Professional athletes have access to masseurs who will soothe their aching muscles after tough training sessions, but the rest of us need an inexpensive way to loosen tight muscles, release trigger points and relieve tension in the body and that's where massage balls come in.
For less than a tenner you can buy a tried a tested tool that will help alleviate muscle soreness, activate your body and, potentially, improve your athletic performance. But will an old hockey ball do or should you invest in a massage ball that has been specifically designed to ease tightness in all the right areas? Below, we'll be answering that question as well as explaining why you should use a massage ball, how to use a massage ball, what you should be looking for when you buy one and, of course, the best massage balls to buy right now.
Why You Should Use a Massage Ball
A massage ball is brilliant for activating muscles before you work out and for easing tension once you've completed a session. It's also essential for performing myofascial release, which is a type of physical therapy that aims to ease tension and tightness in certain trigger points around the body.
But you don't have to take our word for massage balls' effectiveness. There’s a body of research available that confirms their efficacy in decreasing muscle tightness, increasing range of motion and enhancing muscle performance. This study, for example, which was published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, found that using a massage ball can help to prevent muscular injury. While another study, published in Frontiers in Physiology, showed massage balls to be a useful warm-up tool.
How to Use a Massage Ball
Okay, how to use a massage ball appears pretty obvious, but there is a little more to it than meets the eye. You want to use a massage ball on tight areas of your body, and you can either roll it over those areas or lie on the ball and move your body over it to release tension in those areas.
Pre-workout, it's a good idea to use the ball to activate muscles like your glutes or your shoulders. After a workout you can use the ball to loosen tight areas, but it's probably best to combine your ball work with an adequate stretching routine too. Check out our beginners guide to mobility and stretching if you're looking for some help in that department:
What to Look for in a Good Massage Ball
There's no perfect massage ball that works equally well on all bodies, so we've identified five key areas for you to focus on. The massage ball you buy will depend on how important each of these areas are to you.
The size of ball you buy will determine where it can be used. A small massage ball won't be much use if you're looking to massage larger muscle groups like your quads, glutes or shoulders, but it could ease tension in smaller areas, like in the balls of your feet.
Much like the size of the ball, the strength of the ball you choose is also a very personal choice. A soft ball may feel nicer, but it may not be able to release trigger points that require firm pressure. On the other hand, a hard and dense ball may be too painful to use, so choose wisely.
Just as a professional masseur will use different parts of their hands and arm on different parts of your body, massage balls come in a variety of different surface textures, which will elicit different responses. Raised bumps or spikes can really dig into an area of the body, while smooth and soft textures will ease over areas that may be too painful for a more intense massage.
Remember when we mentioned the difference between an old hockey ball and a specially designed massage ball, well grip is one of the key differences. While hockey balls can be effective they can also be slippery and it can be difficult to keep them in place, whereas a good massage ball will be built to grip the floor.
It goes without saying that you'll want your massage ball to stand up to prolonged use, so it's important to choose massage balls that are made from durable materials and are designed to withstand repeated use without breaking down.
The 7 Best Massage Balls of 2020
Whether you're looking to replace your expensive professional massages or you want to finally throw out that old tennis ball you've been using, you'll find a massage ball that's perfect for you among these seven.
Best Massage Ball for For Myofascial Release: Epitomie Fitness Muscle Max Massage Ball
The trigger point massage grid featured on the Muscle Max massage ball has been specially designed to attack sore muscles from various angles, while its deep knobs reach far into inner muscles and joints to iron out knots, relieve tightness and improve circulation. What's more, if this ball doesn't work your knots out, it comes with a full refund guarantee.
Best Hockey Ball Alternative: Sports Medica Doctor Developed Massage Ball
I know we said that a hockey ball is no match for a specially designed massage ball, but if you're not convinced then you can have the best of both worlds with this massage ball from Sports Medica. It's simple, smooth and will iron out any knots you have. It also comes complete with a handbook and video guide, which explain how to get the most from this doctor-approved massage ball.
Best Massage Ball for Intense Relief: TriggerPoint MobiPoint Massage Ball
If you're looking for intense pain relief then let us introduce you to your new best friend: TriggerPoint's MobiPoint massage ball. It's raised tips may make it look like a torture weapon, they're actually there to stimulate blood and oxygen flow, which should enhance mobility and decrease soreness. This ball is 2 inches in diameter and is perfect for applying targeted pressure to small surface areas such as your hands and feet.
Best Massage Ball for Stimulating Blood Flow: TriggerPoint MB5 Deep Tissue Massage Ball
Another offering from TriggerPoint, what sets this one apart is its layered construction, which stimulates blood flow better than non-layered tools and should ease joint and muscle pain more effectively, not to mention restoring movement more adeptly. The MB5 also features an extra firm surface that offers a deeper level of massage for more intense relief.
Best Massage Ball for a Troublesome Back: Sports Medica Doctor Developed Peanut Massage Ball
Prior to the invention of the peanut massage ball, people had resorted to taping two tennis balls together to ease achey back issues. Why did they bother? Well a peanut massage ball will target different muscle groups to a solo ball and is particularly useful for the occipitals, gluteal muscles, tensor fasciae latae and the thoracic spine.
Best Massage Ball for Hot and Cold Therapy: Fitness Cryosphere Cold Massage Roller
If you've ever strained a muscle on a run then we're sure you've heard of the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) method of muscle recovery. This cold massage roller by IECO will take care of two of RICE's components and will both ice and compress your injured muscles. If you prefer heat therapy, however, the stainless steel ball can be warmed up by being placed in hot water for five to 10 minutes.
Best Vibrating Massage Ball: TriggerPoint MB Vibe 3-Speed Vibrating Massage Ball
A vibrating massage ball may be more costly, but it will also better target hard to reach muscles and deep layers of tissue. This vibrating massage ball from TriggerPoint is cordless and can be adjusted to any of three vibration frequencies, which will allow you to tailor your massage depending on how much or little pain your able to withstand.
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