A good massage is hard to top. The lights are low. The music is calming, and you lie blissfully on the table while a therapist kneads away your knotted muscles. Now flash forward to reality. Massages are expensive, and you might not have the time for regular treatments. That’s where self-massage comes in. Although not quite as relaxing as an afternoon at a spa, self-massage is an affordable and effective relaxation technique.
“It’s worth it because it works,” says Los Angeles-based orthopedic physical therapist Vivian Eisenstadt of Vivie Therapy. “When you start feeling the pain, it’s important to do something about it.”
Although not as nice as receiving a massage from a pro—there are angles you just can't get to yourself—self-massage can help alleviate muscular pain or stop it before it even starts. Another benefit: Self-massage relaxes your muscles, improves circulation, and keeps your body working efficiently, Eisenstadt says. And research backs it up. Massaging yourself regularly may relieve stress, prevent heel pain, help those who have knee osteoarthritis, and even aid in reducing smoking cravings.
Get started by buying a foam roller or a tennis ball to help release your muscles. Now pinpoint your “tight” muscles or trigger points.
“It's usually the most tender and painful area,” says Eisenstadt. “To release trigger points, you want to keep pressure on that point as much as you can tolerate while taking a deep breath into that area, visualizing that area releasing.”
Breathe out the pain when foam rolling to help deal with any discomfort. On a pain scale of one to 10, self-massage shouldn’t go any higher than a six. Depending on how tight your muscles are, you might not be able to locate the trigger point immediately. Keep the pressure on your muscles to find a release and know that it can take time to learn how to use tools effectively.
“Our bodies are machines, and we have to care for our machines the same way you would for a car,” says Eisenstadt. You want to “undo the muscle so your body stays balanced.”
With these tips in mind, try the below exercises. (A foam roller will work best, but you can also roll up a large blanket, towel, or yoga mat in a pinch!)
01. Loosen up your neck.
If you sit at a desk all day, chances are you hold a lot of stress and tension in your neck, so this technique will really help. Lie on your back, resting your neck on the foam roller like a pillow. The roller should be perpendicular to your body, forming a capital T. Slowly move your head from side to side until the foam roller rolls over the neck muscles where there are sore trigger points. Do not apply more than the natural pressure of your body. The neck is a sensitive area because your spine runs all the way up.
02. Relax your thigh.
Sit on the floor with the foam roller under your right thigh. Plant your left foot on the floor with your knee bent.Place your palms flat on the floor. Use your arms to lift your body and glide over the foam roller to massage the muscles from your glute to the back of your knee. Do this for 60 seconds. Repeat with your left leg.
03. Soothe your hip muscles.
If you're active—and especially if you run—you've probably experienced pain in your IT band, the ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh from your hip to your shins. To help alleviate tightness, lie on your side with the foam roller under your hip. Prop yourself up with your elbow as your glide over the roller along your outer thigh.
04. Relieve your feet.
Sit in chair and put a tennis ball under your foot. Exert gentle pressure and roll the ball around slowly to relax all areas of your foot.
05. Release back tension.
Stand against a wall and put the tennis ball between the wall and your back at a point where you feel tightness. Be careful not to put the tennis ball directly on your spine. Push the ball against that area and bend and straighten your knees to roll the ball around your back and release the different areas.
You can also do this at work by placing a tennis ball between you and your desk chair to loosen your mid-back.
06. Relax your hands.
No foam roller needed for this one! It's especially helpful for those who type away all day and end up with stiff hands and wrists. Simply stretch your palm out in front of you, and hold your fingers back with the opposite hand for five seconds. Repeat on the other hand. Press your palms together at your chest, then lower towards your lap until you feel a stretch. Hold for five seconds.