Help Yourself: Self-Massage Using Kong Dog Toys!

Self-massage is a great self-help technique for common aches. However, sometimes it's hard to reach the places you want to massage or it's difficult to relax while trying to massage yourself. This is where tools can make a great difference.

One of my favorite simple, inexpensive, self-massage techniques is to use a tennis ball. You can put it behind your back and lean against a wall, scooting yourself up and down to roll the ball over a sore spot next to your shoulder blade. Two tennis balls in a sock tied off at the end can make a great tool for massaging the back. Lie on the floor or a yoga mat with the balls on either side of the spine and relax. Scoot yourself up and down a little to work your way up and down the back. Lying on your side with your hip positioned over a tennis ball can be a great way to massage the hip. The possibilities are endless! Tennis balls are a good size, are firm but not hard, are inexpensive, and easily available.

However, I've found something even better than tennis balls: Kong Dog Toys! Seriously!

Besides self-massage with tennis balls, I'm also quite fond of soaking in a warm bath and will often stretch in the bathtub. Recently, massage therapist turned science writer Paul Ingraham, author of the website and a fellow fan of tennis balls and warm baths, came up with a brilliant idea: take the ball into the bathtub! Read about "The Bath Trick" for an entertaining and informative article on self-massage with a ball in the bathtub. In place of a tennis ball he suggested Kong Dog Balls.

Inspired, I headed off to the pet store. I was amazed to find a large selection of interesting looking dog toys. There was only one problem: how would I know which would be the best for self-massage? There was only one way to find out: test them.

The store was not very busy so I sat on the floor and tried the various sizes of balls and other toys under my legs and hips, but what I really wanted to know was how would they feel on my back? The only good way to find out would be to lie on the floor. Pretty soon I was rolling around on the floor and found myself nose to nose with a curious canine customer. His human companions looked down at me lying on the floor and asked, "Are you okay?" "Oh, I'm fine, I'm testing dog toys," I reassured them. Then a young lady who worked at the store happened by. I explained what I was doing and soon she was with me on the floor rolling on a Kong ball and exclaiming that it was great.

I tested the various sizes and shapes and settled on three that I think are the best. I tested other dog toys but found that Kong dog toys are definitely tops for self-massage. To save you the trouble and embarrassment of testing them yourself on the floor of your local pet shop, I will submit the following recommendations:

If you could only have one, I would suggest the basic large red Kong Dog Ball. It is versatile and can be used on the back, hips, legs, and shoulders. It is a great basic self-massage tool.

My favorite is the Kong Dental. It is shaped like a small dumbbell: two balls connected together. Perfect for the back, use it lying on the floor or a yoga mat with the two balls straddling your spine. Relax. Gradually scoot yourself up and down. This is heaven, particularly on dull low back ache. Rolling the calves over it while sitting with legs outstretched on the floor feels very good on tired legs. Make sure you choose the extra large.

I also like the conical shaped  Classic Kong Dog Toy. This comes in two varieties:  regular red (choose the extra large) and the firmer "Extreme Dog Toy" in black. I preferred the "extreme" black but both are good. This shape is especially effective for the hips while sitting or lying on the floor. The large end is a greater diameter than the regular ball and the dental and two of them positioned behind the low back are especially nice. It has worked well on the hamstrings while sitting on the floor.

Kong dog toys are awesome for self-massage! They are not very expensive. I now own a small collection and enjoy them all. They can be bought at your local pet store or you can order them online through the links provided here. 

Have fun and let me know what you think!

Submitted byGuest (not verified)on Thu, 04/21/2011 - 11:46am

I've used Lacrosse balls for self massage for a while, and recently added the large Kong ball (great for the low back and glutes). During the winter months I noticed that the balls were cold, and cold makes my triggers 'angry'. For the past month I've been microwaving them to warm them up. I pop in a lacrosse and the Kong and run for about a minute. You may need less or more time so start with 20 seconds and work up as needed. This may reduce their overall lifespan, but so far I haven't noticed any degradation. Thanks for the tips, I'll be adding more Kong to my arsenal!

Submitted byAliceon Thu, 04/28/2011 - 1:34am

In reply to by Guest (not verified)

I'll have to try the microwave trick. It sounds a little scary but I'll take your word that it's safe to try.

