Working with a tennis ball for muscle tension and pain relief

One of my favorite massage tools is my trusty tennis ball for working out tension and muscle knots in my back and hips. Step one: lie on your back on a carpet or blanket, step two: place tennis ball between your left shoulder blade and spine and let the weight of your body sink into the tennis ball. Breathe. Repeat with the muscles between your right shoulder blade and spine. Next, move on to your glutes (buttocks) and start with the area right next to your tailbone. I typically leave the tennis ball on a tender or tight spot until I no longer feel the pressure as strongly before moving on. After you have worked on the glute attachments around your tailbone, move farther out to the main muscles of the glutes that may need work. You will notice that the side you aren’t working on with the tennis ball will drop to the floor, so to make the hips even, place a pillow, chair cushion, or a folded towel or blanket under that hip or area of the upper back for more comfort.

Want to massage the tight muscles along each side of your spine? Place two tennis balls in a “lost sock” (you know the one that’s been sitting on your dresser for a month because you are still hoping to find its mate that never made it out of the dryer for some mysterious reason?) and tie off the end. Position the tennis balls so that when you lie on your back, you can roll them up and down the muscles that line your spine that are holding tension. Ahh, relief at last!

Lastly, another great way to use a tennis ball (aside from actually playing tennis) is on the soles of your feet. You can sit in your office chair or on the couch, so it’s an easy thing to do at the end of the day to revitalize tired, sore feet. Remove shoes and socks, and gently roll the tennis ball around on the soles of your feet. I also like to do a “press and release” technique to stimulate different areas of the feet. Press your foot into the tennis ball, then relax your foot, and repeat over whole surface of the sole of your foot in this way. Pay attention to the inner arches as they often accumulate lots of tension. If a tennis ball feels too soft, you can use a golf ball or a rubber/plastic reflex ball, available at shops that sell massage supplies or places like Road Runner Sports that sell running gear. Remember to press your foot more gently into a firmer surface since it is possible to bruise yourself by using too much pressure.

When doing self-massage in this way, monitor the time you spend on each side of your body, and begin by spending five to ten minutes per side to avoid creating too much soreness the next day.

Now that you’ve worked out areas of tension and/or pain, it may be time for a relaxing epsom salt bath or some gentle yoga stretching. If you choose to do stretches, notice the difference in how far your muscles lengthen and the ease with which they move. Perhaps you feel less mental stress now that your muscles are more relaxed, similar to after receiving a (table) massage. Self-care always pays off!