Self-myofascial release offers a great at-home option for increasing blood flow to and releasing tension from sore muscles. Although professional massages can be a welcome solution for tight muscles and amazing relaxation, it’s not always practical or budget-friendly to see a massage therapist regularly. That’s where myofascial release tools such as massage guns, or even a simple humble tennis ball can be a welcome and effective alternative. This post explores some of the best massage tool options on the market today.
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[See the latest prices for trigger point massagers on Amazon by clicking on the ads below].
- What are myofascial release tools used for?
- The best at-home tools for myofascial release therapy
- Other myofascial release tools
- The best myofascial release tools for 2022 | In conclusion
What are myofascial release tools used for?
A myofascial release tool is a specific instrument that is designed to loosen tight connective tissue (fascia) around the muscles. This can help increase blood circulation and relieve muscle pain. A systematic review on myofascial therapies found that myofascial release tools can be helpful for improving joint range of motion and muscle recovery without decreasing muscle performance.
Myofascial release tools are often used for workout preparation and to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness after and in between workouts. Loved by many physical therapists they can also be used for self-myofascial release at home.
Also called trigger point release tools, it could be argued that trigger point therapy (tp therapy) and myofascial release aren’t exactly the same thing. Myofascial massage usually focuses on a larger muscle area and a gentler approach to releasing soft tissues. Trigger point therapy involves the application of deep, direct pressure to specific trigger points (muscle knots).
However, trigger point massage tools can be used to cover both techniques. Sometimes you might move relatively lightly over a large area of painful muscle tissue. At other times you might work with your trigger point massager using a deep tissue massage technique to target a stubborn knot. (For example, massage balls are a great trigger point tool for working into muscle knots).
[Find out more about the benefits of massage in “7 Incredible Trigger Point Massage Benefits”].
The best at-home tools for myofascial release therapy
There are many great tools that can be used for fascia release at home. They all have their merits, and often, it’s going to be a matter of personal preference as to which tool(s) you adopt. Some tools are better for working into specific areas of the body. Others are especially lightweight and portable, In fact, all of them can be considered as small equipment. No matter which tool(s) you choose, they’re not going to take up a whole corner of your living room!
Myofascial release tools provide a solution for releasing muscle tension throughout your entire body. They’re a very worthwhile consideration for acute muscle soreness in active individuals and also for those who experience chronic pain.
As a highly experienced fitness professional, I’ve been using myofascial release tools for myofascial pain and to aid in recovery from workouts for many years. Here are some of my top recommendations so you can choose the best recovery tool for you.
1. Trigger point massage balls
A trigger point massage ball is one of the simplest physical therapy tools on the market, and also one of my all-time favorites. As a full-time traveler, this is one trigger point tool that has come everywhere with me. It’s a small and yet very mighty recovery tool!
Like most trigger point tools, a simple massage ball can be used on muscle groups all over the body. I find that it’s an effective massage tool for stubborn muscle knots because it’s easy (ok but not exactly painless) to apply high amounts of pressure using your own body weight.
When you want to use less pressure, there are different techniques you can use that don’t use your full bodyweight. For example, instead of lying on the floor, you can lean into the wall with the ball on the targeted muscle area. And if you’re releasing into your calf region, you’ve got the option to keep your buttocks on the floor so that you can easily control how much pressure you put on the muscle.
Balls with spikes or grooves can also be purchased. These supposedly produce a higher shear pressure. I find the smooth ball that I use to be perfectly effective. I’ve also had spiky massage balls in the past – either will work.
A lacrosse ball can be used as an alternative to a trigger point therapy ball.
Best used for
Because they’re so small, massage balls are perfect to travel with or throw into any backpack. They’re also a very cost effective option. You might already have something at home that could suffice! Massage balls are best for working on very targeted areas of the muscle – i.e. stubborn muscle knots. I love that you can use both rolling and holding techniques with this simple tool. I find they work particularly well on the calf muscles and glutes.
[Find out all about how to use massage balls in “How To Use a Trigger Point Ball Effectively”].
See the latest prices for massage balls via the Amazon ads below.
2. Percussion massage guns
A trigger point massage gun releases fascia and breaks up muscle knots in a gentler way than many other post exercise muscle recovery tools on the market. They shouldn’t feel painful, and yet they’re still a very effective solution.
Percussion massage guns use vibration therapy to release fascia and work into muscle knots to improve acute muscle soreness. A percussion massager is likely to have a few different massage heads and vibration settings so that you can adjust it to feel just right for whichever area you’re working on.
For example, the Exogun massager has four different massage heads and six different vibration settings. It’s also one of the more cost-effective options on the market at $169.
Best used for
Percussion massagers are great if you have a slightly higher budget, and if you want a solution that not only helps you feel great after your self-massage treatment, but during your treatment. The upper back is one area of the body that can be difficult to treat effectively on your own with a massage gun. Therefore, make sure you have a friend or family member who can help you with any hard-to-reach areas.
