Some screws are made of soft material (plastics, soft metals, wood, etc); some are made of hard material (e.g. hardened steel). Some screw-removal devices (screwdrivers, drills) have tips made of soft materials, and some — you guessed it — hard materials.

Use a hard material (like a metal bit) or an aggressive technique (full power drill) on a very soft material (like a wooden or plastic screw) or even a not-so-hard metal screw (e.g. cheap IKEA hardware), you will likely strip the screw.

If you’ve ever used a drill or screwdriver on a screw that won’t budge, only to strip away some of the grooves that give the screw-head it’s turn-ability, you know what a headache this can be.

Similarly, some of our body parts are hard (bones); some are soft (muscles, connective tissue, organs, skin, etc). Some massage instruments are hard (e.g. lacrosse ball); some are soft (e.g. Roll Model® Therapy Ball).

If you use a soft object without enough pressure (the topic I discussed in my last post), the worst that happens is…not much of anything; it is ineffective and you learn that you need a harder object or a technique that creates more leverage.

Our soft tissues include the parts labeled above, among others.

But press too hard on soft parts, whether by technique or the mere density of the tool, and the worst case is a lot worse – you can create pain, stimulate the nervous system in a counterproductive manner, and even cause damage to your tissues.

In body terms, stripping a screw, so to speak, equates to common self-massage injuries such as pinching or impinging a nerve, causing inflammation (we want to reduce inflammation with massage, not create more), or bruising a tissue. These are all counterproductive to the intention of massage, and thus should be avoided.

Stripping a screw (aka injuring a body part) is not only bad because the screw itself is damaged (and unlike building materials, we can’t just go pick up new body parts at the hardware store), but because this causes complications to the other parts of the system as well.

Pinch a nerve in your back, for example, and you are likely to feel it elsewhere, like say your foot (this is why people with a pinched sciatic nerve often feel pain all the way down their legs as well, as is evident from the yellow nerve lines in ’soft tissue’ image above).

Bruise your foot, and you are likely to walk differently than you normally would, which has an effect on other parts of your body as well. It’s all connected.

Fortunately, some of our injuries go away with time, since our bodies have the amazing ability to self-heal, unlike your kitchen cabinet, but this doesn’t justify injuring oneself unnecessarily.

Note: This is an imperfect analogy. Yes, the aim of massage is largely our connective tissue; and screws are fasteners that connect various parts of a larger system, as do human connective tissues, but to equate the two requires greatly oversimplifying our bodies. Mechanically, our bodies are much more complicated than woodworking projects. Plus, we have intricate nervous systems, complicated biological systems, and interplay between these systems (eg. biomechanics), that add elements that don’t have an equivalent in the strictly mechanical world of wood and fasteners.

The point of this analogy s to say: err on the side of caution. If you start with a softer tool and a more gentle technique, and it doesn’t do the trick, you can always increase how hard a tool you use or how hard you use it, but if you go too hard too fast, you may injure yourself or do something counterproductive to your health and mobility.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll explain why soft tools are not only safer, but can be surprisingly effective, even on stiff tissues or bony muscle attachment points.

Liked this article? Read Tune Up for National Yoga Month!

 

Max Bayuk

As a competitive high school athlete, Max developed several chronic over-use injuries that left him on the sidelines for his senior year. His journey of fixing these injuries over the past 6 years has taught him the value in integrating one's movement practice -- be it sports, yoga, or any other kind of exercise -- with body work. He has developed a passion for self-myofascial release and its therapeutic effects, especially in combination with strategic stretching, correct posture, and a balanced lifestyle. Max completed his 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training through YogaWorks while at school at UC Santa Barbara in spring 2013, and is now combining his athletic background with his knowledge of yoga, Yoga Tune Up®, and embodied anatomy.

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Alissa Trepman

Important discussion on aiming to prevent self-massage injury and what the correct amount of pressure is. Great to learn!

Dominique Lim

I sometimes hear that harder is better and students usually gravitate more towards the harder therapy tools — which they don’t need to be. Thank you for sharing this info!

Mike

These analogies tho! Good reminder that it’s all connected, and what we do to one part of the body can have a great impact on other parts. Also great chart to organize the risk of certain tools and tissues.

Patty

I like this analogy because it can help convey the reasoning behind using caution in self massage. Students who are new to this do not understand fully what they are expected to do and may feel they should “push through” the pain. The analogy will aid in clarifying this for them. Thank you.

Elaine

Even if the analogy is imperfect, I still thought it was a great one! It breaks down the basic mechanics of the body in a way that’s accessible to people who aren’t as well-versed in them by drawing a comparison to something that most people are familiar with in some way.

Jon Connelly

Thanks max – this makes a ton of sense. Would you consider the standard YTU balls to be “soft”?

Max Bayuk

Hi Jon! I know I’m late to this reply, but yes, I’d consider the standard YTU balls to be on the softer side of the spectrum, especially compared to something like a lacrosse ball or a high-density foam roller.

Angelique Christensen

As a person who leans towards perfectionism and OCD, this entire post is something that I’ll have to read again and again. I definitely have a tendency to expect perfectionism and / or unrealistic expectations. It is crucial to be reminded that it doesn’t always have to be black or white or fall completely to an extreme. This blog is also a reminder for me to be nicer to myself and let go of judgement and harshness. One of my personal consistent goals is to find a sense of balance in what I do. Giving myself a little leeway is… Read more »

lauren

Great analogy! I often thought the more sensation the better, but the more I learn, I understand the importance of progressed adaptation, and now start by offering my body a softer touch.

