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How Foot Self-Massage Helps
How to Use a Lacrosse Ball for Pain Relief
Lacrosse Ball Alternatives
When I woke up with foot pain a few weeks ago, I chalked it up to my non-stop walking lifestyle in New York City. I was taking nearly 10,000 steps per day, so of course I was bound to feel some strain, right? But when the pain didn't subside after a few days, and then weeks, I didn't get professional help—instead, I just convinced myself this was my new normal. For one, I'm just stubborn, but I also truly didn't believe anything could fix it. I walked daily, so it made sense to me that I'd have to live with some discomfort.
Eventually I told my friend and Coreology trainer, Corina Aparicio, NASM, CPT, CES, about the foot pain I was experiencing. Unlike me, she was motivated to draft a plan to alleviate my pain, and the first thing she did was hand me a lacrosse ball. After only a few days of consistently rolling out my feet with that small rubber ball, I finally began to notice relief.
"A lacrosse ball is a tool used for self-myofascial release, like a foam roller," Aparicio explains. "In our feet, we have around 20 different muscles that help us control movement, provide stability, and form the shape of our foot. Using a tool like a lacrosse ball helps to break up the muscle tension, which can increase flexibility, range of motion, and muscle activation."
And the best part about trying this trick is that it's pretty low-risk. As always, if your pain is particularly severe and not subsiding, do talk to your primary care doctor or a podiatrist for their medical opinion. But if you think you're dealing with a common, moderate achy-foot situation, rolling your feet on a lax ball is an easy (and cheap!) thing to do in the comfort of your own home. Here's exactly how to use a lacrosse ball to get rid of foot pain, according to a board-certified podiatrist.
How Self-Massage Can Help Soothe Foot Pain
To understand how self-massage with a lacrosse ball works, it's helpful to understand more about how and why foot pain starts. "The most common area to develop foot pain is in the arch," explains Najwa Javed, DPM, MPH, AACFAS. "This is due to a complex ligament called the plantar fascial band, which is a continuation of the gastroc muscle and Achilles tendon," she says.
Since the plantar fascial band wraps under the heel bone and into the ball of the foot, it works to hold up the arch and allows the foot to bend forward, Dr. Javed says. "This dense tissue commonly becomes tight and stiff, therefore, the plantar fascial band is highly susceptible to strain especially when you walk in flats or flexible shoes on the pavement or in a contracted position like heels."
Dr. Javed agrees that a lacrosse ball is an effective tool for pain management in the feet. "They're made of solid rubber and oils, which makes them a strong and easily rollable device on myofascial surfaces," she says. "This mechanism of 'rolling' or 'kneading' the ball across the tissue helps reduce strain on tendons and ligaments. It also helps stretch tight tissues such as scars or knots" on other parts of the body.
RELATED: 6 Easy Ways to Beat Sore Feet
How to Use a Lacrosse Ball for Pain Relief
You can use a lax ball while you're standing up or sitting down, depending on your preference. Dr. Javed says to make sure there's a hard surface under it, such as hardwood floors. Start by placing the ball under your foot. Then, Dr. Javed says to "picture your foot divided into four quadrants. Treat one quadrant at a time by rolling the ball back and forth and side to side."
"Try to spend 30 to 60 seconds per foot, giving extra attention to areas of higher tension and hold the ball for longer until the pain releases itself," says Dr. Javed. But it's important to work on releasing tightness on an area without overstretching the tissue in the foot.
How will you know if you're overdoing it? Listen to your body. "You should not apply pressure to the point of extreme discomfort," says Aparicio. "The point is to be able to relax the muscle, not trigger pain, so the amount of pressure may be different for every body."
Both experts agree that you can roll out your feet—or any part of your body that feels sore (not painful)— on a lax ball as frequently as twice per day.
Don't Have a Lax Ball? Try This:
If you don't have a lacrosse ball lying around or don't want to purchase one, Dr. Javed says you sub in a golf ball, baseball, or even a foam roller. You can even use things around your house, like a "frozen bottle of water or a cylindrical device such as a soup can."
If you're afraid of hurting your foot or feeling super sore, a foam roller might be a better choice, says Aparicio. "Foam rolling is generally softer than a lax ball and offers less intense pressure," she says. Whereas a small, round ball will provide a more intense and localized massage.
The most important thing is to remember to listen to your body. "Your body is extremely intelligent and can guide you to things that make you feel better or worse," Dr. Javed says. "If you're feeling increased pain or discomfort, stop using a lax ball and reassess the area. If you have bruising, swelling or symptoms seek medical attention."