Back when I was a Division I collegiate athlete, one of my favorite perks was getting free massages. Any time I felt tight, I could head over to the training room and an experienced physical therapist would work out all my knots, free of charge. In fact, we were encouraged to go as much as possible. Those were the days.
Now, I live in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a massage will run me about $100 an hour. I’m not willing to spend that much. But, my body still craves a solid rubdown, and with good reason. There are many health benefits that come along with getting a massage. The Mayo Clinic points out nine disorders that massages have been proven to help alleviate:
- Digestive disorders
- Insomnia related to stress
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Soft tissue strains or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint pain
Other studies have shown massages can also help with things like range of motion, nausea, and depression.
So, what’s a frugal massage lover to do? We have to to take matters into our own hands. Literally.
We should all take a few minutes a day to grip, push, squeeze, rub, and twist various muscle groups with the amazing tools dangling at the end of our arms.
Your hands are powerful! The average male can exert 48 kilograms of force units in a grip test. I’m not really sure what that means, but I know that’s plenty of force to get a pretty darn good soft tissue massage in.
I’ve found that my neck, thighs, forearms, shoulders, and feet can be capably worked on simply by using my hands and some common sense. Do you sense a knot? Put pressure on it until you feel some discomfort, and slowly rub on the tender area for a minute or two.
But, don’t go crazy with it. This is not a “no pain, no gain” situation. In fact, a commonly cited reason people stop getting massages is that they are too intense. Just as with exercise, you want to push yourself, but within reason.
You might be surprised at the sense of well-being a solid rubdown gives you. If you throw in a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, and a foam roller, you’ve got yourself an almost professional-grade massage.
If you want a basic massage that can take as short or long as you like, you can try the following routine. I’ve found it to be tremendously helpful. It is by no means comprehensive, but it gets the job done if you’re looking for a simple, efficient — and cost-effective — massage.
An easy place to start is with your neck. It’s part of the body that commonly holds tension, as we spend most of our days craning our necks toward computers or other screens. Like many others, I’ve found a surprising amount of relief from simply rubbing the sides and back of my neck. It sounds so easy, but we rarely take the time to actually do it.
I’ve found that this technique from youbeauty.com is also effective:
“Grasp the back of your neck with one hand placing the heel of your hand into the space just behind your ear at the base of your skull and your fingers wrapped around the opposite side of your neck. Squeeze, applying pressure with the heel of your hand only (using fingers just for leverage). Work your way down your neck to where it meets your shoulder. Repeat several times. End with some gentle neck stretches, tilting and rotating your head from side to side.”
After rubbing your neck, the shoulders are the logical next step. And as with digging into your neck, this should be fairly intuitive. I like to grip my left shoulder with my right hand and use my thumb to do the hard work of kneading out the muscle.
But, you should also pay particular attention to the outside areas of the shoulder (the places further from your chest.) which you can apply pressure to via your middle and index fingers. I tend to get sore in those spots.
Now it gets fun. If you want to give your back some love, there is no substitute for a foam roller. You can pick one up at Walmart for less than $15, and it will last you for years, even with daily use.
Lay with your back on the roller and slowly move up and down, letting good old gravity do the work a masseuse would be doing. Feel the pressure build and release as you roll around, making sure to go from your waist all the way up to your shoulder blades.
As good as the foam roller feels on your back, it’s even better equipped to loosen up tight leg muscles. You can easily roll out your hamstrings (back of your legs) and quadriceps (front of your legs), making sure to spend at least a few minutes on each. Be careful, the quadriceps are usually a lot more tender than you’d expect.
It’s also critical to roll out your iliotibial band, or IT band for short. This is one of the tendons that runs from your hip to the outside of your knee, and it is often tight in runners. In fact, there were a few people I used to play college and professional basketball with who had their knee pain greatly alleviated by rolling out their IT band with a foam roller. Just rest the outside of one leg on the roller and slowly move up and down, then do the same to your other leg.
Your gluteus maximus muscles are the biggest in your body, but they’re often neglected during stretching and self-care regimens. Let’s fix that.
Grab a tennis ball if you have one around the house. If you don’t, I suggest getting a lacrosse ball — they’re denser than tennis balls, and for bigger people like myself, they dig deeper into the muscle tissue.
I like to spend a solid couple of minutes sitting with the lacrosse ball under one of my glutes. Sometimes, that pressure alone is enough of a release for a tight muscle. If you want, you can gently roll around to find and relieve different areas of tension.
There are few things as satisfying as a good foot massage. My favorite thing to do is to assume a standing position, with one foot resting on a lacrosse ball or tennis ball. I then press my arch into the ball and slowly move my foot around. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Another maneuver that feels great requires taking a seat. You then grab your foot and interlock all five of your fingers into all five of your toes. Slowly move your hands up, down, and side to side. The combination of pressure and stretch is heavenly.
Of course, it’s hard to replace a trained massage therapist. I don’t want to denigrate their skills, nor imply that I feel better after a DIY massage than I would after seeing a professional. But, with some practice and a few inexpensive purchases, you can get a pretty darn good massage for a fraction of what it would cost you at a spa.
The most important part, and also the hardest, is to make time for this self-care. During a hectic day, when perhaps it’s most necessary, that can be very difficult. But, even the busiest among us should be able to find 10 to 20 minutes for a massage. It becomes easier to budget time for a self massage once you realize how good they make you feel.