Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A New Approach To An Old Problem

Since December 2012, I have been using a foam roller to work out occasional kinks and to prevent soreness. It has been a great tool for big muscles like quads and glutes, but less effective for areas like the neck and shoulders, where lots of muscles come together in a complex web. With my history of shoulder injuries I frequently experience stiffness in the trapezius, levator scapulae, and other muscles. My stretching routine simply isn’t targeting them effectively, so it’s time to try something else.

I’m convinced there’s merit in myofascial release—i.e., the breaking up of adhesions in the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles. You may have heard it called “trigger point” therapy, but essentially it’s massage. And it turns out that in a world full of expensive and elaborate massage options, the humble lacrosse ball is just the right size and density to work deep into the neck and shoulders. For only $6, last week I bought a pack of three balls. Like the model in the picture above, I place a ball between my back and the wall, then lean into it to apply pressure to the trigger points. A trigger point might be almost anywhere, so there’s a little wiggling around to find one. You will, though, know when you find them: they hurt! And this is one of those rare occasions when you should ignore your body and push through the pain. Holding pressure on the trigger point eventually results in “release” and the pain subsides. Done consistently, myofascial release should leave you with less stiffness and greater range of motion.

This technique seems to be working for me. I’ll keep one ball in the home gym, where I do most of my strength training. I’ll keep one in the bedroom, where a little stretching helps me to relax before I go to sleep. And I’ll keep one at the office, where sitting for 40 hours a week is surely contributing to the persistent stiffness. If I can remember to step away from the desk a few times during my shift, then I can quickly and easily reverse some of the damage.

I think the foam roller has been good for me as a cyclist; using lacrosse balls to loosen up the neck and shoulders probably won’t translate into better on-bike performance. But I’m not always on the bike! Addressing this problem will at least do no harm to my cycling ambitions.

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