Exercising regularly, stretching properly and taking long soaks in the tub might solve the problem of muscle ache for some people, but others need a little more help in the sore back department. This is where self-massage tools come in, but with such a range to choose from, it can be tricky to know what to try.
Qualified physiotherapist and osteopath Tim Allardyce, of Surrey Physio, has more than ten years experience detecting, treating and preventing health problems through massage. We asked him for his top tips on the type of products he recommends and set about testing everything from foam rollers and backnodgers to electronic massage belts and spiky balls.
Tim’s top tips for self-massage
- Use a foam roller to massage your legs. Rolling over the foam roller will allow you exert more pressure, and it's much less hard on your hands and thumbs.
- Stretches are just as good as massage for lengthening muscles. Hold static stretches for 30 seconds to lengthen each muscle group.
- Relax – if you are tense while you massage yourself, there will be no benefit. Get yourself into a comfortable position.
- Use massage balm or massage lotion rather than oil. Oil tends to just leave a mess and it's difficult to wipe off when you have finished.
- Concentrate on trigger points – these are the “knots” in the muscle tissue, and they feel harder than normal muscles and are tender to touch. Massaging these areas can help reduce pain.
- Warm the muscles, perhaps by massaging in the bath. Warm muscles tend to loosen up better than cold muscles, so massaging in a warm environment such as a bath can help.
And now for the tools themselves...
1. Beurer MG148 Shiatsu Massage Belt: £59.99, Argos
Sufferers of neck, back or shoulder pain will find a new best friend in this electronic massager, which comes with an infrared heat function to warm up tense muscles and help you deeply relax. Easy to use controls allow for clockwise and anticlockwise massaging, while a belt extension ensures it fits all sizes. Best of all, it’s hands-free, meaning no effort on your part and if you end up falling asleep, it automatically switches off.
2. GRID STK: £34.99, Physical Company
This portable, hand-held foam roller should become a gym bag staple for runners who complain of tension in weary legs. Water-resistant for use in a warm bath and available in two densities depending on your desired massage power. Tim suggests rolling the GRID STK along the outside of your thigh before and after exercise to stretch your iliotibial band and help limit injuries.
3. Oils of Life Twin-Ball Facial Massager: £16, The Body Shop
Keen to reduce puffiness around tired eyes? Try a twin-ball massager. This affordable option stimulates circulation to help increase skin elasticity and prevent wrinkles. Gently pull the cooling metal rollers across your face for instant revitalisation. Small enough to pop into your handbag for a facial on the go.
4. Fushi Wellbeing Stress Spot Body Massager: £4.50, Fushi
The most travel-friendly massager on our list offers great wellbeing benefits at a bargain price. Giving your body and mind some TLC need not dent your bank account: this hand-held wooden tool has an easy-to-grip handle and comes with two rubbery rollers that release tension with every rotation, even if you are stuck at your desk. Best used on thighs and upper arms to feel the maximum massage effects.
5. Fitness Mad Spikey Massage Ball: from £2.75, Discount Supplements
These massage balls might look scary but the quick-fix solution they offer for that post-gym ache is tough to beat. The rubbery spikes apply pressure to trigger points and battle to release tight spots. Tim recommends these for people who need to target multiple muscle groups. Try them yourself both lying on the floor or sitting in a chair. Both small (7cm) and large (9cm) sizes available.
6. Homedics Percussion Massager with Heat: £34.99, Amazon
Shake things up and try a deep tissue massage with this compact electric percussion massager. Two speed settings, four interchangeable attachments of variable intensities and a soothing heated option make for the ultimate spa experience. Easy to hold for use on your own back if you can’t persuade a friend.
7. GoFit Extreme Pro: £37.06, Bodybuilding
The egg crate design of this hardcore foam roller offers the ideal substitute for a masseuse. The tough bumps do battle with trigger points to knead any tension out, while the hollow core enables easy grip for use in core-strengthening exercises. Tim recommends using a roller for improving posture: lie flat with it positioned along your spine and hold for two minutes. Try it on the calf, quadricep and hamstrings for improved flexibility.
8. Back Nodger: £29.99, Boots
This cleverly hooked tool was created by Asher Nathan after years suffering debilitating back problems. Inspired by elders who use their walking sticks to self-massage, the steel-handled Backnodger is durable enough to withstand intense pressure and allows for effective control thanks to an ergonomic non-slip foam handle. Just press the head into knots and release for pinpointed instant relief.
It’s hard to beat the Beurer massage belt for luxury factor; we struggled to leave the sofa after trying it for the first time, it was so relaxing. Sportier self-masseuses will likely favour the GoFit Extreme Pro’s durability and deep tissue reach but for a budget option, look no further than the Fitness Mad massage balls. At under a fiver, these will do the business without breaking the bank.
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