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 PainScience.com 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!