Bonnie Bloom

In a culture like ours, fast hard and furious, it is so hard to “get it” that we can be profoundly effective with a gentle consistent approach. i liked your analogy. Maybe not perfect but clear and apt.
thanks

Katrina Sukola

Thanks for breaking down the benefits of hard versus soft balls. I have students who bring their own lacrosse balls to class, but they are not sure when or why to use different types of massage balls. I have been rolling on the therapy balls for a few years and like to play with different sizes and hardness. New students may not have experienced different balls or think why and when to using them.

Magdalena

Great post. I have been using the lacrosse balls with my students and I didn’t know there was a significant difference in softness in between those and the YTU balls. Your post is helping me understand that I have to switch to softer balls, so thanks again, and I love the analogy of the screws!

Emily Botel

I love YTU’s emphasis on less is more. I like trying to remind myself in general that I should treat myself the way I would treat others. I definitely have not always done this in the realm of self massage. I like the screw analogy!

Lindsey Rockett

Great analogy, Max!

I’m always amazed as I observe some athletes at my gym. They punish themselves during workouts and then do further harm as they roll on golf and lacrosse balls. Ouch! Wincing and bracing does not encourage recovery. I’m bringing a workshop their way soon and will credit you with this way of talking about beneficial massage!

Becky

Great analogy, I will defo use this to explain to some of my students who think that harder is the only way. This really explains the risks well and gives a great visual for people to consider when choosing a tool.

Ben Blazke

I love using an extra firm foam roller to massage my large muscle groups, especially after a challenging workout. I know this type of deep tissue massage hurts some people and I myself have slowly graduated to it after years of using a soft foam roller but unlike lacrosse balls the firm roller work actually feels pleasant and relaxing, similar to the pressure provided by an Alpha ball.

Corena Purcell

Until YTU I thought all mobility work had to be miserable. However, since I’ve been exposed to this luscious new world I’m learning that we can experience greater success with a softer touch.

Ekaterina

Great article, love the analogy part.

shari Williams

Love your article. As a practitioner for over 30 years and teacher for longer I yearn to see creative takes on topics, otherwise I just don’t end up reading them. thank you for your creativity and of course good information, I look forward to part 2.

Tara

Love the analogy. My students will be hearing this metaphore next time I teach class 🙂

Stacy D.

I’ve always been one to think that more pressure and intensity equates to deeper release. But I’ve noticed that my body contracts and stiffens up when the pressure is too strong. I think this is my body’s way of communicating that it needs something softer. I have to start believing that’s gentle can also mean effective. Thank you for the article.

Adeline

Thank you for this article. I guess it’s always better to err on the safer side, and add on if need be. Rather than start with a harder ball that puts the body immediately into a protective contracted state. I have discovered that some days, my body prefers rolling on something softer, and some days (and some parts of the body) using a harder tool works.

Diana Azavedo

Thanks so much for sharing this. It really throws light on what I was feeling today. I felt like the ball was quite hard for me considering I am quite a skinny person with not much muscle or even fat. So I could really feel the ball almost clashing with my bones and much too close a massage to my nerves which felt a little more uncomfortable as compared to most others. So definitely something to ponder upon/ question and investigate on my own body after checking with the teacher.

Christiane, Black Forest Germany

Hello, here’s the question: What if a soft tool, coregeous ball, 60% inflated, causes a hairline fracture of a lower rib? Has anybody ever had to deal with such an injury on one of their clients? Or does anybody have an explanation for this to happen? We were practicing deep breathing on the ball, when a popping sound appeared, (I did not hear it, just my friend). With the pain that came with it, we moved the ball away from this position right away. Since the pain got worse the next days, she went to see a doctor. My friend… Read more »

Kevin V.

A softer (possible safer) tool can be more effective if the angle of pressure is applied accurately and the pressure held long enough. I think that much of the intensity-focused self-massage is driven by a lack of patience and understanding. In other words, people who are in a rush and/or don’t know what they’re doing use discomfort to determine the “effectiveness” of their self-massage.

Lorena Popelka

This was a really good article! I just went through 3 months of physical therapy 4 months ago. I can see how the different massages are just a bandaid, but combined with physical exercises to strengthen certain muscles made a huge difference. I will probably revisit this article again since it was so informative. Thanks for putting it into words that I can relate to!

Rachelle

My husband is a soldier and they constantly use foam rollers and lacrosse balls to roll out their muscles. This is a great analogy to show him. Thank you.

David

My Dad owns his own cabinet shop, so the title sucked me in. But I loved this article for my own practice! I work with a lot of crossfit athletes who are all about using lacrosse balls and super dense foam/plastic rollers to work out “knots”. In different words I’ve told them the same thing – you don’t need to create more pain for it to work. They massage as intensely as they workout and it does the opposite of what they’re aiming for! Thanks for sharing.

Jane Thibodeau

Hi Max,
Thanks for the interesting post. I’ve noticed that typically in ball rolling classes, teachers will have students start with the harder option (often the original size tune up balls), and offer the softer option (either moving to the wall or using larger balls) as a modification if the first option is too intense. This is great information for me to keep in mind as I move into teaching, perhaps offering the softer option first and giving students the option to increase intensity.

Ashley Burger

This is a great point! I have foam rolled and used a lacrosse ball for trigger point therapy for year. As a teacher, I use foam rolling all the time. I feel as though there is little damage that can be done as it is a more general sweep of the soft tissue of the body. Although I have the tools for my own self care with lacrosse balls, I haven’t felt confident in using this in class as the pressure may be too intense for some and I believe it increases the risk of injury and doing something incorrectly.… Read more »

Noémie

Thank you for putting an emphase on this topic! I used to roll on tennis balls before I discovered Yoga Tune Up, and since then I can’t use anything but the Therapy Balls. They’re just so well designed!