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A foam roller mimicks long, broad massage strokes.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Even if you can afford to see a massage therapist on a regular basis, what most of us need is daily self-care when it comes to dealing with aches and pains. You didn't become chronically stiff and uncomfortable overnight.

Two simple tools – a foam roller and a ball – can be an inexpensive way to get the daily massage your body craves. Like drops in a bucket, small amounts of self-care add up.

You have probably seen a foam roller – a long, cylindrical foam tube. They have been around for years. There are many iterations on the market, including my favourite: a vibrating roll called the VYPER. Think of the roller as mimicking long, broad massage strokes. Use it to warm up your tissues and find trigger points. Balls are more precise: Use them to treat specific trigger points, similar to how a therapist uses his or her thumb or elbow.

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During your self-massage, keep these three tips in mind:

  • I use a lacrosse ball, but many people find them too hard. If so, try a tennis ball or invest in a “yoga tune up ball” since they are made specifically for self-massage.
  • Expect to feel sensations as the roller or ball uncovers adhesions and possibly scar tissue. I call this “positive pain.” Never roll though “negative pain.” Your body shouldn’t hurt more after you roll; the pain should never take your breath away or feel like electricity or numbness.
  • Don’t be too aggressive. I always tell my clients to “romance” versus “attack” their tissues.

Here are my favourite three combinations to roll your pain away. For all exercises, when you find a trigger point, stop and put gentle pressure down into the tissue. Repeat all motions five times.

Treat your feet

A) Place a ball under the ball of the little toe. Roll it lengthwise up and down the outside of your foot between the little toe and the heel.

B) Move it under the ball of the big toe. Roll it lengthwise up and down the inside of your foot between the big toe and the heel.

C) Finally, curl all your toes around the ball. Release and spread your toes.

Melt away calf tightness

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A) Sit on the floor with the roller under the calves, perpendicular to your body. Lift your bum slightly off the ground. Roll yourself forward and backward so the roller moves up and down your lower legs.

B) Experiment. Rotate your legs side to side slightly as you move. This is called cross-fibring. Pinpoint a few trigger points.

C) Place a small ball on a book or yoga block. Place the trigger point on top of the ball. Put pressure into the ball. Massage out the spot by moving your leg up and down and side to side.

Upper-back relief

A) Start on the floor with your bum on the ground and the roller under your upper back, perpendicular to your body, head resting in your hands. Lift your hips up. Roll your body forward and backward so the roller moves up and down your back. Keep your core engaged.

B) Place the ball under the inside of the bottom tip of your shoulder blade – between your back and the floor. Relax over the ball. Breathe. Slowly move your body forward so the ball moves up along the inside of your shoulder blade. Pause on trigger points.

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C) If being on the floor is too painful, or if you want to do self-massage when you are at work, do the exercise standing. Place a ball between your body and a wall. Move up and down.

One final thought: Being in pain is mentally and physically exhausting. Too often it feeds into a vicious cycle; you don't move because you are uncomfortable and stiff, but being sedentary decreases your strength and lowers your mood, which in turn makes it even harder to be active. Take control, massage out your body daily, but also break the cycle by analyzing why you are chronically stiff.

Kathleen Trotter has been a fitness writer, personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for more than 12 years. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @KTrotterFitness.

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