Ten years ago a car accident left me with a bulging disc and everlasting pain, it seemed. I took over-the-counter pain relievers way too often and laid down every day when the pain came on, but neither really addressed the problem.
It wasn’t until my chiropractor recommended a Theracane that I was able to start managing the pain myself. I still have my “cane” eight years later and it’s one of my most valued possessions.
Bundled and Tight
How does it work? Just like a massage. Applying gentle pressure to adhesions in muscles and tendons increases blood flow, restoring muscle function. Also called trigger points, these “knots,” or tender areas originate from muscle fibers that are in a bundled position. The resulting loss of range of motion in the joint and the associated muscles can cause pain and discomfort.
How do muscles become so tight, or “bundled?” Here are just a few reasons:
- Repetitive patterns (overuse) such as sitting, standing, or bending over
- Weakened or shortened muscles
- Tense, overactive muscles
- A previous injury or trauma
- Improper posture
Enter Self-Myofascial Release
The Theracane is a type of self-massage, or self-myofascial release (SMR) but there many different tools. Even if you’ve never heard of SMR, you’ve most likely used it. Have you ever backed up against a tree or leaned on a knobby chair to give yourself a massage? Or more likely, asked someone to do it for you?
“It’s right above my shoulder… there… to the left… no, back down….”
It feels so good.
Foam Rolling to the Rescue
My first experience with foam rolling was at my physical therapist’s office while being treated for a pre-arthritic knee. Although a bit awkward and painful at first, I soon found that foam rolling, along with strengthening and stretching, was highly effective in reducing my pain.
As you apply your own body weight to the surface of the firm foam surface of the roller, the muscle adhesions are straightened. Foam roll before and after your workout as a warm up and cool down or any time you feel muscle tightness.
You can foam roll any muscle in your body (avoiding bones and joints). The term “roll” is something of a misnomer; in order to reap the benefits of SMR you need to stay on the tender spot for 20 to 30 seconds (or until the adhesion is released). Rolling back and forth over the area is much less effective.
Self-massage provides temporary relief for aches and pains that aren’t the result of a current injury (see your doctor for acute pain that may signal an injury). However, if you continue to use it consistently along with regular stretching, your mobility will improve and the knots may become less frequent. See this infographc to learn how to foam roll your body.
Tools You Can Use
The Rumble Roller looks rather like a torture device and you may think it is the first time you use it. It’s a high-tech roller which provides deep tissue massage via its knobby surface. It’s more like a professional massage as the “fingers” break up tight spots.
Fair warning: the Rumble Roller is not for the faint of heart. As the “massage” is quite intense, you may want to start out with a regular foam roller or even a tennis ball. You can purchase the Rumble Roller here.
As I said, the Theracane changed my life. It’s a portable, well-made tool for working out the knots in hard-to-reach places. The knobs allow you to apply pressure deep into the tissue and can be used anywhere on your body. When I put that oddly shaped device over my shoulder and start releasing the knots in my upper trapezius, everything is right with the world. (Incidentally, there are other products, such as the Backnobber, that are similar.)
Fair warning: The Theracane is strange looking. People will ask you what it is and what you intend to do with it. You may want to cane yourself in the privacy of your home, office, or car. On the other hand, who cares what people think? The Theracane can be purchased here.
The Knobble II
If you’ve ever used a tennis ball to relieve trigger points, you’ll love The Knobble II even more. Its protruding surface targets trigger points more directly than a ball and is easy to place between you and a chair, wall, or the floor. The Knobble is simple, portable, and affordable. And it’s easier on your hands and fingers.
Fair warning: Any form of SMR can be uncomfortable at first, especially before the knot releases. Be gentle and go slow.
There are many other self-massage tools available. Have you discovered a tool that works for you?