Tennis balls or foam rollers for back pain relief; which is better and is self treatment a good idea?
A recent article in Men’s Health suggested that using a tennis ball on sore muscles is a good way to get relief of back pain. The idea is based off of a 2009 study in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) stating that self massage on acupuncture points or sore areas in muscles can help relieve back pain by 28%. Read their article here.
A tennis ball is a good tool because it is not too stiff, but can penetrate areas of tightness by contact, pressure and rolling around on muscular tissue. The problem with the human body is that we often misread ourselves. Sore areas are not necessarily problems and tight areas often are only sore to the touch and usually are not very sore. If that sounds confusing, it is and by trying to treat tight and sore muscles without an understanding of why they are sore is self treatment out of desperation, which may or may not relieve the problem and may actually aggravate it.
A foam roller on the other hand can give you a much larger surface area to work with. Unlike most tennis balls, not all foam rollers are the same. Some are made of soft foam and the drawback is these inexpensive rollers will warp over time. Other rollers are more dense and are less likely to warp. We usually recommend The Grid by Trigger Point Company since theirs has a plastic sleeve inside and a softer foam on the outside for the basic model, and a stiffer foam in their more expensive model.
To get the best result, you should use any of these tools generally. It is this authors opinion that small foam rollers work the best, while the long ones we see may be best for working on the floor, but are far less versatile because they are bulky and awkward for using against a wall. Compared to a tennis ball or balls, the foam roller is more versatile and you can use the edge to get into areas surrounding the spine as shown in our educational videos. Tennis balls can be more pinpoint in their application, but are generally less efficient than a good small foam roller.
Be aware that your back pain may not be coming from the area you are experiencing pain, so over treating it with a tool to loosen such as a foam roller or a tennis ball it may aggravate the problem, so do not use either aggressively.
Our protocols for using the foam roller includes the following:
1.Use the roller generally, and bilaterally. Since we misread ourselves, do not try to treat the sore areas. Often, those sore areas are straining, rather than tight and treating the wrong areas can leave you with more pain.
2.Do not dig. When foam rolling or using a ball, you are treating the fascia which is superficial. It used to be thought that the tightness was from the muscles but we are now understanding that the tight connective tissue on the top of muscles and organs controls movement and also has its own neurology. Leave the deep work to a professional such as a sports chiropractor or massage therapist.
3.Follow our protocols in these two videos. Follow this link https://www.backfixer1.com/chiropractic-exercises/foam-rolling-upper-body-and-lower-body-protocols/
4.If the discomfort worsens, see a chiropractor.