Who would have thought that dog toys could be so much fun for humans?

Submitted byjean@jeanprobert.comon Thu, 04/28/2011 - 12:44am

Did you look at any other dog (or cat) toys while you were in the store? ; )

Yes, I checked out all the dog toys. I looked at the cat toys briefly but none of them seemed like they'd make good massage tools. There were other dog toys that looked like they would be good self-massage tools. There were tennis balls of various sizes and other balls. However, I thought the Kong dog toys were the best and the three I reviewed were my personal favorites. However, your mileage may vary, as they say!

Submitted byGuest (not verified)on Sat, 05/07/2011 - 3:53pm

tennis balls work well too. standing up with a ball under one foot can be a really neat way to relieve lower back pain and improve hamstring stretches. sounds crazy, but try it. it works wonders. start by standing and trying to do a forward bend and note how far you can go. next stand on the tennis ball for massage. when you try it again, you will find much better range

Toronto Massage Therapy

Submitted byAliceon Sun, 05/08/2011 - 1:51am

Yes, tennis  balls were my original ball of choice. They are a good size, they are firm without being hard. They are perfect for many uses. I have never tried standing on one. I'd be very careful while following your suggestions but it might make an interesting experiment.

Submitted byAliceon Mon, 05/09/2011 - 12:25am

In reply to by

I don't really know how one would stand on a ball to relieve back pain and I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Maybe our guest will return and describe how they do it. I lay or sit on the balls.

Lay on the floor or a yoga mat, placing the ball where your sore muscle is located. Relax and let the weight of your body on the ball exert pressure on the sore muscle. If it is too much pressure, you can lean a bit to the side to vary the pressure. It should feel good to do it. If it doesn't, don't do it. You can gradually scoot yourself up or down or to the side to cover different places. This works very nicely for tight muscles and trigger points (tender points) in muscles.

I have used two tennis balls in a sock with the end tied off to massage the muscles on both sides of my spine at the same time or a single tennis ball to get one side. It works quite nicely on the low back, mid back, and upper back. I've put a tennis ball between my spine and shoulder blade and leaned against the wall to massage a common sore spot. Sitting or laying on the ball with it positioned under the hip works well to get at the deep muscles in the hip. That can take a little experimentation with positioning to find just the right spot. I still like tennis balls but have to admit that Kong dog balls are even better. I'll have to try other types of balls as I run across them.

Submitted byGuest (not verified)on Thu, 07/28/2011 - 10:19am

Also works great for sore feet. The conical Kong shape fits great under my foot, and the "ribs" on it feel good. It rolls smoothly, like it was made for this -- and my dog has no interest in it, so it's now mine.

I haven't tried that, but it sounds like a good idea! I'm on my feet a lot and love giving myself a good foot massage. However, using the dog toys could be a different experience and save my hands. I'm going to try it when I get home tonight. Thanks!

Submitted byJon (not verified)on Tue, 03/26/2013 - 3:44pm

Hi Alice,

This is a great article. Both useful and hilarious - I loved the pet store story. It really made me laugh.

I've been using tennis balls for a long time but have been needing something bigger and with more resistance.

I bought a kong ball - the one you recommended - large red one. I thought it was good but a bit too hard and slightly too small, but I think it's great that you went into a pet store with no shame and sat on the floor testing these out and then posted on the net to share. Because otherwise, how is anyone else gonna know what's good and what's not?

Since reading your article and buying a Kong ball I went on a bit of a mission buying large tennis balls and similar with approx 10cm diameter. Most were crappy and would break with the first use - the rubber was strong but the glue that held the two halves together was not.

Eventually I found a brilliant solution though...

A 10cm diameter gel filled medicine ball. It is very strong. I have used it loads and I weigh about 17 stone. Even though it is "squidgy" instead of having a fairly fixed shape like a tennis ball it is able to apply a lot of pressure and is absolutely awesome for the glutes and back muscles.

I bought mine from the above link for a total of £12 (including P&P and VAT). I looked all over the internet and this was the cheapest I could find them.

I hope this is useful to someone, and thanks again, Alice for the detailed article. I might well find myself buying some different Kong "tools" in the future :O)