How to relieve muscle knots with your lacrosse ball

Has one of your muscles gone and tied itself up into a not-so-delightful little knot? Are you looking for some relief but finding that no amount of foam rolling or lying on a lacrosse ball will help? Well maybe it’s time for a slightly different approach. Maybe it’s time to get more out of your lacrosse ball. 

Before we get started, I’d like to acknowledge two things:

One is that sometimes (often times?), ‘knots’ or balls of tension or tightness happens for a reason. More specifically, we should note that they are not something that happens ‘to’ you, rather, they are something your body does…and your body has its reasons.

Two, you know how sometimes (practically all the time!), when you go to a cooking or baking blog for a recipe, the blogger tells you this long story about how they learned the recipe from their great-grandmother who was also a wizard (and, by the way, if your great-grandmother was a wizard, that’s super cool!) or how they spent hours upon hours experimenting with different seasoning combinations—and they tell you funny stories about each of those experiments—and then finally, somewhere close to the bottom of the page, there’s the recipe? Well, I might be doing a bit of that. (Sorry, Laura).

Yes: muscle knots and tightness happen for a reason.

Usually, they happen because a muscle is overworking or because your nervous system is doing it as part of an effort to create some stability.

Perhaps, it would be worthwhile writing that out again, but with some explanatory additions:

Muscle knots and tightness happen for a reason. 

Usually, they happen because a muscle is overworking (because another muscle isn’t working hard enough) or because your nervous system is doing it as part of an effort to create some stability (because there is too much mobility there and/or other muscles are not creating the stability that should be there)

[Actually, it’s probably a bit more complicated than that. Sometimes muscles feel tight because they’re overstretched. Sometimes it’s because of an alignment issue. And sometimes (or maybe even always) it’s not something we can really say is just about a muscle—there’s fascia to consider, and your nervous system—so for the rest of this post, please note that “muscle” really is just shorthand for all of the “stuff” that contributes to that knot being there.]

Now then, let’s get down to it: 

All of this preamble is here to say that while there is definitely value in using your lacrosse ball to address some of those knots, there is likely more to the picture. Ideally what would happen is the lacrosse ball becomes a tool along the path to resolution of a troublesome knot: lacrosse ball work followed by movement/exercise that encourages all the right muscles to work while all the over-achiever muscles learn to remain calm.

The following technique combines deliberate use of your breath and the mind-muscle connection in order to exert some conscious control over the state of your muscles (and other ‘stuff’). Credit goes to Dr. Andreo Spina, founder of the Functional Range Systems, for teaching it to us.

Part One: Pressure.

It wasn’t all that long ago that using a lacrosse ball for self-massage (or self-myofascial work) became popular. Its popularity seemed to come with a bit of a masochistic bent. Sure, foam rolling can have a ‘hurts so good’ element to it, but you can really get some good results with a lacrosse ball by starting with gentle pressure. Sometimes, a little really can go a long way.

Find the spot you’re going to be lacrosse-ball-ing and position yourself in such a way that makes it easy for you to control the pressure. My suggestion is to start soft and build from there.

Part Two: Breathe.

The aim here is to convince a jacked-up muscle (and the nervous system that drives it) that it’s ok to relax. This is where deliberately making your exhalations (your out breath) longer and fuller comes into play.

Start by holding your position—ball pressing into the spot—and slowing down your breathing, with an emphasis on your exhalation. Make the out breath longer than the in breath.

Do 5-10 full breaths.

Part Three: Let The Ball Sink In. 

Combine this with the breathing and the relaxing. Deliberately try to let the lacrosse ball sink into the muscle.

Do this for a further 5-10 breaths.

Part Four: Squeeze The Ball Out.

First, a bit of an explainer. 

The issue that we’re dealing with here is a muscle that has begun contracting—spasming, if you will—outside of your conscious control. For the most part, we can boil this down to it being an unconscious reaction of your nervous system to something (see above).

This is the part of the adventure where you get to reassert conscious control of the muscle by actively trying to squeeze the lacrosse ball out of the muscle after having let it sink in. This part can require a bit of practice as you dial-in the mind-muscle connection here because sometimes deliberately engaging the muscle in question isn’t all that easy at first.

The sequence goes like this:

  • Inhale, sink the ball into the muscle by relaxing the muscle.
  • Exhale, squeeze the ball out of the muscle by contracting the muscle.

Do this for a further 5-10 breaths.

Repeat 1-2 times.

After 1-2 rounds of this, it might be a good idea to move on to a different spot so that your system has an opportunity to process all of the sensory information you just gave it.

And that, in a nutshell, is one way to get more out of your self-massage work with your lacrosse ball. I hope that it gives you some relief!

Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

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