise ‘trigger’ points in a muscle or area of fascia. These more exact forms usually require the use of continued pressure on a specific part of the body.

Specific techniques are great for targeting smaller areas of the body like the feet or the calves. Tennis balls, golf balls and lacrosse balls are great for this kind of massage, as they have a much smaller surface area than foam rollers. This allows them to pinpoint a precise area of muscle or fascia (Figure 15.2).

Specific self-myofascial release technique

Figure 15.2 Example of a specific self-myofascial release technique

The exercises detailed below all fall under the category of specific techniques.

Tennis Ball on Hip Flexors

Using a tennis ball for self-myofascial release

Figure 15.3 Use of a tennis ball for self-myofascial release on the hip flexors

Areas of the body

Lumbo-pelvic hip girdle and knees

Structures addressed

Hip flexor group of muscles

Exercise benefits

Using a tennis ball to target the origin of the psoas major muscle (on the sides of the lumbar spine) and iliacus (from the front and inside of the pelvis) directly helps to improve the function of the lumbar spine and pelvis. Releasing these tissues also improves the function of the legs, knees, feet and ankles.

How to perform

  1. Lie face down, place a tennis ball on the abdominals next to the belly button to target the psoas major muscle (which lies under the abdominals).
  2. Lastly, scoot you body to move the ball to any sore spots all the way down from beside the belly button to the top of the hip.

Duration and repetitions

Hold on each sore spot for around 20 to 30 seconds. Perform at least one a day for a total of 2 to 3 minutes on both sides of the body.

Tennis Ball around Shoulder Blade

Using a tennis ball for self-myofascial release

Figure 15.4 Using a tennis ball for self-myofascial release around the shoulder blade

Areas of the body

Thoracic spine and shoulder girdle

Structures addressed

Rhomboids and trapezius muscles

Exercise benefits

Massaging the shoulder retractors helps you addresses any imbalances throughout the thoracic spine and shoulder girdle. It prepares the tissues for subsequent strengthening exercises.

How to perform

  1. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your head resting on a pillow.
  2. Pull one arm across your chest and place a tennis ball under your upper back next to the shoulder blade.
  3. Find the sore spot and hold to release tension.
  4. Finally, move the ball gently to another spot and hold to release any tension.

Duration and repetitions

Hold for 20 to 30 seconds on each sore spot. Perform at least once per day.

Tennis Ball Side of Hip

Use of a tennis ball for self-myofascial release

Figure 15.5 Using a tennis ball for self-myofascial release on the side of the hip

Areas of the body

Lumbo-pelvis hip girdle and knees

Structures addressed

Abductor group of muscles

Exercise benefits

This exercise helps the hip and leg complex and the knee to function correctly. It does this by rejuvenating and regenerating the abductor muscles on the lateral side of the hip and leg.

How to perform

  1. Firstly, lie on your side with your head resting on a pillow to help keep the head and neck aligned.
  2. Place a tennis ball under the lateral side of the hip just above the top of the leg on the side in contact with the ground.
  3. Find a sore spot and hold there to release.
  4. Finally, move the ball gently to another sore spot and hold to release.

Duration and repetition

Hold for 20 to 30 seconds on each sore spot. Perform at least once per a day for a total of 2 to 3 minutes.

Further reading

More self-myofascial release exercises can be found in The BioMechanics Method for Corrective Exercise. These other resources also feature exercise you and your clients can use:

Myofascial Release

Complete Guide to Foam Rolling

Should you be foam rolling?

Want to know more about our bestselling massage titles? – Of course you do, so check out what are the best sports massage books for therapy?

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