[Find out more about percussion massage in “Percussion In Massage With A Massage Gun | How Percussive Therapy Works”]
Get your Exogun percussion massager here. Enter the code EXOGUN-ELLY at checkout for 5% off your order.
3. Foam rollers
A basic foam roller is another excellent option for exercise preparation and for post exercise muscle recovery. The benefits of foam rolling are similar to those of other physical therapy tools. To gain the full effects of foam rolling you’ll need to use your body weight effectively to release the muscle tissue in major muscle groups of the body.
Short bouts of foam rolling (a couple of minutes at a time) can be very helpful for both workout preparation and for recovery in between workouts.
Best used for
Foam rollers are a simple and fantastic tool to use on larger muscle areas in the body. Roll up and down the length of your back, your quadriceps, IT band, or into the calf region. Foam rollers are best for releasing the fascia over large areas of your body. And you can’t beat the amazing chest opening stretch you get from lying on a foam roller with your spine down the length of it.
A huge selection of foam rollers
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to options for foam roller massage. You can choose from a full size massage roller (about 24-36 inches) or a half size (around 12-18 inches). It’s possible to do almost all the same techniques with a short foam roller that you can do with a large one. If you want to do something like a chest opener where you lie lengthways on the foam roller, then you’ll need to use a block or similar to support your head and neck if you select a small one. The price of foam rollers varies between manufacturers and you’ll pay more for the longer rollers.
Foam roller options include
- JFIT classic foam roller; 36 inches (large size) at around $29.99. (Check current prices).
- Another standard foam roller option is the LuxFit high density foam roller. It comes in four sizing options. The price ranges from $9.99 for a 12 inch roller up to $33.35 for the 36 inch roller. (Check current prices).
- Try a trigger point foam roller for a deep tissue massage tool with higher shear pressure. The Trigger Point grid roller is a step beyond a regular foam roller with it’s various raised shapes to help you work deeper into muscle knots. I can personally vouch for the quality of the Trigger Point Performance Brand, which I have used myself. Price range from about $34.95 for the 13 inch trigger point roller to $59.95 for the 26 inch. (Check current prices on the full length foam roller for trigger points).
Myofascial release kits, vibrating foam rollers, and more
- For all your trigger point foam rolling needs, myofascial release tool kits are a fantastic option. Again, I love the complete collection from Trigger Point Performance. It contains different trigger point rollers – one specifically for your calves, and another for your quads. As well, you’ll get a grid foam roller, block, and two trigger point balls. I love using the two trigger point balls together in their bag, and rolling them down either side of my spine. (Check the latest prices on the full Trigger Point Therapy Collection).
- Another modification on the basic foam roller is the Acumobility eclipse foam roller. Designed to wrap around the angles of the body, the Acumobility eclipse foam roller retails at around $49.95. (Check the latest prices on Amazon).
- Vibrating foam rollers take the experience of foam rolling to the next level, with added vibration. (Check the latest prices).
4. Massage sticks
A self massage stick is another manual alternative to using a trigger point ball or a foam roller. Like foam rollers, massage sticks are good for working into major muscle groups and over large areas of muscle, especially in the legs. Instead of using your body weight like you do with a ball or foam roller, you hold one end of the stick with each hand and work up and down the muscle. It’s easy to use different amounts of pressure with massage sticks by simply varying the degree of force you apply from your upper body. Massage sticks also come in vibrating models.
Best used for
Retailing at less than $10, massage sticks are a super cheap and lightweight option for myofascial release. They’re great for self myofascial release on the legs. You can also use them very effectively on other areas of the body such as the back, shoulders, biceps, triceps and hamstrings with a partner to help you.
[See the latest prices for massage sticks via the ad below].
5. Trigger point wands
Trigger point wands have been designed specifically to address tension and pain in the pelvic floor region. Used correctly and regularly, they can be considered a safe and effective option to help relieve pelvic pain.
Make sure you see a pelvic floor specialist or women’s health physiotherapist for a pelvic floor assessment and professional advice. They will also be able to show you how to use your trigger point wand safely and effectively. Interestingly, pelvic pain may be more about the brain-body connection than about tight muscles or trigger points themselves.
Best used for
Trigger point wands are used to relieve pelvic pain, so they’re a very specific type of tool.
[See the current prices for trigger point wands via the Amazon ads below].
6. Back-specific myofascial release tools
Massage canes are designed to target harder-to-reach areas of your body, especially on your back. They come in slightly different shapes. Some look similar to a cane; others have a more s-shape curve. A massage cane breaks up muscle knots via the various knobs protruding from the cane. The shape of a massage can allows you to have a good level of control when working into stubborn muscle knots.
Some of the most popular tools in this category include the Body Back Buddy, Backjoy Trigger Point Massager, and the Thera Cane Massager. The Thera Cane Massager is shaped like a cane, whereas the Body Back Buddy and Backjoy Massagers have more of an S-shape. The Thera Cane massager and Body Back Buddy retail at around $30, with the Backjoy massager being a slightly cheaper option at around $20.
