Whether you’re a competitive athlete or simply enjoy recreational activities on the weekends, self-massage can be very helpful for managing muscle tension and soreness. It can also be used as part of a warm-up or recovery strategies post activity.
How do I do self-massage?
How do I know if I’m doing it properly?
It depends on the purpose of the massage. If you are trying to release a tight spot, or “trigger point”, you will be able to feel an area in the muscle which is more tense or sore, and can put pressure directly on it or move back and forth over the trigger point. For a pre-activity massage, use strokes that are a bit lighter and more vigorous than you would for post-activity, where a deeper pressure might feel better and be more effective. Methods involving shaking or bouncing the muscle are also useful pre-activity for muscle stimulation.
Should massage be painful?
Not necessarily, some discomfort is expected with massage over sore tissues or with specific trigger point release, but it should be tolerable. Some things to keep in mind: broad surfaces are more tolerable (forearm vs elbow), use a small amount of oil or lotion to prevent friction on the skin, be careful with pressure over bony areas (foam roller over the spine) and adjust the duration according to tolerance level, start with shorter bouts of 15 seconds and take breaks, and may progress up to 2 minutes if you prefer. Heat or ice application afterward may help relieve any lasting discomfort.
Can massage replace my warm up?
Definitely not. Massage can help loosen up and stimulate your muscles, but shouldn’t take the place of the warm-up. A suggestion might be to do a light jog as the start of the warm-up, then do some pre-race massage when the muscle has already started to warm, then continue with the rest of the warm up after. You will want to experiment with the type of self-massage that is going to work for you prior to the race event to know what to expect. The same goes for cool down, make sure to do a good cool down, then consider massage, then include some stretches afterward.
What about massaging an injury or strain?
Self-massage can be helpful post-injury for desensitizing the injured area so that it is not so tender, as well as increasing circulation, breaking down scar tissue, and, as mentioned above, helping to release tension in the muscle. Be careful with acute injuries, including muscle strains, as massage will actually increase the soft tissue bleeding in the acute stage of injury (24-48 hours, depending on severity), however light desensitization massage or trigger point release may be more tolerable and helpful during this stage. If in doubt, it is best to have your injury assessed by a physiotherapist.
Examples of massage you can do yourself:
Shoulder blade – either lie on your back or lean up against the wall with a tennis ball positioned between your spine and shoulder blade. You can put the ball in a towel or pillow slip and swing over your shoulder to better position it.
Low back – sitting on the floor, knees bent, position a foam roll at the base of your spine. Cross your arms over your chest and lean back over the foam roll, rolling back and forth along the spine, you can adjust side to side so that the foam roll isn’t directly on the spine.
Glutes – sit on a chair or surface with a bit of padding and roll a tennis ball under your hip, with as much body weight as desired.
Quadriceps (front of thigh) – sitting in a chair with the leg slightly extended, use a rolling pin or with your hands.
Calf – sitting on the floor with one or both knees bent, put one hand on top of the other and use the border of your hand (along the index fingers) to sweep up the back of the calf from the Achilles to the knee.
Foot – sitting in a chair, use a golf ball to roll with the bottom of the foot.
We hope these tips come in handy for you to use at home. If you feel you need to book a massage with a Physiotherapist, you can do so by calling us on 07 576 6999 or booking an appointment online.