Have you been experiencing pain in your muscles and joints lately? You might have an accessible, effective tool to relieve discomfort lying around your house: a small ball such as a lacrosse ball, or a tennis ball. Rather than using them as intended in sports, either of these balls can be repurposed as excellent self-massage tools. They are great at relieving pain and improving function in sore muscles using myofascial (my-o-FASH-e-ul) self-massage.
What is Fascia?
The Fascia Research Society states, “Fascia is the most pervasive, but perhaps least understood network of the human body. No longer considered the ‘scraps’ of cadaver dissections, fascia has now attracted the attention of scientists and clinicians alike.”
Myofascial pain refers to pain caused by muscular irritation. Fascia is a sheath of connective tissue that covers your muscles and organs. Like our bones, fascia is composed mostly of collagen, which gives it a pliable, but tough, texture. Think of it like the pith of an orange on the inside of our skin. It can also be described as a dense ‘spiderweb’ that forms a protective layer over our vital body parts.
It is responsible for providing structure and stability within your body, and contains a plethora of nerves that make this tissue almost as sensitive as your skin! In fact, our fascia is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption, meaning that literally every part of our body is connected together through fascia.
What Happens When Fascia Is Distressed?
When fascia is distressed, it tightens up, causing pain and decreased mobility. Again, imagine a spiderweb: What happens when the web is damaged? When your fascia is disturbed, it can adhere together, creating tight knots in problem areas, and become less flexible. This results in tender knots in or on muscles, called trigger points.
Myofascial release is a manual therapy technique often used in massage. The goal of myofascial therapy is to stretch and loosen the fascia so the underlying tissue can move freely. A review published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that myofascial massage therapy can:
● help joint range of motion
● increase muscle performance
● decrease fatigue after exercise
● decrease soreness after exercise
Self-myofascial release works best after exercise because your muscles are warmer. However, feel free to self-massage whenever you remember. It only takes a few minutes per day. Just like any physical activity (like stretching), the best results are seen after consistent practice.
This is where the handy ball comes in: