Welcome back to episode 189 of the Body Nerd Show!
On today’s episode, I’m talking about
Why the hardness of your massage tools matters
How self-massage affects the body and nervous system
And why you should just use lacrosse balls to play lacrosse
not all massage tools are created equally
you have hard knobby things
soft squishy balls
then there’s the hard plastic things with spikes
foam rollers that are hard
the list goes on and on
but the cheapest and easiest tool to come by? the lacrosse ball
and i remember when dr. kelly starrett was preaching lacrosse balls as the best massage tool
because they’re cheap!
and it started in the crossfit world but has bled into the rest of the fitness and pain management world
but across balls are too hard
and they’re way too hard for your soft tissues
even if they don’t feel soft
so let’s talk about what actually happens when you massage yourself and why a softer tool is actually more effective
Harder isn’t better!
We don’t break up or blast fascia
connective tissue and collagen is very very strong
which means we’re actually having a conversation with your nervous system
and i don’t know about you - but my brain is pretty darn stubborn
so forcing it into submission with a hard tool doesn’t work
because the minute you start moving - things will go back to what’s familiar
softer tools allow you to Relax your nervous system
You want to be able to BREATHE fully and expansively
If the tool you’re using tenses you up, how can you take a full breath?
think of it as getting a regular massage - if you are tense on the table the entire time - how good is that massage actually going to feel?
Why do we tense up in the first place?
its your body’s way of protecting itself
if a stretch or massage (which are essentially the same thing)
feels like too much - your stretch receptors are going to tell your brain to tense up your muscles to prevent overstretch
can i breathe into and relax?
maybe - but then i also run the risk of over stretching and having pain from that
and i’m not just slamming on lax balls
A German study from Nature in 2020:
Investigated whether a standardized body massage is capable of reliably stimulating the
PNS, as indicated by changes in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), a vagally-mediated
heart rate variability component.
Sixty healthy women were randomly assigned to
a vagus nerve massage (n=19) [putting moderate pressure on the neck and shoulder area],
a soft shoulder massage (n=22) [stimulated the back and shoulder areas at a lighter pressure],
or a resting control group (n=19).
Both massage protocols were capable of increasing parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity to a similar degree
Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2019:
Our findings demonstrate that a soft inflatable rubber ball is more advantageous than an hard massage ball for pressing the soft tissue deeply. This finding would be related to reduced muscle tension and discomfort in the SIRB condition when compared with the HMB condition.
International Journal of Neuroscience 2009:
Twenty healthy adults were randomly assigned to a moderate pressure or a light pressure massage therapy group, and EKGs were recorded during a 3-min baseline, during the 15-min massage period and during a 3-min postmassage period.
and those who had moderate pressure massage showed a shift from SNS to PNS activity
now those who got the light pressure massage showed a shift towards SNS activity
so it’s sort of like goldilocks and the three bears
but overall - harder tools are not better
more pressure is not better
smarter pressure. better tools…is better
If you think you have a painful spot (trigger point, whatever you want to call it), don’t just jam a ball directly on it
Up down, down town, around town
Work around the area
MOVE that part of your body - mobilize and activate!
Tools of choice:
I sell my favorites on my site - the current ones are from tune up fitness and they have a few different sizes
and range from solid (yet still soft) rubber balls
to air filled balls
you can swap between them depending on what you’re rolling, how irritated it is, and what your ultimate goal is
a larger ball is usually less intense BUT also covers more surface area
but don’t discount the air filled coregeous ball
put that on your abdomen and you won’t care that it’s air filled because of the intensity of the sensation
is a grapefruit sized air filled ball
great for hip flexors
or anywhere that is too sensitive for a solid rubber therapy ball
and if you’re ready to get Rolling: check out my Bodywork Starter Guide
its free and has the 6 places to roll for quick relief
plus a little bit more information on how massage works