SELF-MASSAGE BARS & ROLLERS BACKGROUND
My daughter is attending our local State University finishing up her degree in Kinesiology and
applying for graduate school to earn her Doctorate in Physical Therapy.
She is also a hard-core athlete. She does cross country, triathlons, criterium & road racing, time trials, and, like the rest of us, she definitely gets sore muscles and overuse injuries. Even though she stretches multiple times a day, she can’t always get rid of all of her trigger points (knots in muscles). One problem area for her is having tight IT bands.
For her last birthday, I bought her ‘The Stick’ muscle therapy bar. She uses this religiously and recently let me borrow it when my calves were tight and sore. She showed me some stretches to do as well. This has really helped… until she asked for her ‘Stick’ back! Thinking that this might be something good to test, I started searching
the Internet for muscle therapy solutions. What I found out is that there are actually two solutions that work hand-in-hand. These products are
- muscle therapy bars, and
- foam rollers.
The basic idea of these recovery aids is to provide deep tissue self-massage before and after exercising. Athletes will be better able to utilize these bars and rollers since most athletes have gone through some sort of a physical therapy session where the physical therapist applies a lot of pressure that downright hurts.
Used correctly, these all work the same way…you need to apply enough pressure so that it hurts. This will massage the deep tissue which will allow you to recovery more quickly, as well as minimizing injuries. Other benefits include decreased muscle tension and pain, stimulation of circulation and elimination of trigger points (knots) in muscles. The other important point is to continue stretching.
While on a recent vacation, I had no access to a bicycle (my main sport) so I decided to cross-train instead. I started by jogging 5 miles a day. Normally, after 2-3 days of cross-training off the bike, I would be so sore that I can barely move my legs. Therefore, this would be the perfect scenario to test out these muscle massage bars and foam rolls.
During my light warm-up stretch, I would use one of the massage bars for 60 seconds on my calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. After each jog, I would stretch these muscle groups again, followed by 60 seconds of deep tissue massage, pressing firmly until it hurt. The results were amazing! I was never sore! These things really work!
SO, HOW DO THEY WORK?
Just under the skin, there is soft connective tissue called fascia. This fascia wraps around muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels. When muscles are not used much, the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue can adhere to each other, restrict muscle movement and cause pain. When muscles are (over) used, trigger points/knots and scar tissue can occur.
Massage bars and rollers stretch muscles and tendons and break down soft tissue adhesion and scar tissue. By using these self-massage aids, you can target and break up these trigger points, and, at the same time increasing blood flow and circulation to soft tissue. This improves the body’s flexibility and the range of motion of muscles.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MUSCLE MASSAGE BARS/STICKS AND FOAM ROLLERS?
|-Uses hands and arm strength
to push bar into muscle.
|-Uses body weight for pressure.|
|-The superior muscle tissue is mainly affected, some deep tissue as well.||-Superior and deep muscle tissue affected due to body-weight moving roller instead of only arm strength|
|-Different lengths and flexing resistances available.||-Different lengths as well as different firmness available.|
|-Small enough to take with you while traveling.||-Due to larger size, more for home-based usage.|
WHAT ARE THEIR ADVANTAGES & DISADVANTAGES?
Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but, regardless of which you choose, to use them correctly, you need to press down hard enough so you just about cry. Just rolling back and forth lightly will do nothing.
|Massage Bars||Foam Rollers|
|-Easy to use
-For muscle groups with easier access
|-Not as effective for hard to get to areas such as IT Bands, Deep Calf (Soleus), Adductors, Deep Glute muscles (i.e., Piriformis), Lower back.||-Very effective for areas that are harder to reach or need more pressure applied such as IT Bands, Deep Calf (Soleus), Adductors, Deep Glute muscles, Lower back.||-Harder to use.
-Most usage requires you to hold yourself up by your arms pushing your body back and forth against the roller
Each Bar Works a Little Different, Here is a Summary
Harder or softer plastics have a different degree of flexibility and equate to different models. This ‘Sprinters Stick’ model is the firmest of their shorter sticks but had the most flex of the three muscle massage bars tested. The handles are in a fixed position and unable to rotate.The Stick was the least effective for me.
GoFit Massage Bar
Uses ergonomic handles attached to a steel rod all rotating on ball bearings. Handles move independently of each other as well as independent of the roller segment. This massage bar utilizes a single section of small bumps that massage the deep tissue.
When pressing hard, this bar tended to flatten out the muscle and trigger points more than pulsating the muscle and trigger points like the Rejuvenation bar.This bar worked very well for me.
Rejuvenation Muscle Therapy Bar
This is a large bar comprised of handles that are in a fixed position and do not rotate. There are 8 firm ribs that go end to end. The ribs are more rubbery than hard plastic and are about 3/16” deep. Just like the GoFit bar, this bar has very little flex. But, unlike the GoFit bar which spins easily on ball bearings, this bar’s roller section is fairly resistant to turning. I thought this was odd so I called the company to find out if I received a defective bar. They told me that these bars have a teflon washer between the roller and the handles.
