Massage Rollers and More: How to Ease Neck and Back Pain with Simple Tools

Foam tubes and rubber balls can help when you hurt

Elderly man using back roller to aleive back pain

If you’d give anything right now for a massage — it’s time to get some (low-cost) muscle relief.

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Chiropractor Chad Adams, DC shares his go-to massage tools and tips on how to use them. Try these simple tools to release muscle knots.

Shopping for massage tools

A word of warning: If you’re shopping online for massage tools, you can quickly fall down a rabbit hole of weird-looking gadgets in every shape and size. Do you need a solar-powered massager? Or one that heats up? Or one that diffuses essential oils?

Low-tech massage tools can be surprisingly effective, Dr. Adams says. “I’m a big believer in these simple tools.”

Foam rollers for back pain

You may be surprised at how minimalist a roller is. It’s a simple tube-shaped cylinder made of dense foam.

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But simple can be amazingly effective. Rollers can relieve back pain in your trigger points (those muscle knots, kinks and areas of extreme tightness).

Learn how to roll with it:

  1. Choose your roller: They come in different densities. If you’re in great shape, you might want a very hard roller. Look for one that doesn’t dent if you squeeze it. If you’d prefer a softer touch, choose a roller with a little more give.
  2. Get in position: Place the roller under your trigger points and lie across it. Let your body weight press the roller into the tight spots.
  3. Slow your roll: Less wiggle, more pressure. Try to press the roller into the tight spot and stay there. That deep, steady pressure should ease tension.
  4. Hit the spot: It may help to roll just above or below a trigger point. Use some trial and error to find the right place to press. It might feel uncomfortable while you roll, but your muscles should feel more relaxed when you’re done.

Lacrosse balls for shoulder and neck pain

Foam rollers are great for back pain, but you’d have to be some kind of contortionist to position it correctly around the neck and shoulders. For those areas, grab a rubber lacrosse ball.

Then follow the same steps you’d use for a foam roller. If you can’t reach the knots by lying on the floor, try standing along a wall and leaning back against the ball. “Sometimes a little creativity is required to get to the hard-to-reach places,” Dr. Adams says.

How often should you use massage tools?

Consistency is key. Dr. Adams recommends massaging with your tool of choice up to five or six times every day, for three to five minutes each time. “You’ll get a much better response if you do it several times a day,” he says.

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The exception: Don’t go on a roll right before a workout. The goal of a trigger point massage is to relax the muscles. But jumping right into physical activity afterward can raise your risk of injury.

A great time to roll is before bedtime. Take 10 minutes to attack your trigger points, and your relaxed muscles might help lull you to sleep, Dr. Adams adds.

Use your foam roller or rubber ball on the regular and you should notice less pain and greater range of motion in your tight spots. (So long, stiff neck!) It’s the next best thing to a live-in masseuse.

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