How to Use Massage Balls For Your Upper Body

August 24, 2016 Taz Zaidi

Using massage balls for self-myofascial release, also referred to as "trigger point therapy", can be used to relieve tension and pain in practically any muscle in the body.

Let's go over the 7 most common upper body muscle groups, which consequently are the most commonly affected by stress, strain, and tension. For these areas, one of the recommended tools to use for SMR (self-myofascial release) is the OPEN UP Massage Ball.



7 Common Target Muscles In The Upper Body

1) Deltoids (Shoulder)

The deltoid muscles are composed of 3 main fibers. These are the anterior, lateral, and posterior fibers. When the deltoid muscles are tight and causing pain, it is usually because of restricted movement and/or weakness.


To hit the trigger points in the deltoids, try either of these two techniques:

- Stand upright, with one side of the body resting against a wall. Place the massage ball between the shoulder muscles and the wall. Slightly move your upper body to roll the ball side to side. You'll realize which parts of your shoulder are tight very quickly!

- Lay on the floor, resting on one side of the body. Place the ball between the deltoids and the floor. Roll the body around in small movements to allow the ball to target any trigger points. More pressure is applied to the shoulder muscles in this technique as compared to the previous one.



2) Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

These large muscles are commonly referred to as the "lats". They are wide strips of muscle that start on the side (right under the armpits) and attaches to the scapula (shoulder blade). Excessive tightness of these muscles can lead to the development of shoulder impingement and several other imbalances in the function and movement of the shoulder. To avoid complications and more problems down the road, manage the trigger points in the lats as soon as possible.


Two techniques are available for this purpose:

- Lie on the floor, on the side to be massaged. Place the massage ball under the armpit while rotating the arm outwards. Roll the ball slightly and in small movements, allowing it to reach the trigger points and release them.

- Stand up and lean against a wall. Place the ball between the lats and the wall (ball below the shoulder blade). Make small movements to roll the ball over the lats and to reach the trigger points.



3) Infraspinatus and Teres minor (Rotator Cuff)

Trigger points may develop within the 2 rotator cuff muscles. Injury and soreness may also develop. These often result from too many overhead movements of the arms. For example, trigger points, injuries, and soreness are common after performing too many overhead presses in the gym. 


To hit the trigger points in an effective fashion, try these two techniques:

- Lie on the floor, on the side of the shoulder to be massaged. Position the elbow at a 90-degree angle. Place the ball between the shoulder and the floor. Roll the ball over the area just outside the shoulder blade.

- Trigger point massage the rotator cuff while standing with your back against a wall. Place the ball just outside the shoulder blade and gently roll around the area.



4) Trapezius (Shoulders/Neck)

The trapezius muscles, or "traps", is the wide strip of muscle that ascends from the shoulders and up towards the sides of the neck. Tightness in this muscle may lead to pain in the neck and shoulders. It is recommended to release the trigger points in this area quite regularly - especially if you work a desk job.


Try out these two variations:

- Lie down on the floor and place the ball on one of the two humps on either side of the neck. Bend the knees. Slightly adjust your upper body, as you see fit, to apply more pressure from varying angles. 

- Stand against a wall and place the ball over one of the bulges of the neck. Slightly adjust yourself while applying pressure at different angles to release trigger points.



5) Pectoralis Major & Minor (The Pecs or Chest Muscles)

Tasks like sitting down for an extended period of time can cause rounding of the shoulders. This will often result in tightening of the pectoral muscles. This tightness will eventually develop into internal rotation of the shoulders, leading to pain and other issues in the shoulder girdle. 


To release the tightness in the pecs:

- Lie on the floor, facedown. 

- Place the ball between the chest and the floor. 

- Use your hands to roll the body over the ball while searching for and releasing the trigger points that you find. 

- Most often, these tight spots are located near the shoulders, at the point of insertion of the pectoral muscles.

- Some people do this while standing up too, like the previous examples. However, in the standing position, the pressure may not be enough to release the tightness.



6) Levator scapula (Upper Back Muscles)

This muscle extends down by the side of the neck, back towards the top of the shoulder blade or scapula. It attaches the cervical spine in the neck to the shoulder blade. Soreness and tightness of the levator scapula are most commonly caused by poor posture. 


To hit the trigger points within the levator scapula, the best position for trigger point massage is standing with the back against a wall. Try the following:

- Put the ball at the top corner of the shoulder blade. Use small movements to move the ball around to search and hit the trigger points. 

- To apply more pressure to the tight spots, raise the arm on the side being massaged. This takes advantage of the full range of motion of the shoulder while rolling out this muscle.



7) Hands

Trigger point massage therapy can be an effective method of reducing the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition is due to the presence of inflammation within the median nerve located in the wrist. This is a very painful condition and generally develops from certain repetitive activities such a typing on a keyboard for extended periods of time.


There are 4 self-myofascial release techniques that can be used for the hands:



With this technique, the ball is placed in the middle of the palm. Grasp and squeeze tightly. Hold this position for 5 counts before releasing. Repeat several times until relief is felt.



For this technique, use a table top. Put the ball on top of a desk or table. Place the palm over the ball and roll it around several times. Movements include circular motions all over the palm, as well as rolling the ball up and down the length and span of the palm and wrist.  



Place the palm open and facing the ceiling. Hold the ball and place it over the tendons of the right wrist. With the left hand, roll the ball over this area in a circular motion. Roll the ball several times until relief is felt. Repeat with the other hand.


Finger Stretch

To stretch the tendons of the fingers, stand up and place the hand flat on top of a table or desk, with the palm facing downwards. Put the ball under 1 finger and stretch it for 5-10 seconds. This will stretch the tendons that run from the finger to the wrist. Do this with each finger. Repeat on the other hand.