I’m all for simplicity, but sometimes, the simple tool you find around the house is not the best tool for self-massage.
And while it seems like there’s a new fancy (and more expensive!) massage tool unveiled every day, more $$ ≠ better.
It comes down to purpose – what are you actually trying to achieve with your self-massage? If your goal is to increase tissue hydration, muscle relaxation, and improve movement, a harder tool might not be your best option.
Yes, there are times when a harder tool in the hands of a skilled professional can be quite useful for massage. I too have had guasha from my acupuncturist and Rockblades from my PT, both of which are fascial scraping with a hard tool.
Would I do this on my own at home without any training? Even if I didn’t bruise like a peach, probably not.
For your home program where you might get distracted during an episode of Silicon Valley and rub or roll or knead too long, the hard tool will most likely leave you with more trouble than you started with.
Do we feel harder tools more? Yes, it may feel more intense. But a lot of that is because your nervous system is telling your body to tighten up to avoid injury.
All throughout your myofascia (muscles + their corresponding fascia) are specialized nerve endings that provide constant messaging to your brain about the amount of stretch, the rate of stretch and overall tension in your tissues. If you increase any of those measurements too quickly or with too much force, the brain will tense up your myofascias to avoid injury.
Which is pretty much the exact opposite of what we were trying to achieve in the first place. So while it may feel great to grind against that knobby foam roller, you may actually be creating the tension you were hoping to resolve.
Even if things feel great during – it is still possible to overdo it. And how do you know? If you discover bruising, swelling, or tenderness where you rolled – you probably did it too hard!
The body doesn’t need to work harder (and this goes for workouts too!). We should aim to work smarter.
And sometimes, smaller doses with a more nuanced tool will give you longer lasting change than smashing everything to high heaven for 90 seconds.
I’m not telling you this just to rant – but from my own experiences where I went too hard with my massage tools and lived with the bruises and swelling for days after. And with the influx of tools on the market promising XYZ, I want to be sure that you understand that harder/faster/louder etc are not synonymous with better.
So the next time a new fancy and shiny tool scrolls into your feed, remember that harder is not better. Faster is not better. Better is better.