Roll the ball for relief
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on April 1, 2014. Posted with permission.
If the issues are in the tissues, my gig is my left shoulder.
That shoulder has been puffed and elevated for my entire life, at least since my high school prom picture where it gleefully waves from my off-the-shoulder dress.
This inflammation makes looking over my left shoulder challenging, and I can feel its tense dismay reaching diagonally down my back and yanking on my right hip while it pulls my right shoulder blade closer to my spine.
Our little spots are often about the fascia. Fascia, in the words of myofascial release specialist Tom Myers, is the system of fibrous, gluey and wet proteins that holds our 70 trillion cells together. Think of the fascia as webbing or a sweater that encases all of our muscles, bones, veins, nerves, ligaments and more.
Pulling one thread in the sleeve will send shock waves throughout the sweater. Everything’s connected.
Myofascial release is a technique of applying extended, blunt pressure to the complaining body part. Normally fascia is relaxed, but any kind of trauma, scar or emotional tension can kink the fascia. This not only impacts the target area but can spread throughout the body.
Neck pain, back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, carpal tunnel, TMJ, and sciatica are just a few ailments that could be alleviated with myofascial release.
Massage therapists can help you release your fascia, but learning how to care for your own body, to release the tension you’ve accumulated, and, more importantly, to control your healing process yield greater benefits.
Suzy Goldberg, yoga teacher and owner of Ruby and Pearl’s Yoga in Ft. Myers, is trained in coaching students in guiding their own releases.
She handed me my weapon in this challenge: a tennis ball.
I took a deep lunge into a doorway with the offending shoulder lined up with wall’s edge. I sandwiched the tennis ball between my shoulder and the wall. I pushed.
The standard hold for myofascial release is between two and five minutes.
The process is not pleasant. The body holds all kinds of trauma, physical, emotional and energetic. When you begin to release tightness, don’t be surprised when your stuff comes bubbling to the surface.
I felt a jolt from my shoulder to my hip to my opposite shoulder to my memories. I wanted to run out of the room.
But Goldberg held me steady and coached my breathing. I breathed deep and exhaled long like a hissing snake. My eyes watered as I deepened my lunge and kept the pressure on. Goldberg tweaked the angle of my head and the placement of my arms; she adjusted my hips and shoulders.
When Goldberg called time, I stepped away from the wall and swayed a bit. I blinked, trying to get it together.
“Do you want to sit down?” Goldberg suggested, reading my face. I just shook my head and noticed how I felt.
“You need to do that daily,” she said. I stared at her incredulously.
She explained that if I stuck with it, I could change the patterns my body has learned for processing and storing tension, both physical and emotional.
“It’s time to stop avoiding the hard stuff,” she said. I felt like throwing the tennis ball, but I didn’t.
Top Four Trigger Points
Shoulders: While lying on the back, position one tennis ball in the hollow just inside the shoulder blade. Roll the body until you find the sweet spot. Settle in and breathe.
Lower back: Place two balls in a sock side-by-side and knot it. Lie back on the sock with the balls straddling the spine. With your legs bent and soles of the feet on the floor, roll until you find the tension. If you are ready for more intensity, lift one leg off the floor and hold. Switch.
Feet: This is ideal for plantar fasciitis. With one hand on the wall, roll a tennis ball under your foot to break up the tension. Push with as much weight as you can handle.
Glutes and hips: Hips, the holding center for negative emotions, are tinderboxes. Lie on your back with legs bent, soles to the floor. Lift the buttocks and center a tennis ball under each cheek. Roll until you find the tender spots and then surrender. Even while you’re sitting at your desk, pop the tennis ball under your glute or thigh and roll out the tension.
Our culture is built for avoidance, and it’s stacked with distractions. The tennis ball is not a yummy indulgence. It’s a good pain, a safe, comfortable hurt. Face that shoulder, that hip or that foot, and then move on.