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Stanford Sports Medicine Tip: Tennis Ball Therapy

Posted by Steven D.

Why not pick up a tennis ball outside the tennis courts instead of letting it dry in the sun? While a nice, deep tissue massage can often take care of trigger points and muscle aches and pain, the sad reality that only few people can afford it or have the time to do it on regular basis.

What to do? Pick up those neglected tennis balls and used them for trigger ­point self-massage. It can help decrease muscle aches and tightness associated with sore feet, low back, upper back, and neck. Post exercise tennis ball work could be practical for runners, weight lifters, and other athletes who often experience muscle tightness after working out. It is important to mention that those self-treatment techniques are not meant for the injured, inflamed or acutely damaged muscles. A professional is advised in those incidents.

(figure 1) A tennis ball placed under the heel, arch, or ball of the foot with weight placed on the ball, can ease an aching foot. Make sure to treat on foot at a time either in a standing or a sitting position.

(figure 2) Here are 18 pressure points that could help alleviate sore feet, Achil­les, and calves. Firmly press on the ball without rolling it and hold each point for 10 seconds. Repeat the treatment twice a day.

(figure 3) These are just five of the common problem areas that can benefit from trigger-point massage. Pressure can be applied while lying down, sitting, or standing. Hold each point for 10-20 seconds.

It is important to lie on a soft surface such as carpeted floor or an exercise matt. When dress­ing, try to avoid bulky seams that might irritate your skin.

How to massage your back? Lying on the floor, position the ball near a sensitive or tight area. You might need to increase or decrease the pressure by slowly and gradually roll around on the ball to find the exact spot. If the tender area becomes more painful or the ball causes you to tighten up, ease off the spot.

Once you find the tender spot, hold the position for three breathes and let go. Repeat until the tension is released and pain decreases.

Here are some tips of how to shift your body into a position that locates tension spots:

* To find the trouble spot between your shoulder blades and the spine, try to protract and retract your shoulders by punching towards the ceiling with straight arms until you feel the “wing” area in your back wrapped around the ball.

Scott Anderson, ATC
Head Athletic Trainer
Stanford Athletics

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