I want everyone to imagine a big long thick string. Now, tie a bunch of knots throughout that string. Take each end of the string and pull both ends apart. What happens to the knots in the string?
They get tight, right? You may notice that the string also loses length and function. So, why should pulling a knotted muscle be any different? As we exercise, over use muscles, accrue injuries and battle scars, and harbor prolonged postures (good and bad), our muscles build up more and more restrictions, those infamous "knots." Muscles are attached at both ends of bones, so as we use them, they tighten and relax. This tension over time can create restrictions within the fascia layers of muscles creating trigger points, or knots if you will. As we use the muscle(s) incorrectly or in excessive repetition and then add a load (weights or the body), the muscles get strained and injured. This leads to restrictions in the muscle making them less efficient and sometimes painful. Sometimes after injury, the injured muscle doesn't heal back properly or it continues to have neural input keeping that portion of the muscle in an overactive state. All of this can create adhesions and trigger points within the muscle. This also can happen with nerve injuries or compression on nerves. Nerves travel to and through the muscle. If muscles get tight and restricted, the nerve gets compressed. Guess what can now result? Yep, more trigger point development within the muscle due to poor nerve conduction.
But, I stretch daily? Remember that string of knots being pulled at both ends? Who is to say we aren't just making these knots in our muscle(s) tighter or more aggravated by aggressively pulling on them with a static stretch. This is where using a ball can come in handy. By placing pressure on the trigger points or knots, you deprive the area of blood flow causing that spot to give in or relax. Working along the entire muscle loosening and untying the knots helps the muscle restore to a better state. Afterward stretching and actively moving places less strain on the muscle and you can work on improving your form and strength building.
There are numerous places along the body that you can use a ball to decrease trigger points. The foam roller is good but often tends to be too broad to get a good pressure point on these persistent trigger points. Some spots are tricky to get with a ball; modifications (and tricks) can be made for better success. The ball should never be placed on a bone or area where there are a lot of vascular and neural structures (i.e. side of the neck, spine, armpit, etc).
I welcome you to join an educational event I am teaching, Get on the Ball, at ISSA Physical Therapy on Monday, June 5, 2017, from 6-7 PM. You will learn what causes trigger points, how they can restrict function, and more importantly, how you can be proactive with a ball in releasing these trigger points. I will also provide helpful tips on how to get those hard to reach muscles and how to ease the pressure you place through the ball.
Let's not tie up loose ends, but release them and restore your muscles' functional mobility.
Fitzgerald, Matt. 2007. Brain Training for Runners: A Revolutionary New Training System to Improve Endurance, Speed, Health, and Results. Berkley, NY. 1st ed. 576 pages.