Self-Massage: Treat Yourself on the Daily

Self-massage can be a good means to reduce pain and soreness in your muscles and joints. Through our everyday life and the activities that we take part in, the body is in a constant process of adapting to the various stresses and also lack of stress we put on it. Trigger point, sore or relatively high tension areas of the body that is associated with stiffness, can be a cause and/or complication of a variety of issues that you are dealing with. They can particularly be an issue with regards to the posterior chain (we spend a lot of time in spinal flexion, posterior tilt and rounding of the shoulders), lower back and neck pain.

Most of the issues we deal with are an accumulation of tension over of our lifetime. Months and years of living a particular (sedentary) lifestyle. This can be exacerbated by injuries and traumas as well as environmental stresses that we put on the mind and body.

Most minor muscular issues are probably self-treatable. There are many things that you can do for yourself that will allow of instant pain and tension relief that is the reason for your discomfort with self – massage. It can also be a cost and time effective approach as you will be able to integrate into your daily routine and not have to wait around to schedule with a professional massage therapist. A professional can be nice to have, but being able to properly manage and maintain the body on a day to day basis will be beneficial over the long term.

Almost any intervention can provide some relief from muscular tension. From changing sensory patterns, relieving pressure placed on nerve, increase blood flow, and relaxing the muscle so that they don’t pull so hard at the joints. Finding high tension areas does not have to be a difficult task, we just need to take the time to seek out pain points with our hands or with an external tool.  Typically easy to do with your fingers and thumbs and looking for small, acutely sensitive spots. You may or may not feel a slight bump when you hit a trigger point, but those are inconsistent. More importantly, the feeling you get should be relevant and give some level of discomfort. Working in and around the area will provide some relief.

We can take a look at joint pain and follow the muscle lines from the joint to the other side in search of the muscular tension that may be at the source of the problem. You do want to apply enough pressure and high enough level of massage to warrant the body to adapt and change. For example, high levels of tension in the forearm muscles near the elbow may lead to wrist pain.

Basic Self-massage Instructions for Trigger Points

For simplicity, either press on the trigger point directly and hold for a short period of time at a relatively high level of pressure (5 – 10 seconds, at a 6-8 out of 10 pain level, 3 to 5 times) or apply small relatively hard strokes, circular or back and forth. Working with the muscle fibers can be more effective in the release of the tension, as well as apply pressure as you shorten and lengthen the muscle.

Strength of Massage

The intensity of the treatment should be just-right: strong enough to warrant adaptation, but easy enough to bare with it. On a scale of 10 — where 1 is painless and 10 is intolerable — aim for the 6–8 range, and start on the lower side progressively working your way up.

How much, How often?

Start small—a single session of about 30 – 45 seconds may be enough, give or take depending on how it feels.

Tools to Use

If you are performing self-massage, the number of tools that you can use are infinite (balls, rollers, sticks, weights, hands). Just know that the smaller the object, the easier it is to apply a high amount of intensity to a small area. The larger the object the more the intensity will be distributed across a greater area. If apply massage to a partner or friend, it is highly recommended to minimize the use of external tools and just use your thumbs and finger tips. Rub the muscular with your fingertips, thumbs, fist, elbow … whatever feels easiest and most comfortable to you.

Getting a Release

A release in the context of this article is just the softening of the tissues and/or a relief in tension that reduces or eliminates pain. Again, this could be a sensory adaptation, a literal relaxing of highly contracted/high tension muscle fibers, or a temporary relief of discomfort that allows you to continue your training session.

Things could feel worse before they feel better, particularly with higher levels of intensity applied to the muscle fibers. In this case, it is recommended to move the muscle (shorten and lengthen) after the release has been completed. This may need to be performed multiple times to get the desired result.

If you were successful, you will notice a reduction in symptoms almost immediately and extending to the evening and next day.

Add ons

Here are some of the easiest things you can do to improve your success rate and to prolong the positive benefits of tension release techniques

  • Get quality sleep
  • Be consistent with self-massages particularly on bigger trouble spots.
  • Have a variety of tools
  • Don’t apply more pressure than you can handle.
  • Keep the muscles warm.
  • Maintain light movement to increase circulation.
  • Recruit someone to assist in applying tension, this allows you to focus primarily on relaxing.
  • Use the sauna or hot bath after training to keep the muscles positively stimulated