Rolling on a standard foam roller and using a tennis ball to knead your own muscles is great. The pressure from these two objects provides a safe and very effective mobilizing force. But if a little is good, more is not necessarily better! There is a new fad of using harder and harder objects to rip into the soft tissue, and the Lacrosse ball is the most popular of these objects. Rolling on a tennis ball is like getting a massage from someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who provides the right amount of pressure to help the tissues to move better without causing them harm in the process. But rolling on a Lacrosse ball is like rolling on a rock! It’s like getting a massage from a wrecking ball! The Lacrosse ball is way too hard of an object to use for self-massage. It bruises the muscles, irritates the tendons, rips the fascia, and hurts the bone.
Years ago, before the fad of the Lacrosse ball had become popular, I had to talk many of my patients out of the idea of ‘graduating’ from using a tennis ball to using a golf ball for self-massage. I would give my patients who suffered from plantar fasciitis a tennis ball on which to roll their feet, and almost without fail they’d come back feeling much better. But they’d also usually come back with the idea of ‘upgrading’ from a tennis ball to a golf ball. The idea was that if the tennis ball no longer makes the tissues hurt, then we’ve got to find something harder that will still make them hurt. But the nice thing about a tennis ball is that if it doesn’t hurt anymore, then the tissues probably aren’t tight anymore. ‘Graduating’ from a tennis ball means that we don’t need to do as much soft tissue work anymore, because the tissues are now reasonably supple. We don’t need to press harder just to keep making it hurt. Pain is not the point of self-massage, the relaxation of the tissue is the point.
The point of self-massage is to relax the muscles, not to make them hurt. If they hurt when pressed with a tennis ball, then they're probably too tight. If they don't hurt when pressed with a tennis ball, then they probably aren't too tight. Try to burn these statements into your mind.
We all have this idea that if pressure is good, then more pressure must be better. But that’s simply not the case. In my newest book, What Would Hippocrates Say?, I quote Galen, the physician for the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and one of the great father's of medicine:
Our muscles do not appreciate being assaulted. Treat them well by rolling with a standard white foam roller and with a tennis ball, both great ways to tend to the needs of the body. Don’t fall for the fad of rolling on a rock. Use Lacrosse balls to play Lacrosse, and use golf balls to play golf. Don't brutalize your body when your intent is to help it.