Superficial massage and stick work for skin, superficial muscle spindles, ligaments and Golgi tendon organs.
Stick work, as a method, is more often than not used incorrectly. The stick, or massage devices like it, should be used with particular purpose. Here’s how to use them as designed:
Step 1: With firm pressure, roll the stick along the muscle tissue. The target tissue will present itself as sore, whilst tissue that isn’t to be treated will not be sore. Simple. In many cases, trigger points will have an area around it that gets sorer as you approach the trigger point. For many, it will be too sore to roll the stick over it with firm pressure.
Step 2: Grip the stick with pressure enough to hold it between thumb and second finger. Roll with gentle pressure over the sore tissue for up to 50 rolls. As a guide to how gentle or firm, if you are wincing, grimacing or holding breath, these behaviours provoked by pain are indicative of responses that indicate threat from pain. This is behavior contrary to modulating pain and often leads to reactive guarding.
Step 3: After 50 rolls, repeat the firm roll over the target tissue. If the above guidelines are followed, the tissue should be less sensitive.
Step 4: Repeat the above until the target tissue is no longer sore with firm pressure.
Foam rolling, ball work and deeper massage for targeting deeper tissue spindles and joint mobilisation.
Similar to the stick rolling method, foam-rolling technique should modulate pain and alter mobility of the target tissue, verified by reassessment post-technique. For many, foam rolling is pain provocative simply because the bodyweight creates firmer pressure than the stick. Use other limbs to spread the weight so that the firm pressure does not cause grimacing, wincing or breath holding. As above, such pain behaviours lead to two little known problems:
1. Prime mover contractions as part of a guarding strategy, instead of a relaxing strategy;
2. Behaviours such as grimacing, wincing and breath holding are outputs of the CNS reflective of fear.
These problems reinforce to the person that this is a behaviour to be feared, as threatening. Whilst they may induce discomfort, pain even, the use of facial “softening” and calmer breathing sends a signal that the technique is not to be feared. Such “neural tags” of pain behaviour are the wrong pathways to be stimulating. For those who use deeper techniques and feel the approach to pain is unavoidable, one can always creep up on the painful area from distally or proximally – “surrounding the dragon” and treating surrounding tissue, instead of directly provoking the painful tissue. For many seasoned athletes however, the use of these deeper techniques on painful areas can be tolerated and nullified by “poker faced” breathing techniques to reduce fear and guarding.