Lugging around a heavy DSLR camera and laptop while traveling overseas can be brutal on the body, but it’s what I sometimes do for work, and it’s not uncommon to collapse back in the hotel with sore shoulders, aching calves and feet in pain.
Which is why this baseball is my newest traveling companion. I just got back from the U.S. for a work trip and this little fella helped ease my pains; all I had to do was roll around on it. I know, it sounds weird if you haven’t heard of the practice before, like I’ve got some kind of a ball fetish.
But using a baseball is a self-myofascial release technique, or in other words, a way to give yourself a massage. It’s usually done using a foam cylinder, on which you roll your muscles. People use a baseball for specific areas; but while I have a foam roller at home, I don’t want to pack it with me, so I carry the smaller baseball. A baseball is also better for kneading the upper back, where I’m usually the sorest from carrying around a heavy messenger-style camera bag.
How do you actually use a baseball to massage yourself? There are lots of video demos online, but in a nutshell, you sit or lie down and roll a muscle group around on the ball, using your bodyweight to apply pressure. Once you find a tight spot, you maintain pressure on the spot (also known as a trigger point) until you feel the spot loosen or the pain lessen.
I was a wary skeptic when I first heard about foam rolling, but I was sold after my wife tried it. Whenever she sits for a long period of time (which is nearly everyday at work), her calves will tighten up. No matter how long I massage her legs for her, they never really loosen (I may just be really bad at massage). But a few minutes on the foam roller and her calves soften right up.
So why does foam rolling work? It seems that nobody actually knows for sure. And what are these tight spots, or trigger points? Again, it seems to be a mystery. It’s still a matter of debate just how good foam rolling is for you, or just exactly what it does. And of course, it doesn’t address the root cause of pain; it would be better if I carried a backpack for example, and my wife got up every once in awhile.
But foam rolling does work to alleviate our aching and tense muscles. All it costs is a few dollars for the baseball (the foam roller costs more), and just minutes of our time, which is why this little baseball is going into my luggage the next time I fly.