Guide to Self-Massage Tools

The efficacy of self-massage tools is often a debated topic. There are studies that determine that self-massage alone does nothing to increase range of motion or athletic performance [5].  However, there are also contradictory studies, stating that self-massage has profound benefits for range of motion and athletic performance [3]. While more research may still be needed, it is usually recommended to self-massage in between massage sessions. If nothing else, this gives the athlete heightened awareness of muscle tightness and mobility restrictions.

Below is a list of common massage tools and their indications.


Foam Rollers



 Foam rollers are made of different materials with varying density and diameter. Foam rollers as we know them were invented in 1987 by Sean Gallagher, a physical therapist.  For all intents and purposes, the roller itself is basically anything that is broad, somewhat rigid, and cylindrical.  The shape is perfect for getting to larger areas of the body, such as the upper back and legs.



Soft foam rollers, which are actually made of foam, are perfect for beginners. The lower density serves as a much less rigid surface with which to work. This makes the self-massage much less painful and will encourage you to practice your self-massage protocol more frequently. 

For more pressure, a more rigid roller, such as a PVC roller, or a studded roller with dense foam, can be used.

Tips: Self-massage can be a bit uncomfortable, but should never be painful. Limit sessions to no more than a couple of minutes per area to avoid injuring muscles. It is strictly contra-indicated to roll on bones and joint capsules.

Rollers are great for a broad surface area; for smaller surfaces, or to reach even deeper muscles, use balls.  





Balls are also made from varying materials and diameters.  The best part is that they can easily be found anywhere.  Balls are best used for smaller, more precise areas of the body, such as the arms and lower legs.  When using balls for self-massage, it is best to start with larger ones and gradually try smaller diameters as needed.  Medicine balls work as a good starting point, as they are readily available in most gyms and have a large diameter with low density.

A lacrosse ball is usually a great size/density; tennis balls are also great for most smaller areas of the body. As with foam rollers, there are purpose built balls with studs that can be very effective too.


Handheld Tools

Handheld self-massage tools are varied and readily available. A couple of them are reviewed below.



Massage canes generally have some sort of handle or grip, and a knob-like projection that can be used to apply sustained pressure to the upper back.



Massage sticks are usually best for large muscle groups in the legs, such as the Quadriceps or the calves.



Percussion Devices



Percussion devices have been around for a long while however cheaper manufacturing and better technology have made them more affordable recently. Aside from the expected benefits of massage, some studies have shown that the vibration from those tools can be effective in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness [5]. These percussion massagers can be used for larger and smaller areas as different end pieces can be used to adapt to the area worked.


As always, please check with your physician if you are injured before trying self-massage. And reach out to your sports massage therapist for more advice on self-massage tools and techniques.         


References (retrieved 7/8/19):

  1. Grabow, L. (2018). Higher Quadriceps Roller Massage Forces Do Not Amplify Range-of-Motion Increases nor Impair Strength and Jump Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 10.

  2. Lori Duncan DPT, M. C. (2016, 10 25). Foam Rolling: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Retrieved from Duncan Sports Therapy and Wellness:

  3. Madoni, S. N. (2018). Effects of Foam Rolling on Range of Motion, Peak Torque, Muscle Activation, and the Hamstrings-to-Quadriceps Strength Ratios. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 9.

  4. Manal Zein-Hammoud, P. (2015). Modeled Osteopathic Manipulative Treatments: A Review of Their in Vitro Effects on Fibroblast Tissue Preparations. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 12.

  5. Shagufta Imtiyaz, Z. V. (2014, 01 12). To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Retrieved from National Center for Biotechnology Information:

  6. Smith, J. C. (2018). Acute Effect of Foam Rolling and Dynamic Stretching on Flexibility and Jump Height. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 6.

Image references (retrieved 7/8/19):







This article/video is for educational purposes only; do not attempt without your physician’s clearance. If you are in pain or injured, see your physician.

Copyright © Vidal Sports LLC 2019

The Lower Anterior Leg: 3 Stretches and 3 Self-Massage Techniques

The lower anterior leg (the shin) contains a group of long, tendinous muscles that are responsible for dorsiflexion and eversion of the foot, extension of the toes, and assist with ankle stabilization. Specifically, the Tibialis Anterior is the largest and most superficial of the shin muscles, and runs down the length of the shin in front of the tibia bone. Overuse, over extension and improper conditioning entering endurance activities such as downhill running or running on uneven surfaces can overload in the Tibialis Anterior, and thus the muscle is often associated with running pain.

Here are a few examples of stretches and self-massage techniques if your muscles feel sore and tight after activity.

Three Stretches:

Standing stretch

Supporting yourself with your left hand, step into a forward lunge with your right leg. Gently gently flip your left foot into plantar flexion.  Lower into a deeper lunge to increase the stretch.


Seated stretch

Sit in a chair with your right foot firmly planted on the ground. Carefully slide your left foot backwards unto plantar flexion underneath the chair.


Side-lying stretch

Supporting yourself with your left forearm, lay on your left side on a yoga mat. Keeping your right leg straight and planted on the floor for support, flex your left knee and catch your ankle with your right hand. Pull your knee into a deeper flex to increase the stretch. 


Three Self-Massage Techniques:

Longitudinal Roll

Place the foam roller on the floor. Carefully place your lower leg on the roller. Internally rotate the leg to avoid rolling directly on the tibia bone. With your other leg on by your side for support, gently roll up and down to massage the muscles lengthwise. This can also be done using a roller stick or a tennis ball.


Cross Fiber Roll

Sit on the floor with you leg extended. Using a roller massage stick, start at the ridge of the tibia and work laterally towards the floor, being careful not to roll over the bone. This can also be done using a tennis ball.


Pin and Stretch

Sit on the floor with your leg extended. Place your roller stick on a trigger point. Hold firmly, and gently dorsiflex and plantar flex your foot. This can also be done using a tennis ball.


These techniques, along with regular sports massage sessions, can be used as preventative care against shin pain as you amp up your spring training!

This article/video is for educational purposes only; do not attempt without your physician’s clearance. If you are in pain or injured, see your physician.

Copyright © Vidal Sports LLC 2019