This design forces a deep tissue massage due to needing a considerable amount of pressure in order to turn the roller. Even so, this bar still works fairly well, and is best for aiding in a deep tissue massage. The only thing I did not like about this bar is the soft rib material which tended to pull a little on the skin when massaging. I then tried to use the bar over basketball shorts. It didn’t work as well since the ‘rubbery’ ribs tended to drag my clothing up and down. The solution for the manufacturer would be to use a softer plastic material for the roller instead of a rubber-based roller which wouldn’t tend to grab the skin or clothing. Other than that, this bar worked very well to massage out the knots in muscles.
To massage areas that are more difficult to reach due to lack of leverage or trying to access a muscle that is deep (i.e. Piriformis), the foam roller is the only way to go. Basically, you use body-weight over the affected area on top of the roller, rolling it back and forth.
For example, if you want to massage out your Piriformis, you would just rotate your body onto your Glutes, supporting yourself with your hands on the floor in back of you. Next, you would work your hamstrings followed by working your calves. You could easily make a whole circuit out of this by counting out reps and sets.
So as you can see, the foam roller massages the deep tissue very effectively. The only drawback is that you need to support yourself with your hands and arms, especially when trying to only reach superior muscle tissue only. Each bar works a little different, here is a summary.
Comprised of a hard PVC tube covered with a soft foam wrap, this roller is for beginner/intermediate users. The foam is fairly soft and does not ‘dig’ into the deep tissue too aggressively. There is enough textured pattern on the foam to make it an effective solution for superior or deep tissue massaging.
If you want to bump it up to a whole ‘nuther level, the Rumbleroller is for advanced users who can tolerate more pain as the soft knobbies dig much deeper into the soft tissue. Knots are easily massaged out and there are a number of areas you can work on including quadriceps, adductors, abductors, IT bands, deep glutes, hamstraings, calves, lower back, upper back, lower back, upper back, shoulders, neck, feet and even forearms.This roller comes in 2 sizes, but the longer length roller can also be used for back stabilization and alignment (lying supine on roller). Rumbleroller makes for a vey effective solution and is my favorite foam roller.
If you are active and train, you risk over-training which can lead to tight, sore muscles. Training can also lead to knots as well as scar tissue in muscles. This is why a massage regimen is so very important. But, massages can get expensive and this is a great reason to invest in a high quality self-massage bar and/or roller.
But which one? Since each type of bar & roller tested hits the trigger points differently, you really need one of each. If cost is an issue, get the massage bar first. But, start saving for a roller immediately.
|Features||·Sprinter stick is the firmest and most versatile of the short sticks. Can press hard for deep tissue or lighter for a light massage.
·Primary recommended use is on legs.
|·Target point massage pattern.
·Handles move separately.
·Roller and handles rotate on ball bearings.
·Ergonomic handle design.
|·Deep grooved roller primarily for pulsating deep tissue massage.
·Handles allow for solid grip and variable pressure.
·Roller material is firm yet comfortable.
·Roller tension preset so that you have to press hard for roller to rotate.
|·Varied pattern offers a deeper tissue massage.
·Dense, closed-cell foam offers soft-touch while the rigid core provides firm support.
·Open ended design allows for both core strength and massage applications.
|·2 firmness levels available.
·2 lengths available.
·Large knobby bumps that act like the thumbs of a massage therapist.
·Material is claimed to outlast other foam rollers.
|Source||Sports shops, Big chain stores, websites.|
|Purchased||Sample from company.||Sample from company.||Sample from company.||Sample from company.|
|HOT||·3 different levels of stick flexibility available; Firm, Standard, Flexible.
·3 different stick lengths available; Short, Medium, Long.
·Compact size makes it ideal for daily use as well as easily pack in a suitcase.
|·Compact size makes it ideal for daily use as well as easily pack in a suitcase.
·Outside Material is easy on the skin.
·Can also be used efficiently over clothing.
·Can be used directly on skin without any pulling.
·Ball bearings in handles and roller make this easy to use.
|·Deep ‘ribs’ provide pulsating massage.
·Large handles allow for solid grip.
|·Soft outer material is ideal for beginners.
·Inside of roller is open allowing different hand positions for exercising.
·Compact size makes it ideal for daily use as well as easily pack in a suitcase.
|·Original and Firm (36% firmer) models available.
·Full (31” long) and compact (12” long) sizes available.
·Outer knobs are soft yet allow for deep tissue massage.
|NOT||·“Sticks” range up to $54 MSRP making them more on
the most expensive side.
·Normal stick can bend quite a bit when applying pressure. Some people
might not like this.
·Was not as effective for me as the other bars, i.e., best used
directly on skin, not over clothing.
|·Although the outside of the roller is textured, I would prefer to see a little deeper ‘texture’ to the for a deeper
|·Roller material tends to drag on clothes (i.e.,
best use is directly on skin and not over clothing).
·Deep tissue massage only. You cannot compensate by pressing lighter
since the roller will not rotate.
·Handles do not turn independently of each other.
|·For beginner use only. Compared to Rumble Roller,
much harder to get a deep tissue self massage.
|·Definitely not for beginners. Even though the
knobbies are soft, they hurt when rolled over a trigger point. Only
people able to tolerate physical pain, i.e., athletes, will understand
and accept this.
I have always enjoyed bicycling and, through a series of coincidences, became a Bicycle Industry Consultant and Product Tester. I continue to test prototype products for companies and publish only off the shelf production products on biketestreviews.com.