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Rolling, Massaging, Mobilizing: How-To

Over the past decade or so mobilization, rolling, self-massaging has become commonplace in most athletes’ routines. This is a great addition to our regular maintenance habits, and has empowered people to treat themselves and stay healthy. I often prescribe self mobilization techniques to patients for managing trigger points, chronic pain, or stiffness/immobility. When prescribing these, we often cover a few “ground rules” that allow someone to use this intervention effectively. I figured it may be helpful to you all to cover these in a blog post!

This self-treatment technique goes by many names, but they all basically mean the same thing: using a device (ball, stick, foam roll, massage gun, etc) to massage tissue. Regardless of what device you are using, the following principles will serve you well:

· Less is more

· Breathing is necessary

· Muscle activation can help relax

· Opt for many short sessions rather than one very long session

· Be careful when taking pain-killers

Let’s get a bit more in depth on these points.

Less is more

There are some practitioners or influencers who would suggest you attempt to turn your muscles into what comes out of a meat grinder. This is not necessary at all, and can often inhibit progress. When you are rolling, be sure to use a gentle, light pressure that still feels like a “good pressure”. If you are grimacing and gasping, then you are doing too much. Do less!

Breathing is necessary

Along with keeping your pressure light, you must be able to breathe deeply throughout your mobilization. If you cannot take a deep breath due to pain or discomfort, do less! I promise you will still get some great benefits by using less pressure. In fact, taking deep breaths can often relax your muscles even further so you can get deeper to your points of pain and tightness.

Muscle activation can help relax

If you are having persistent difficulty getting into a tight or guarded muscle, try to activate that muscle while rolling, then relax it with an exhale. This is an inhibitory technique I use in the clinic to trick a muscle into relaxing. For example, if you are rolling your quad and it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere, squeeze that quad to straighten your knee, then relax everything into the roller.

Opt for many short sessions instead of one very long one

In our exuberance to feel better, we can often overdo this self-treatment technique. You will be better served spending 2-3 minutes on your trouble area several times per day, as opposed to 30 straight minutes. Remember the meat grinder? Let’s avoid that.

Be careful on pain-killers

If you are taking any pain medication, particularly opioids, be particularly careful using self-mobilization techniques because you may not be able to feel how hard you are pushing. It is possible to overdo it and cause bruising which will only delay your healing process.

Remember, all of these tips apply to any type of mobilization technique: using a lacrosse ball, foam roll, massage gun, or stick. Just remember to listen to your body and you will notice some great improvements! Have any other questions? Email me at and we will get you sorted right out.

Thanks for reading!



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