As another school year begins, athletes at all levels experience stiff and achy muscles and joints from throwing, kicking, hitting, swinging, twisting, jumping and diving for balls of all shapes and sizes. Add in-season and off-season weightlifting and conditioning drills, and tight muscles are understandably widespread.
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Ironically, those sports balls can conveniently and effectively erase muscle and joint issues that limit key sports performance aspects such as range of motion, multidirectional mobility, flexibility and strength. This article shows how game balls can help relieve those hard-to-reach muscle- and joint-related sore areas, which are difficult to massage with your own fingertips. They are especially prone to tightness, as are the soles of your feet which take a pounding.
Wrestlers, swimmers, rowers, gymnasts, cross-country runners and track athletes will also benefit by using a ball from other sports.
- Do not use a ball directly on joints, bones or on the spine.
- Apply firm pressure with the ball only on muscles and around the joints.
- Avoid using the ball when swelling, inflammation, bruises, strains and sprains exist. In such cases, follow the recommendations of the school or team athletic trainer or physician.
- Place the ball on the ground or against a wall. Assume either an upright, supine, seated, prone or lateral position on the ball against the targeted muscle and roll it back and forth about 10 times along the muscle to reduce tightness.
- To get rid of muscle and joint soreness, use your body weight to press the ball deeply into the muscle, probing for tender spots such as knots and scar tissue. Apply firm pressure against the ball for 5-10 seconds. Repeat two or three times on each spot until soreness lessens and/or muscle and joint stiffness loosens.
- This may provide immediate or temporary relief, and muscle and joint stiffness may return thereby requiring additional days of massage and stretching.
- Use this massage method with gentle static stretching to further promote flexibility and range of motion.
- Always include upper- and lower-body static stretching as a cool-down following practices, games and workouts and to prevent and/or eliminate muscle tightness.
- Stay hydrated! Consuming anti-inflammatory water and water-based fruits and vegetables keep muscles and joints loose and enhances sports and post-workout recovery.
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Instructions for Types of Sports Balls to Massage Specific Muscles
- Use larger balls (e.g., basketball, football, soccer or volleyball) over a wider area of muscles such as along the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, inner and outer thighs, and the lower, middle and upper back to decrease and loosen muscular and joint-related tension.
- Use smaller balls (e.g., tennis, golf, lacrosse, baseball or softball) to pinpoint and massage individual tender spots—particularly on the shoulders, chest, arms, calves, hips and back. Note that the softer tennis ball works well for massaging areas of minimal discomfort. Use the harder balls to penetrate deeper into muscles to optimally remove knots and scar tissue triggering stiffness and pain, or roll the ball along the sides or soles of the feet to alleviate pain/stiffness.
Massage for Lower-Body Muscles and the Feet
- Sit on a larger ball with your feet and hands on the ground and roll forward, backward or laterally to loosen tight hips. If one hip is tighter than the other, sit on a football to loosen that hip.
- Sit on a smaller ball and press deeply, searching tender areas in each hip.
- Sit on the ground with the larger ball directly on one hamstring.
- Use your leg to press down on the ball and roll it forward, backward and laterally.
- Repeat for the other hamstring.
- Use a smaller, firmer ball on the ground under the hamstring with your leg extended and place your hands on your upper thigh.
- Press down with your hands so the ball penetrates a knot in the hamstring causing soreness/tightness.
- Repeat if needed for the other hamstring. Note that lower back stiffness/pain is often relieved by massaging and/or stretching the hip and hamstring muscles.
- Slide backwards with the larger ball placed under one of your calves and roll the ball forward, backward and laterally to release tension.
- As with the hamstrings, place a smaller ball on the ground under one of the calves, lean forward and press down with your hands below the knee or on the shin so the ball targets a tender area.
- Lie on your right side with your knees bent and your outer right thigh atop a small ball.
- Press down with both legs on the ball or roll it back and forth against the right leg.
- Turn to the left side and repeat for the left leg.
- Sit on the ground or on a chair and roll the ball back and forth along the inner thigh 10 times.
- Press the ball deeply along the inner thigh and up toward the groin, seeking tender spots.
- Repeat for the opposite inner thigh.
- Roll the small ball up and down the quadriceps from a seated position and press the ball firmly, probing tender areas.
- Sit on a chair or bench and place a hard small ball under your foot.
- Press down and roll the ball forward, backward and laterally 10 times.
- Press down on the ball to relieve tender areas.
- Repeat for the other foot.
Massage for Upper-Body Muscles
- Assume a standing position and lean sideways with your right shoulder against a small ball on a wall (or lie sideways on the ground against the ball).
- Press hard against the ball with your shoulder, seeking tender spots.
- Repeat for the other shoulder.
- For the rear deltoid, lie supine with the ball against your shoulder and your legs bent/feet on the ground.
- Raise your hips and use your leg and upper back muscles to press down on the ball, probing for knots.
- Repeat for the other rear deltoid.
- Note that tender spots are also often located between the shoulder blades, so press down on the ball in that area, too.
- Lie prone and roll the small ball along the right and left pectoral muscles.
- Press deeply on tender spots.
- From a supine position and with your legs bent/feet on the ball and hips raised, place the small ball against your triceps on the ground.
- Roll the ball back and forth and press down when you locate a sensitive area.
- Repeat for the other arm.
- In a seated position, use your opposite hand to roll a hard ball up and down your forearms and biceps and press down to alleviate knots.
Lower, Middle, Upper Back
- From a supine position with your legs bent/feet on the ground/hips raised and your upper back atop a large ball, maneuver your body to roll the ball up and down and across your lower, middle, and upper back muscles (not your spine) to relieve tightness.
- Lie supine on a smaller ball to eliminate knots along the back muscles.
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