Spiky Balls & Foam Rollers

When you’re having treatment from an osteopath, it will probably take up half an hour in your 168 hour week. If you can help yourself with 10 minutes stretching a day, you’ve more than tripled the treatment you’re getting.

Stretching and heavier exercise are part of the management plan, but sometimes it’s useful to have something else in your toolbox.

Spiky Balls

Spiky balls are my absolute favourite tool for self management. With a couple of different sizes, you can effectively work through tight muscles almost everywhere. Put one against the wall and it will take very little effort to carry out. You’re in control of exactly where you’re focusing the exercise, and you’re in charge of the pressure used.

The 6cm ball is the smallest one I use, and is good for the neck and for the muscles either side of the elbow. The biggest I use is 9cm, which is more comfortable for bigger muscle groups like the glutes. I don’t typically advise using a spiky ball on the floor for anything other than leg and glute muscles.

Using a spiky ball on the wrist flexors (as per Golfer’s Elbow)

My patients have also had good results with whatever similar balls they’ve had lying around, such as tennis balls, dog toys, and children’s toys. Tumble drier balls are generally not solid enough.

Foam Rollers

Foam rollers are a bit of a controversial topic. The most recent research I read suggested that rolling the ITB (outside of the thigh) is all pain and no gain. Some people swear by it though, so if it helps you I won’t stop you.

Generally I only recommend traditional foam rolling for the quads, hamstrings, and calves. I don’t recommend them for backs as they put pressure on the spine which is uncomfortable. They might also lead to over-extension through the lower back.

Foam rolling the hamstrings and calf

The Manta Roller

Manta and traditional foam rollers
Manta (left) and traditional (right) foam rollers

The Manta Roller was designed by an osteopath with backs in mind! The deep groove in the middle fits around the vertebrae so you can work on the muscles either side without irritating the bone.

I mentioned excessive extension above. This is not unavoidable, and as long as you roll carefully, you can minimise over-extension. You can use the Manta roller to improve mobility in the upper back- I get a good few clicks when I roll mine- but you want to keep the movement strong. Don’t stick the roller under your lower back and flop over it, stay as straight as is comfortable.

Because of the shape, you need to keep aligned. Roll purely up and down your back, don’t veer off to one side. You won’t have to spend long rolling, just go until you feel a change. A couple of times a day will be plenty.

If you would like to order a Manta roller, I have a code for free shipping: manta1023

Which is best for me?

If you’re working only the legs, I would recommend the cheaper traditional foam roller (Amazon), which should be under £10.

If you’re working only the muscles of the neck, arms, or glutes, I would go for a spiky ball (Amazon). You may find a good deal online where you can get a selection of sizes. Various sizes are useful to have at home for a bit of first aid as needed.

If you want to work only the muscles of the back, you might prefer spiky balls (anywhere between 6 and 9cm), or you might want to try the Manta.

If you particularly want to work on upper back mobility, you’re better off with the Manta.


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