Self care is an important part of wellness that most of us tend to forget about, or just not make the time for. I am as guilty of this as anyone. Some of us eat healthy, and perhaps exercise, but there is a lot more to self care than diet and fitness. Massage is a great form of self care. It helps you to relax, release tension, and feel better overall. Receiving regular massage has been proven to decrease stress, prevent some disease, make people happier, improve flexibility, and much more.
As a massage therapist, I like to encourage people to get regular massage to increase their overall health and wellness, however, I am also aware that regular massage isn't in everyone's time frame or budget. So how do you get massage when you can't get a massage? You can try self-massage techniques. Today I am going to talk about self-massage with a tennis ball.
What is tennis ball massage?
Tennis ball massage is one of my favorite techniques to teach people. It is a fun, and inexpensive. It is also a great way to take care of your body between massages. It will never work as well as actually receiving a massage from another person, but it still has some great benefits. It can help to release muscle groups that are tight, relieve tension, improve circulation, and target tender spots and trigger points. You can massage most of your body with a tennis ball.
How to do tennis ball massage
All you will need for tennis ball massage is yourself and a tennis ball. It is generally best to wear tight fitting clothes, as sometimes the ball can get tangled up in your clothing. You can try leaning on the ball against a wall, or laying on top of it on the floor. Either way, you want a hard surface. If you try laying on a ball on a bed or couch, the ball will just sink into the mattress or upholstery and not do much good. If you like, you can try a yoga mat on the floor, and support your head and neck with blankets or pillows if you need to. I personally prefer the floor, so that is how I will write instructions, but always fee free to modify however you need to.
I like to start with the feet and work my way up, but you can work wherever you need to and in whatever order you wish.
Feet and legs
Start by standing and placing the tennis ball under one heel. Allow your weight to sink into it and stand as you normally would. Stand like this for 1 minute, then remove the tennis ball and feel the difference between your two legs/feet. Then do the other side. You can also roll your feet over the tennis ball to work on your arches and the balls of your feet.
When you are ready to move on to your legs, sit down on the floor or your mat with your legs out in front of you, and place the ball under your calf. You can use your hands to pull you back and forth over the ball, and sort of scoot back and forth. I often prefer a little more pressure, and lean some of my weight on my leg on top of the ball. You can lean more or less depending on how much pressure you want. Roll along the ball on your calf, then move up to your hamstrings. Don't use it on the back of your knee. You can massage your hamstrings the same way you worked on your calves.
To work on your quads, you can flip onto your belly, but I find it works best to just put the ball on your leg and roll it with your hands.
Hips and glutes
The posterior hip releases is one of my favorites. It doesn't feel good while you are doing it, and may even hurt, but when you are done, it feels great! If you have problems with loose ligaments, are pregnant, or tend to dislocate your hips, use this technique with caution, or not at all. First you will lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Next, take the tennis ball and place it right under your hip joint. Allow your knee on that side to externally rotate, or fall to the side, while the leg without the tennis ball extends straight. Your legs should look kind of like the number 4. Stay there for 1 minute and try to allow your glutes to relax. It will probably be difficult, and may hurt, but only for a minute. Try talking to someone or listening/singing to music to help the time pass. Once the minute is up, remove the tennis ball, and feel your posterior hip sink into the floor. There should be a big difference between that side and the other side. Then, of course, you will do the other side so that you aren't lopsided.
Now on to many people's favorite part; the back. When using a tennis ball on your back, the most important thing to remember is to not put the ball directly under your spine. Feel free to roll up and down or side to side, as long as you aren't on your spine. If you want to work on both sides of your spine at the same time, try putting 2 tennis balls in a pair of tights or a sock (pictured at left), and place the balls on either side of your vertebrae. if you put them in the middle of a leg on a pair of tights, you can also hold the ends in your hands.
When working on your back, you may also want to avoid being directly on your scapulae (shoulder blades). If you find any spots that refer or where there is a lot of tension, try laying on the ball for a minute and allowing your muscles to release around the ball. Think about the ball melting or sinking into your tissue. The best results happen when you are able to relax around the ball rather than tense up the muscles you are working on.
Feel free to play around with tennis ball massage. These are a few suggestions, but see what works and feels good to you. Also remember that while helpful, tennis ball massage will never have the same benefits as receiving a massage from another person. Schedule massage therapy sessions when you are able, and try using the tennis ball between massages.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.