The Ultimate Guide to Self Myofascial Release Tools

Self Myofascial Release ToolsMyofascial release has been game a changer for me. I’ve tried a slew of different techniques, tools and practitioners over the years.  Although it’s tough to find a substitute for hands on work, with the right tools, you can be very successful at treating yourself.

There is a ton of self myofascial release tools out there and the list grows everyday. What follows is a guide to the most popular ones and there uses.

Rollers

Rollers are typical used on larger muscle groups. They are a broader treatment, meaning the pressure that is applied is more spread out.  Rollers come in different sizes, lengths, widths and densities(firmness). This is generally what determines their unique effectiveness.

The process of rolling involves setting the roller on the ground and using your own bodyweight to apply pressure to trigger points.

They work best on the following areas: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Lats, Back, Thoracic Spine (Upper Back)

Foam Roller

 

This is the original myofascial release tool. It’s widely used and often times the only tool that people are familiar with. Foam rollers come in different densities. Usually rollers in blue/white are softer and black is firmer. Over time foam will break down, so buying a higher quality roller is worth the investment.

Foam Roller

High Density Black Foam Roller

The pressure of a foam roller is very broad and overall its a softer tool. These two characteristics make it an excellent entry level option.

PVC Roller

The PVC roller is a graduated foam roller.  Meaning, it’s quite a bit firmer. After using a foam roller for awhile, you often need more pressure to produce results.  PVC can help with this.

PVC Roller

My Homemade PVC Roller

There are products that are made with a PVC core. However, most of the PVC rollers I have seen and used have been homemade. Just a piece of PVC with something wrapped around it, so you don’t slide around on it.

You can vary the thickness and density of the PVC roller by using different materials to cover it.

Take a look at this video on how to make a homemade one.

The Grid

The grid is a new take on the foam roller created by the TP Therapy folks. Its diameter is only 5 inches as opposed to 6 inches. This makes more a bit more targeted than your average roller.

The Grid Roller

The following is the product description from TP Therapy.

This revolutionary tool is based on a grid system of varying widths and densities, allowing you to take traditional foam rolling to the next level. Intensity levels are in your control by simply repositioning the Grid.

It’s one of the few tools on this list that I don’t have a great amount of experience with. I have used the product a few times and my impressions have been good. It’s firmer than a regular foam roller and the construction quality is great.

I personally did not notice a difference with the grid system. In general, it seemed to function very similar to traditional rollers. I’d like to get my hands on a grid to do some extensive testing. I just can’t justify shelling out the cash when I didn’t see a benefit over my PVC roller.

Quad Roller

Another product from TP Therapy. The Quad roller is different from others on this list. It’s actually a small rod covered with light padding attached to two wheels.

Quad Roller

Because the quad roller’s unique setup, it can apply a great amount of pressure. I believe it applies more pressure than any other roller on the list. PVC roller included.

The smaller rod of the quad roller also gives you the ability to get closer to the joints. This is a huge advantage over other tools.

The only real disadvantage to the tool is the fact that it can’t be used on the back. It’s not wide enough.

This tool is definitely for advanced users.  I personally highly recommend it.

Rumble Roller

The rumble roller is slighty different as well. It’s base is the same as a regular roller, however it has tiny bumps that cover the entire roller. The bumps give a more precise pressure and help to stretch tissue as well.

Rumble Roller

Check out the manufacturers explanation.

The RumbleRoller contains specially designed bumps that are firm, but flexible, much like the thumbs of a massage therapist.

As you roll over the RumbleRoller, the bumps knead the contours of your body, gently stretching soft tissue (muscle and fascia) in multiple directions. This erodes trigger points, restores flexibility, and relieves muscular pain.

It comes in 2 lengths (12×5 and 31×6) and 2 densities (Original and Extra Firm).  I have only used the longer, extra firm model. It’s a very high quality product and firmer than a traditional foam roller, but not as firm as a PVC roller.

I personally like the rumble roller, but it’s not a tool that I use in my everyday arsenal. I think of rollers as a more broad treatment device and the bumps on the rumble roller take away from that. If I want a more precise pressure, I prefer to use a ball or other tools. That said, I do find instances where the rumble roller can get to problem areas that other tools could not.

