I recently discovered the acu-ball, a small, heatable plastic ball that is excellent for the relief and prevention of trigger point and other myofascial pains such as plantar fasciitis and rotator cuff trigger point pain.. I personally love using it on my rotator cuff and on the sole of my foot where I have mild plantar fascitis. What you do in the case of the foot is stand on the small acuball (there are two sizes) and, while balancing yourself with one hand on a wall, let the weight of your body sink into the ball while breathing well and relaxing. As the fascia in your foot melts, very slowly move your foot forward or backward to find another area of tenderness, and sink in again. Think sink! No pushing, just allow the body to sink in like a dead weight.
In the case of rotator cuff or shoulder pain, what you do is place the ball in the middle of the shoulder blade, between you and a wall and again breathe and sink into the ball. Try bringing your arm slowly around to the front of your body across your chest as if trying to touch your opposite upper arm. This will lengthen the muscle and change the relationship between your inflamed painful points and the ball. Again, each time you make a change, sink in. Slowly move your body so the ball moves medially (towards the spine) into the rhomboid muscles, and laterally (away from the spine) into the belly of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres major and minor, and lateral deltoid muscles.
Key point. Once you find a tender spot, breathe and sink into it to the point where its not too painful to stay there for 10-60 seconds. As it eases up, breathe again, and sink in some more. Slowly slowly wins the race. Breathe, sink, wait 10 seconds, repeat 3x. This is like Shiatsu, or what Western Medicine calls Ischemic Compression. Breathing helps you relax, just as pregnant women learn to do to ease labor. As you relax, the pressure of the ball compresses the muscles and fascia and restricts the flow of blood temporarily. Then when you ease up, new blood rushes in and flushes out the toxins like lactic acid that have built up in the tissues. This is a kind of Deep Tissue Melting.
Its a great idea to look these muscles up on line and see their anatomical location so you have a better sense of your own body. You could also look up the location of the trigger points in those muscles here or here. This is an Animated anatomy tutorial on You Tube showing the rotator cuff muscles along with the underlying bone. I think understanding the anatomy of your painful tissues helps take the mystery out. Knowledge is power.
What is great about the Acuball is that because of its composition, unlike a golf ball, hardball, or softball, it gives a little; and unlike a tennis or lacrosse ball, it does not give too much. Also it has little projectile nubbie things that have a greater sensory stimulating effecting than a smooth ball. And finally, it is heatable, which relaxes the fascia and muscles at the same time as the ball stretches them; a sort of “melting” effect which then allows the tight fascia and muscle to expand. Cold contracts, heat expands. Applying passive weight with a warmed Acuball, e.g. like letting your rotator cuff press against it against a wall, and then very very slowly shifting the focal point of the weight, can really help melt and loosen tight fascia and muscle.
Two key points about any kind of therapeutic exercise for repair of tight, shortened, contacted tendons, ligaments, muscles, and fascia is that
a) you need to be warmed up first
b) you need to relax while doing your exercises
The fact is that if you do not relax while stretching the tissues will resist, not only don’t you get the benefit of a good stretch, but you can also injure yourself and get micro tears or rebound tightening or aggravate a trigger point. This is what happens if you have ever stretched you neck and then had it go stiff on you.
How to Relax While Stretching–Stay Focused on One Thing, Breathe, Don’t Overdo.
Before you begin to stretch, make sure you are warmed up. This is especially true if you have just got out of bed in the a.m. All you have to do is go for a ten minute walk. In the after noon, if you have been out and about you are warmed up, but if you have been at a desk working, again, go for a 10 minute walk. After exercise, obviously, you are very warmed up and in fact this is the absolutely best time to stretch.
Next, the key point for relaxing while stretching is to breathe well and pay attention to the feedback your body gives. Stretching, even when it hurts, should be really pleasurable. So take a moment to check in and ground yourself, noticing how your body feels. Settle down. Stop thinking. And you CANNOT DO THIS WHILE MULTITASKING. If you are watching t.v. you are not paying attention to your body. Don’t even listen to music.
Now do your stretching, and while you stretch adopt a mentality of relaxation. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. When you get into the end point of your stretch, hold it for up to 10 seconds and breathe deeply. DO NOT OVERSTRETCH.
If you overstretch there can be a rebound effect and your muscles tighten back. How may I know if I am overstretching? Its subtle, and is a function of two things. One is time. In general I don’t recommend holding a stretch for more than 10 seconds. I learned this from Dr. Hubbard, a neurologist at Sharp who specialized in trigger points, back in 1991. The other thing is force. Stretch gently. I mean you can definitely push it, but push a stretch almost like falling into water; fall into it rather than punch it.
The stretching you will do with the Acu-ball is passive. Similar to the Styrofoam tubes that people also use which are great. There are two sizes of Acu-ball, the larger one is great for the spine and larger muscle groups, and the smaller one for smaller groups. I especially like the small Acu-ball for plantar fascitis along with appropriate stretching that i teach at my clinic.
Here is the Link to Acuball site
copyright eyton j. shalom, l.ac. san diego ca, april 2013, all rights reserved, use with permission