Annals of Self-Care: My Favorite Self-Massage Tools

Throw out this contraption! We've got 5 less embarrassing suggestions for self-massage tools.
Throw out this contraption! We’ve got 5 less embarrassing suggestions for self-massage tools.

As an athlete approaching the age of 40, I frequently have to pull out all the stops to keep myself feeling limber and prepared for my training.  It seems awareness of the importance of self-care is growing, as illustrated by the increasing number of articles I’m seeing in publications like Runner’s WorldRunning Times, and Competitor on the subject.  The concept of “pre-hab” seems to be all the rage, and I hope to get into this in more detail in future posts as it is a topic of great interest to me.  As a start, though, I’ll tell you about some toys I’ve collected over the years to help me in my pursuit of approximating that 18-year-old body that probably could have handled the training I want to do a whole lot better than this 39-year-old one can.

Here are some of my favorites. [Disclaimer: unfortunately none of the manufacturers offered me an incentive to rave about their product. Hint, hint, manufacturers – you know where to find me.]

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Rumbleroller (black knobby foam roller), Muscle Angel Massager (the purple dirty looking thing), The Theracane (teal hook thing), The Stick (the stick), Voodoo Floss Band (the roll of black tape).

1) The Rumbleroller: This is foam rolling to the max. An aggressive black or blue high-density roller with rubber spikes instead of the usual flat surface, it’s great for finding and releasing those stubborn trigger points.  I love it for knots in the calves or quads, and it’s also very effective for the low-back and shoulders.  Using it is quite a bit more intense than a regular foam roller so my advice is to ease into it.  Start using it only if you are already regularly using a high-density black roller, and start on carpet or a yoga mat before you progress to using it on a wood floor or other flat, hard surface.

2) Muscle Angel Massagers: This tool looks like a small purple alien, and it might just become your new favorite running buddy!  It’s a hard rubber ball about the size of a softball with spikes all over it, and on one end it has a blunt edge and on the other a trigger point tool.  It’s awesome for getting those hard-to-roll places in your hip girdle (i.e. gluteus medius/minimus, piriformis), for self-adjusting your sacroiliac joint, and also great for rolling under the arches of your feet if you suffer from plantar fasciitis.  Another thing I love about it is how portable it is – you can stick it in your workout bag and take it with you to the gym or the track, and if you’re traveling it easily fits into your suitcase or even a carry-on bag.

3) The Theracane: This is a curved, metal rod with some smaller rods jutting out of it, each of which has a small, ball-like rounded end.  It is meant to help you reach those difficult-to-access trigger points.  I find it to be particularly useful for the back and shoulders, places I can’t reach readily with my thumbs to work out knots.  If you aren’t able to get in to see a massage therapist frequently, it’s a good alternative.

4) The Stick: This is a long-time favorite tool of runners, and for good reason.  It’s a skinny rod surrounded by large plastic beads which you can roll along various muscles.  I think it is one of the best ways to roll out your tibialis anteriors (anterior shins) and peroneal muscles, which can often be tough to get at with a regular foam roller, and it’s also great for getting at the deep calf muscles.  Like the Muscle Angel, it’s more portable than a regular roller so it’s a good travel option.

5) Voodoo Floss Band: Invented by the folks at Rogue Fitness (of Cross-fit fame), this is a fun and very useful self-massage tool.  I will definitely discuss the concept of “tissue flossing” in a later post because it’s fascinating and very effective, but for now just a brief description of the voodoo band.  It’s basically like a long, large rubber band-type tool which you can wrap any joint or stiff muscle and then perform range of motion exercises while wrapped to help release said stuff joint or tight muscle.  As an example, I don’t have great ankle mobility so I wrap my ankles with it and then do ankle alphabets or ankle mobilizations in half-kneel position – when I remove it after the exercise, I have vastly improved dorsiflexion.  You can use it for knees, hips, quads, IT band – really anywhere.  The Rogue Fitness website has a number of videos with suggested exercises.  Just be sure not to leave it on for too long – it impedes circulation (which is part of how it works), and you don’t want to go to far and damage the very tissue you’re trying to improve.

So there you have it, my favorite self-massage tools!

Do you find pre- or post-run self-massage/flexibility work useful?  What self-massage tools or flexibility aids do you use?

Mom of three kiddos and a black lab, running enthusiast, sports-med-doctor-in-training. I love the science and sport of running and all things related.

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  1. My favorite self massage tool is a lacrosse ball. It is small enough to hit the right spot by my piriformis and I can always find one rolling about the house.

  2. I have the classic black foam roller, and I’m trying to be better this training-cycle at using it regularly. I also just ordered The Stick (actually, the Travel Stick) this weekend, and it should arrive today! I’m excited to try it and hope it’ll help get the knots in my inside ankles worked out after long runs.

  3. Am I the only one giggling at the title like a 12 year old? I, too, am interested to learn more about using these things! We definitely need some self-massage how-to posts in the future :)

    1. Absolutely. I have other tricks up my sleeve too (yamuna balls, static and sliding cupping, active isolated flexibility….). All sorts of fun! Let me know what you all want to hear more about and I’ll write things up in more detail.

  4. I have a Tiger Tail, which is kind of like a cross between The Stick and a regular foam roller. Love it for my quads! I have the travel size, which is perfect for tossing in a race bag.