Balls

Balls are typically used on smaller muscle groups. They allow you to reach areas that would not be accessible with just a roller.

Just like rollers, size and density are the biggest two factors when deciding what to use.

Two balls can be taped together so that they may roll along side the spine.

Balls work best on the following areas: Feet, Calves, Glutes, Lower Back, Shoulders

Most of you are familiar with the actual balls I will list below, so I won’t go into great detail on there makeup.

Golf Ball

A golf ball is very firm and precise. The only area that I personally use it on, is the feet.

It’s lack of size makes it difficult to use on other body parts. The distance between the ground on your body is limited and this makes it difficult to apply pressure while moving around on it.

Tennis Ball

This is the perfect entry level ball. It has quite a bit of give and therefore pressure is limited.

The diameter of a tennis ball is about 2.5 inches. It puts enough distance between your body and the ground that it can be used in areas like the shoulders, glutes and back.

Lacrosse Ball

The lacrosse ball is identical to the tennis ball in it’s uses. It is considerably firmer. You would graduate to this after you adapted to a tennis ball.

Softball

A softball is very firm and the diameter ranges from 3.5 – 4 inches. This makes the pressure applied by the softball not quite as precise, but still on the high side of things.

The extra inch of diameter makes it useable on areas like the quads, hamstrings, pecs and the front of the hips. Depending on the individual, these areas are rarely accessible with a tennis or lacrosse ball.

I personally think this is the most underused myofascial release tool. It provides a huge amount of value as it is cheap and versatile.  When I travel, I can get away with bringing just this ball to treat most of the major areas.

I don’t prefer the seams on a softball, so I will actually cut off the outer layer. This makes the ball a bit firmer but also smoother and more comfortable.

Medicine Ball

Medicine balls obviously come in all different sizes and densities. They have very specific uses, such as treating the pecs or front side of shoulders. Possibly the hamstrings or quads as well.

Most parts of the body can be treated more effectively with other tools listed here.

Misc Tools

This is just a quick rundown popular tools that don’t necessarily fall into a category.

Your Own Hands

There are many areas on your body that rollers and balls may not reach, but your hands can. Anywhere you can reach, try to apply pressure and see if you can produce a reaction. It helps not only to release trigger points, but get a better understanding of your own body.

Theracane

This tool has a ridiculous amount of uses. It allows you to create leverage and apply pressure to hard to reach areas all over your body.

Theracane

The manufacturer description

The simple yet effective self-massager makes it easy to apply pain-relieving deep compression directly to hard, knotted trigger points anywhere they occur, breaking up tension even in the hardest-to-reach muscle areas.

This tool fills in the gaps that many other tools miss. It can get hard to reach places behind the shoulders, along the neck, and in your traps, glutes, and hamstrings. It’s great for spot treatments.

Knobbler

The knobbler basically replaces the thumb/fingers. Applying pressure with your own thumbs/fingers can take it’s toll on you. It’s often times better to use something like the knobbler instead.

Knobble

There are several tools that provide this same function. Find one that works for you. Let me know in the comments!

The Stick & Tiger Tail

Both of these tools have two handles attached to a rod that has a slight flex to it. Using two hands you grip the sides of it and press down to apply pressure to the targeted area.

 

Tiger Tail

Tiger Tail. Similar to The Stick

It’s primary uses are on the lower body including the quads, hamstrings and calves.

Send Me Your Suggestions!

I tried to include all the major tools. If I have missed anything, please leave a comment and let me know. Also, I’d love to hear what tools you prefer!

Want to chat? Touch base with me on twitter!

 

 

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  • Cheryl

    how about the stick or the new roller by theraband?

    • Justin

      I’ve used those tools from theraband. In my eyes, they serve very similar functions to tools listed on this page.

    • superhumanpursuits

      Definitely used the sticks ton of times. I think the tiger tail is a bit more serviceable, mostly because of texture.

      I do like that theraband thing. They took another rubber tool they have had around for quite awhile and attached some handles to it, but it is a good product. I would have a tough time recommending that people own this in addition to the tiger-tail or any other stick. I’d say, find the one you prefer and just use that!

