Friday, January 4, 2013

Massage Tools for Runners

Massage, Trigger Point Therapy, Myofascial Release or whatever you want to call it.  Running puts a whooping on your body and the wear and tear can cause achy muscles, "knots,"  etc.  I'm pretty terrible when it comes to the small stuff.  I'll run all day if I want to but if you ask me to stretch, strength train, do form drills, etc., I'll revolt.  Yeah, I'm sure it would help to do that stuff, but frankly I'm too lazy.  Maybe I'll make it my New Years Resolution to do that crap but I don't really believe in New Years Resolutions, so I probably won't do them.

But alas, I have been known to work on a muscle knot or two, so I've tried out many-a-tool to see what works.  In an ideal world, I'd have access to a good masseuse but I'm too cheap for that.  Here is an old man's opinion over a variety of tools to treat yourself at home.

The Stick

This was my very first massage tool.  I bought it in high school and in college, I left it on the track van and some jerk stole it.  Most people will use it on their calves and it seemed to work pretty well for that.  But my next tool works better and is about ten times cheaper.

There She Is!

If you're thinking about buying The Stick, save your money and buy a rolling pin.  It's much more firm, covers more surface area and seems to work much better on my knots than The Stick does. Just don't use it and not wash it, or your Polish roommate will get really mad at you (sorry Bob).

My Foam Roller

 Nearly every runner has a foam roller and many swear by them. At first, it really jacked me up and had me punching the floor because I was getting so mad at the pain it was causing.  Eventually, I feel like I adapted too much to it and don't use it much at all anymore.  However, I'll occasionally use it on my IT Bands and hip flexor area.  I also find that it works better when I use it on a hard surface.  If you've never owned one of these, it'd definitely be a good purchase.

PVC Pipe
After becoming somewhat desensitized to the foam roller, I thought about making a foam roller sized PVC pipe.  As luck would have it, my summer and winter running partner, Vance Pounders, made one for me.  If you want to make your own, you can get one cut pretty cheaply at Home Depot, Lowe's etc. in whatever size your heart desires. It works pretty well on your quads and hip flexors, somewhat ok on your calves and hamstrings but I find it way too hard for my IT bands.  If it's too hard for you and you really want to be an overachiever, you could cover it in a yoga mat, carpet, etc. 

I've always heard that this guy doesn't play around.  I had a gift card to Fleet Feet so I used it on one of these.  I use this more than my PVC pipe and foam roller but I can't use it without feeling like I'm violating the ground. There's almost no way to use this without being in an awkward position. But other than that, it works well on my calves, quads, hip flexors and IT band.  I even use the wheels on the bottom of my foot.  It's pretty hard and if I had to describe the "hardness" it sort of feels like a tennis ball wrapped around a PVC pipe.  But it's much smaller than my foam roller and PVC pipe, which makes it easy to travel with, so it may be worth the $65 or whatever it costs.

Lacrosse Ball

One day while my (former) track kids at JPII were doing a track workout, every few minutes, a lacrosse ball would fly over the fence and about take me out.  I picked one up, looked at it a bit and decided to "borrow" one and see how it worked.  After using it for a few times, it's turned out to be one of my favorite tools in my arsenal.  It works perfectly on the individual knots in my legs and is hard enough to work on the hamstrings (the hamstrings can be hard to work on because they are so dense). You can even use it to massage the often neglected and often irritated illiopsoas. The illiopsoas is like a ninja.  Few people knew what it is or consider it as a culprit in a running injury but a tight psoas can cause all sorts of havoc on the lower body.  Treat the sickness, not the symptoms.

Foot-Rub (no, that's not my hand)

I bought one of these a few years ago off Ebay but you can get them in random stores or where I buy nearly all of my stuff, Amazon.  It seems to work well on my arches and works better than a golf ball. But the little knobs can fall off, especially if your dog steals it.  It was only like five bucks, so it's a good investment, especially if you frequently get plantar fascia issues. 

Trigger Point Therapy Workbook
This isn't a tool per se, but a book.  Trigger points/knots can cause referred pain almost anywhere in your body.  A knot in your soleus can cause pain in your back.  A knot in your hip flexors can cause knee pain, etc.  This book covers the entire human body and shows common problem areas and how to massage them using a variety of tools. I could go without the black-and-white drawings of an old man, wearing tightie-whities but other than that, it's an excellent choice for people who want to treat their own issues at home. 

Thera-Cane, or what I call the Shepherd Stick

As time goes on, I like this more and more.  The shape is perfect for massing your back and neck and the little knobs are perfect for pressing down on any knots you can find.  Pretty simple tool but works well. 
R8 Roll Recovery
I don't own one of these but I would really like to test this thing out and it looks like it would probably be my most favorite tool.  It looks like you could put a lot of force into it and is adaptable to many areas of the body.  Maybe one of these days I'll get one but not many places sell them yet.  For now, you can order one here.


  1. Run Fast this weekend. Going to give the Foot-Rubz a shot.

  2. The R8 Recovery Roller is great. I tried out my buddies.

    Go get 'em in Houston. Look forward to the results and your write up.

  3. Sir
    you wrote a good blog but it can be much better if you add something about massage chair for pain.
    thank you.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I would love to try all these tools/devices. I think our flexibility training should include self massage. I only use my
    foot massager. But looks like there are lots tools available to help we get into those tight, sore areas and release them..