Lower Back: For Many People, Massage Balls Can Do It All!

  • Lower Back: For Many People, Massage Balls Can Do It All!
    4.2 Reviewer
    Potential Relief5
    Universality5
    Ease5
    Low cost4
    Low time investment3
    Comfort3
    Summary
    For some people with lower back stiffness and pain, enough direct pressure with a ball can relieve ALL symptoms! Most people will enjoy significant benefit. To use a ball in your lower back for the first time, stand against a wall with bent knees. Have some weight pressing into your back on the wall. Then, place one ball between you and the wall, on your lower back or hips. Apply 30+ seconds of pressure to a tender spot, and slowly move your body to roll the ball to another sore area. To increase the pressure, you can lie down on the ground with the ball underneath you. Ease into it, and make sure you can breathe and relax in to the pressure. If constant 30 second pressure is too much, you can also roll an inch or two back and forth over the spot, at least a dozen times.
    • Potential relief: 5 – Point pressure release can often eradicate lower back pain by itself! (The relief lasts longer if you also learn how to improve your posture.) Trigger points and other knots are not to be underestimated. For the greatest relief, also roll the sides of your hips and your glute (butt) muscles!
    • Universality: 5 – Almost everyone can benefit from point-pressure self-massage with various sizes!
    • Ease: 5 – It doesn't take too long to get the hang of placing the ball, rolling steadily on it, and pausing at an ideal pressure for you.
    • Low cost: 4 – Most balls will cost about $2 to $10 each to get started. I like having 2-3 different sizes and densities handy, depending how sensitive I’m feeling or what knots I want to get.
    • Low time investment: 3 – Usually relief begins within a minute or two on each side, but it takes a few minutes on each side to cover all the tight muscles.
    • Comfort: 3 – As with any direct pressure release of tight, painful tissues, it can be pretty sore! With a ball, especially a softer tennis ball, there's a lot of control to keep it tolerable. Apply a tenderness level that you can still relax into. For maximum relief, try applying pressure to a pain level of 5-8 out of 10, depending on your pain threshold and pain tolerance.

Detailed Background

Caution If you have medical conditions with your lower back, ask a spine specialist or experienced physician if direct therapeutic pressure on the side of your spine is okay.  Weakened or loose vertebrae joints, as with spondylolisthesis or spinal ligament damage, could be hurt by too strong of pressure.

Otherwise, there are a LOT of back muscles and tendons that could benefit from being massaged.  Something round and semi-hard like a tennis ball is the easiest way to do it, since it’s tricky to reach. Ball self-massage not for everyone – the harder balls can be pretty painful.  However, if it’s tolerable – you can breathe through it and relax into it.  It can be a tremendous relief to lower back pain caused by knots and tension.

Here is the clearest video I’ve found for ball rolling of the lower back (skip to 1:02 for wall instructions – demo at 2:17)

 

 

In addition to repetitive stress from posture, strains and sprains usually leave behind stuck and/or contracted areas of muscle.  The restrictions can help protect the area, but sometimes that protection comes at too high a cost.  Stiffness and chronic contraction makes an area often painful – as you notice!  While restriction stabilizes the area more strongly during normal activity, it also can make it more vulnerable to re-injury under extra stress, like lifting something heavy or trying to reach/bend further than usual.  Most people benefit from massaging out excessive tension.

Long, slow, vertical motions with the ball on the lower back may also help decompress the spine.  Tight muscles compact the vertebrae together, which seems to irritate facet joints or occasionally impinge nerves.  Most people over the years of my massage practice get the most relief when I incorporate spinal decompression in various ways.

I highly recommend using a ball for self-treatment if you have hurt your back, or suffer chronic aches and pains.  Order online or go to a sports store and try out different sizes, or order a therapy ball designed for this specific purpose.  Your gym might have lacrosse balls available to use for free!  Invest in your well-being, and contact me if you have any questions.

 

Massage Ball Options

The best medium-small ball tools for lower back point relief:

Smaller:

  • Small dog tennis balls (get at local pet store) – more conforming, great for getting into the deepest “laminar grooves” of the spine.  A detailed review of this is in progress.
  • Racquetball
  • 1 to 2 inch hard foam balls (I like the RAD brand set)

Larger:

  • 6lb medicine balls are helpful for the prominent lower back muscles (QL muscles) and hip attachments, but too large to relieve everything.

Not recommended:

  • I don’t recommend a spikey ball for the lower back – it’s going to irritate the skin more than penetrate the dense muscles.
  • Don’t use a golf ball on your lower back, either, because that’s just too hard and will hit bone.
  • Don’t use the “peanut” double massage ball under your lumbar spine, as you don’t want direct, forward pressure there.

 

Also Consider for Direct Pressure Relief of Lower Back

Review: Lower Back: Simple, Sideways Foam Roller Release

Knobbler – handheld, rounded wooden cone to simulate a therapist’s thumb

Back Buddy –  especially if shoulder restrictions stop you from reaching behind with the knobbler. (Back Buddy is a better design than the famous Theracane, and easier to hold.)

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