TuneUpFitness Blog

Hard vs. Soft Massage Tools

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More isn’t always better; less is sometimes best
When you have issues in your tissues
Please careful how hard you press
– a poem by yours truly

When it comes to affecting the human body through massage, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor is there a one-density-fits-all-solution. The two major factors that influence how much pressure is created when pressing the object into the human body are:

1. Density (how hard something is) of the object.

2. Force (how hard that thing is being pressed).

While my physics studies were…minimal…my basic experiential understanding goes something like this:

How hard an object is + how hard it is pressed = pressure of that object against the thing its being pressed against

The amount of pressure needed to create change in tissues varies case to case, based on a number of variables, like one’s pain sensitivity, the condition of the tissue being massaged, the condition of the person’s nervous system, and more. When doing “DIY bodywork,” as I like to call it it’s also important to ask: what are the desired effects to the tissues being massaged, and more generally to the rest of the body?

Massage is a modality that can be used to achieve a number of benefits, including increased relaxation, proprioception, pain-relief, and circulation, reduction of inflammation, and sometimes, manipulation and restructuring of connective tissue. Which of these, or which combination of these, serve your needs?

It’s also important to keep in mind that massage work alone is quite ineffective compared to massage work combined with movement. For example, massage alone to deal with chronic pain is most likely functioning like a band-aid: it provides a temporary fix, but does not address the underlying cause of the pain. In most cases, corrective exercises to address strength deficits and movement/postural imbalances are even more important than massage. One of the most beneficial aspects of massage is that it offers a way to make your stretching and strengthening exercises less painful and more effective.

As a good rule of thumbs, when performing DIY bodywork for most desired outcomes, I believe it is best to default to:

  1. Using soft massage instruments.
  2. Pressing gently, at least at first.

Why? Well, safety first.

Speaking of first…this is the first of a six-post series on hard and soft self massage tools. Stay tuned to the Tune Up Fitness® Blog as we explore methods for easing oneself into DIY bodywork, tools of the trade, and techniques.

Liked this article? Read Your Movement Medicine Cabinet: What Are the Roll Model Balls, and How Do They Work?

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