  • Jasper

    Have you checked out The Heskiers OneTool: http://heskiers.com/

    • Justin

      I stuck to “self” related tools. I own and have used tools of this nature, but I don’t think they are a good idea for most individuals. They are better in the hands of professionals!

    • http://www.superhumanpursuits.com/ Justin Hays

      I own a few manual tools like this, but honestly I’m unsure they are a great idea for the average fitness enthusiast. They are of much better use in the hands of a professional!

  • sherry paul
    • http://www.superhumanpursuits.com/ Justin Hays

      What areas do you find this useful on?

  • Renee Gladieux Principe

    http://www.pressurepositive.com has a full line of self care tools for deep muscle treatment. The Knobbler you list is actually the Knobble II and a Knobble is available in hardwood from Pressure Positive.

  • Mark De Nitto

    You have to check out Trigger-Pin! Its kinda like the TP Quadballer, but way more versatile: smarter size, shape, texture and firmness. These rollers are hand built, and sold for way less than the listed price at major endurance events. Trigger-Pin! will be at the Boston Marathon Expo in April! Check it out: http://triggerpin.com/

    (sry, the pics came out so large)

    • superhumanpursuits

      This looks interesting. Is it wide enough to be used on the upper back? More or less firm than the quadballer?

      • Mark De Nitto

        Hello Justin,

        Yep. The “double bubble” model is 14″ wide, with the “bubbles” spaced 4″ from center to center. I’m 6’4″ with wide swimmer shoulders, and it’s perfect. I have many smaller customers–including a massage therapist, for whom this model works exceptionally well also. One size-fits all. When I update my slide show, you will see the optimal rolling positions to target both the lumbar region as well as middle and upper trapezius. The wheels also feel fantastic on rear deltoids and rhomboids. Regarding firmness, my goal was to create something between a tennis ball and a lacrosse ball. The consensus is that I have achieved that. So, perhaps firmer than the Quadballer–if you’re using the “single bubble”. When using the double, your weight is evenly on two points, which gives a less aggressive, but equally effective rolling experience. This feature also enables “beginner” rollers to use the double for lower body applications, then shift their body onto one of the two “bubbles” for a more targeted release.

        Thanks for being in touch, Justin!
        Mark

        • http://www.superhumanpursuits.com/ Justin Hays

          Excellent stuff Mark.

          I’m very interested. Let me know when it’s available and I’ll order one up!

          • Mark De Nitto

            I can have one to you inside of 10 days, Justin. Which model? For review purposes, you probably want to order one of each? I will give you a discounted price. For true head to toe application, I recommend the “double”. Folks with specific “chronic” trigger point areas in the IT band often prefer the “single”. For common back issues folks prefer the “double.” I do appreciate any help in promoting my exciting new product. Social media! Let’s get it out there–and let’s get yer knots out! Anyone else . . .? http://triggerpin.com/

          • http://www.superhumanpursuits.com/ Justin Hays

            Mark,

            I’d be interested in the 2 bubble model. Can you shoot me pricing and other details via email.

            justin@superhumanpursuits.com

          • Mark De Nitto

            Yep. I sent you an email.

  • Arni Wookey

    Hi Jason. Interesting blog.

    Surprised you’ve not seen the Acusystems range from Canadian Chiropractor Dr Michael Cohen.

    There are three products in the range, the Acuball for large muscle groups, the Acuball Mini for small groups like hands and feet and the Acuback for seated posture.

    They work with your bodyweight to create natural acupressure to release myofascial tension, and can be heated to accelerate tissue release.

    The Acuback is also a great alternative to a foam roller, as it opens tight tissue rather than forcing the compression through it, so is less hard on the tissue.

    Leading German expert Dr. Robert Schleip tried them and described them as the most effective myofascial release tools he’d seen.

    You can find out more in the US at http://www.acuball.com, whilst here in the UK they’re available from http://www.pain-less.co.uk.

    Hope this is of interest.

    Arni

  • Brant

    Hey Jason,

    A new product called CryoWedge just came out for myofascial release. You might want to include it here or do a separate post for it. Check it out at CryoWedge.com. You can get a free one from them if you ask ;) thanks.