Best used for
These types of myofascial release tools can be used all over the body, including the back, shoulders, neck, feet, and legs. Their real value comes in the ease of control you get when you want to work into hard-to-reach muscle knots in your back and shoulders.
[Check out the latest prices on massage canes below].
7. Myofascial scraping tools
Myofascial scraping is a technique that uses a small, handheld instrument to scrape over the skin and soft tissues. It might sound painful, but, done correctly, it should not cause pain. You can easily control how much pressure you apply through your hands. Sometimes, physical therapists may apply a deeper pressure to break up adhesions in the muscles.
Also known as “Gua Sha”, myofascial scraping is an East Asian healing technique that has traditionally been used to help clear bad chi (energy) from the skin. Stimulation from the scraping action promotes better circulation and blood flow, reduces inflammation, and can assist injured tissues with the healing process.
This traditional technique is now being used to address musculoskeletal pain, and has been readily adopted by many physical therapists due to its effectiveness in breaking down muscle adhesions. A small study found that Gua Sha improved microcirculation in the area of treatment, and produced associated decreases in muscle pain. Overall, more studies are needed, and it is advised to consult with a qualified practitioner who is familiar with Gua Sha if you are unsure how to use the instrument correctly.
Best used for
In a musculoskeletal context, Gua Sha is best used for breaking down adhesions such as scar tissue.
[See below for the latest prices on Gua Sha tools].
8. Cold massage rollers
Cold massage rollers like the Fitness cryosphere cold massage roller combine myofascial therapies and cold temperatures to take your massage rolling experience up a notch. Cryotherapy (Cold therapy) can come in several forms, from cold showers to ice baths, to the application of cool packs. Both heat therapy and cold therapy have been shown to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by reducing muscle damage and pain.
A cryotherapy tool like the fitness cryosphere cold massage roller combines the mechanisms of cryotherapy and myofascial release to help reduce inflammation and improve post workout recovery. The middle part gets removed and cooled in the freezer, and the ball can also be used on it’s own if desired.
Best used for
If you enjoy the benefits of using myofascial release tools and also experience relief from using cold therapy, a cryotherapy tool that combines the two modalities may be worth a try.
[Check the latest prices on cryotherapy tools like the Fitness cryosphere cold massage roller below].
9. Compression boots
Compression boots are another type of recovery tool that are designed to increase blood flow and clear muscle cell metabolites to reduce DOMS and assist in the exercise recovery process. Some studies suggest that compression boots offer promise as a valid recovery tool option. They can also be considered for general relaxation and rejuvenation at the end of a long day on your feet.
Best used for
If you’re looking for a workout recovery option where you can put your feet up and not have to go through the discomfort of traditional myofascial release or trigger point therapy, these might be worth a try for you. They are also worth considering if you want some relaxation and rejuvenation at the end of a long day on your feet.
As well as massage guns, Exogun also offers their own version of compression boots – the Exogun wrap.
[Click here to visit the website and enter the code EXOGUN-ELLY for 5% off your order].
Other myofascial release tools
As you’ll be aware now, there are plenty of tools on offer to help you tackle acute muscle soreness and improve your post exercise muscle recovery. Here are a couple more that you might want to consider.
The CranioCradle home therapy system can be placed in various positions on the body. By cradling the head and neck it can help release trigger points and provide relief for symptoms related to the head and neck such as headaches and neck pain. It can also be wedged behind the upper back and a chair, or placed under the lower back for back pain relief.
The PSO-Mini muscle release tool is a small deep tissue massage tool that can be used to target trigger points in many areas of the body including the legs, glutes, shoulders, chest, and neck.
The best myofascial release tools for 2022 | In conclusion
Adding one or more myofascial tools to your personal kit (and using them regularly!) can offer an effective approach for reducing muscle pain throughout the entire body. Myofascial release therapy can help active individuals prepare for physical activity sessions, and aid in the recovery process.
Some myofascial massage tools are best used on specific areas of the body, and others may require a partner to assist with hard-to-reach areas. Others can be used easily for self massage over the entire body, or, most importantly, wherever your personal problem areas are.
There are several types of myofascial-specific physical therapy tools to choose from that can fit all budgets. Myofascial release tool kits can be a useful option to cover all your bases. Personally, I have tried most of these tools at least once. I used to use foam rollers regularly when I was working in gyms. They were my first introduction to self-massage tools.
At home in New Zealand I have the Trigger Point Performance kit, which I highly recommend. Over the past five years of travel, my trigger point ball from that kit has gone everywhere with me. I’m also currently enjoying using the Exogun massager on a regular basis.
I hope this article has provided some useful insights about the different options you have for self myofascial release. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments at the bottom of the post. I’d love to hear from you.
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