September 19, 2009

Tools of the Trade: Tiger Balm and Tennis Balls

At home, I like to say, “If you can’t do it with duct tape, WD-40, or Tiger Balm, you probably can’t do it at all.” But in the massage room, my favorite choices are Tiger Balm and tennis balls. Every massage practitioner seems to have at least a couple of favorite tools, and these are mine, especially as tools I can recommend for home use.

I tend to prefer Tiger Balm as a type of liniment or rub for several reasons. One, it’s easy to find at any drugstore or pharmacy, and even though it comes in almost a lip-gloss sized container, a little bit goes a long way. Two, it isn’t too hot or too cold in terms of sensation. It’s warm enough to fake the muscles out a little and make them think they’re warmer and more relaxed than they actually might me, helping break the pain cycle, in my opinion. Also, I don’t like shivering, and really cold rubs have always driven me nuts. In my experience, shivering clients tense up all over again, which is kind of a bummer. And finally, I like the smell . . . I do! Given the strong clove-like smell, Tiger Balm tends to be like anchovy pizza: you either love it or hate it. I have several Tiger Balm-loving clients now with spouses and partners that are happy about the pain relief, but not so happy about the smell of it :-)

As to tennis balls, they are also cheap and easy to find, and if you can’t find a store with a sports section, you can always check the pet section of most grocery stores. When I had little dogs, I used half-sized tennis balls, and spent many amusing hours lying on them for tissue release while my dogs attempted to dig them out from under me. Tennis balls are light and portable and so great for my clients who travel, especially those with low back and hip pain who spend a lot of time sitting in those absurdly tiny airline seats. I highly recommend them to clients who respond well to trigger point work, and it’s easy to teach a down-and-dirty kind of trigger point work just by introducing the tennis ball.

Please feel free to add to this blog by commenting on your own favorite tools. It’s always interesting to see what other people are using and why!

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