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Home > Self-Massage


  1. Self-Massage with Foam Roller
  2. Foam Rolling Basics
  3. Self-Massage with Tennis Ball
  4. Calf Self-Massage with Tennis Ball
  5. Back Massager

I know, “self-massage” sounds like the title of a Barry White song.  If any of your joints (i.e. back, knee, shoulder, elbow) are screwed up, though, it can be a sweet tune.  Self-massage was instrumental in my healing from my back injury and in getting rid of some nagging knee pain I had experienced since college.  Another term for self massage is “self-myofascial release” (“SMR”). 
There’s two objects I use for SMR, a foam roller and a tennis ball. 

How does it Work Physiologically?

The same way any massage does, by applying pressure to the muscle tissue, it’s supposed to break up fascia between muscle spindles (i.e. “knots” or “trigger points”).  I say “supposed” because I don’t think modern medicine agrees with this theory – I think they think massage is a crock.  Proponents also claim that foam rollers act to stretch the muscle tissue as well and relax it via a process known as “autogenic inhibition.”

How does it Work in the Real World?

I can tell you that the first time you use a foam roller or tennis ball it’s extremely painful.  This is because your muscles, or so the theory goes, have “soft tissue adhesions” and “scar tissue” (i.e. scar tissue within the muscle itself, not on your skin) that has built up over your whole life, and that doesn’t entirely go away with stretching alone.  Anyway, on day two it hurts less, presumably because you’ve broken up some of this inter-muscular gunk (that’s a term of art).  Day three is even less painful.  I estimate that if you foam roll a muscle every day for 10-14 days, it would be almost painless and completely free of soft tissue adhesions. 

The best part is that this effect is semi-permanent.  To give an example, the first time I rolled my ITB it was excruciatingly painful.  I did it every other day for a month or two and my ITBs felt great.  Rolling was almost painless.  Took a three month hiatus and rolled again and there was no appreciable difference in the painfulness of the process, and by implication, the amount of soft tissue adhesion in the muscles and tendons on the outer thigh (ITB, vastus lateralis).

Last Updated: 6/19/2011
Originally Posted: 4/7/2008