I love a good massage for my muscles bothered by cranky hip joints and uncompliant vertebrae. But I needed to find some useful and affordable alternatives that would provide some relief in between appointments and training sessions.
In the last five years, I have collected and learned how to use some pretty nifty tools and I thought I would talk about how I use them and some possible options for cheaper alternatives.
When I first experienced problems with my back, my massage therapist recommended a theraband, which looked like a giant plastic sash. I usually wrap my hands around each end then flip it over my head to stretch out my back. You can also use it to strengthen arms. Put one end under your foot on the floor and then wrap it around your hand, tuck your elbow into your body and raise your hand to your shoulder or mid-chest.
The advantage of the theraband is that it can also fold up pretty small so it’s the size of a small wallet. That makes it very handy for toting on travels. I often see them at Winners (or TJ Maxx for our American readers) for cheap. A yoga belt can also work well, although I find for the back stretches, there isn’t the same give as what you get with the Theraband. If you think of it during spring time, one of those springy bubblegum pink skipping ropes will work as well and they have that flex you need.
When my hip joint decided to get all fussy on me, I had some pretty miserable muscle cramps. What gave relief was a rolling pin. I had an extra one that I didn’t use but if you don’t have a pin, a sturdy long-necked bottle from wine or vinegar will do as well. I just rolled my calf muscles whenever they felt twitchy.
If you have some ready cash, you can buy something similar called a tigertail. The company that makes them calls them a portable massage stick. It comes with a small index-card sized guide with nifty exercises and you can travel with it pretty easily. It’s thinner and longer than a rolling pin so you can get in more hard to reach places. There are different types with smooth rollers or bumpy ones. I prefer the smooth roller but you may find the ridged one better for your needs.
I travel for my work a fair bit so I started putting together a small kit I could pack. Along with the Theraband, I added a couple of portable handwarmers, my travel size tube of Voltaren, a topical pain relief gel, and a lacrosse ball. You can use a tennis ball but that’s squishier than a lacrosse ball. This bright orange-coloured ball, which is also about the same size as an orange, is very firm. As such, it does a good job getting rid of muscle knots. You can also relax your feet by rolling it with the ball of your foot, and you can also have fun trying to pick it up with your toes.
Most recently, I have acquired a Swiss ball and a textured foam roller. I borrowed the ball from my trainer after she showed me some exercises I could do at home to provide some relief for tension in my lower back. I loved it so much I ordered one for myself. They cost around $15 so not really a huge cost. They are slightly bigger than a softball and they are my new favourite way to use a wall or a floor to work out the knots. I usually put the ball just above the glute muscles and then shimmy back and forth against the wall. I will be honest: it’s not the most pleasant sensation when you start. However, about an hour after you stop, you will notice you can move so much more easily.
I haven’t had great relationships with foam rollers. I find it hard to balance on them for leg work, hence my preference for the tigertail or the swiss ball. If you are super flexible, you can sit on it and roll back and forth. I am not so I tend to use it right now just for my upperback.
I spend a lot of time sitting or standing over my laptop. This leads to hunched and very knotty shoulders. I put my foam roller on the floor and then I lie down on it so that it’s about three to four inches below the base of my neck. I roll back and forth gently and it really works out the kinks.
I lucked into my bright blue textured roller at Winners on deep discount. It’s also hollow inside, so if I wanted to take it with me on my travels, I could use the hollow space for my shoes or slippers, or a hoodie. But you can do similar exercises with the Swiss ball if you only want to invest and own one thing.
To keep the tools where I can see them (and thus remember to use them), I have a bascket in which I corral the works. As I like to learn and try new things, feel free to share in the comments what nifty gadgets you have found or used that can also work in a pinch for a massage.