Whether you have access to a massage chair, massage therapist, foam roller, lacrosse ball, or other massage devices like a TENS Machine the benefits vary but all have a lot of similarities. There are many pieces of rehabilitation equipment out there available for home and clinical use. With all of these offerings at various price points and function, there is something for everyone to benefit from massage.
The benefits of massage therapy and other rehabilitation equipment can be explained by the concept of gate theory.
In a 2015 study by Wamontree et al. in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science talked about this theory when facilitating a study using the Theracane and similar rehabilitation devices.
The researchers state that the physical pressure from a stimulus (massage therapist, massage chair, or other rehabilitation equipment) act to stimulate pressure sensor in the nerves of the body part which “closes the gate” from allowing further pain signals to reach the spinal cord and be perceived by the brain.
The Gate Theory
Gate theory is important because the effects of closing the gate are reduced sensitivity which can be correlated with a lower pain perception and greater range of motion within that body part.
Over time this could allow for improved symptoms and creates opportunities for stretching and strengthening the muscle groups to rehabilitate the injury or reduce and prevent future discomfort.
Starting with the benefits of massage therapy this article will cover specific uses and benefits of various pieces of rehabilitation equipment. Before engaging in any of the methods make sure that you are understanding of your body and if you have any contraindications.
A short list of reasons to not use massage therapy includes edema, blood clots, open wounds, and other skin conditions. Make sure your massage therapist asks about your health and that you understand your individual situation prior to using any pieces of rehabilitation equipment.
Massage therapy is a long-standing professional field that provides rehabilitation and recovery service through physical stimulation by a licensed provider to a wide variety of the population from athletes to weekend warriors. Massage therapy takes many forms including relaxation, deep tissue intervention, and many more.
Depending on your needs you may be able to walk in or schedule an appointment to a clinic or seek a referral from your physical therapist or primary care doctor for a specific type of massage therapy within the rehabilitation process.
Massage therapists work within clinics, spas, personal homes, and even the industrial setting to provide for their patients. The settings in which massage therapists work are as diverse as the services they provide.
Think of traditional massage therapy with a licensed massage therapist as the gold standard for massage benefits. This service does not fall under self-care as you need someone else to perform the service for you.
But the goals of the massage therapist and the benefits of that service are the same as the self-care tools I am about to describe. These tools may not be as effective as having someone work on you but they can be effective and important for lasting pain management and recovery.
Benefits of Using a Massage Chair (and other rehabilitation equipment)
Moving towards a self-care approach massage chairs are often discussed as viable ways to self-care and recovery.
There are many benefits of massage therapy and massage chairs. However, there are also many differences. While massage therapy is known to increase circulation, reduce tension or tone in the muscle, and increase the range of motion, massage chairs are restricted by the techniques that is mechanically available within the product to accomplish those same benefits.
Massage chairs can also cost a lot of money, sometimes into the thousands. At the same time, massage therapy can also be expensive and therapists charge anywhere from $50-$100 an hour depending on their expertise and your needs.
Considering what your needs are before engaging in either massage therapy or purchasing a massage chair is important. Consult your provider and as their recommendations in relation to you as an individual.
You can find pretty cheap back massage cushions that work as good as a full body massage chair. This is the one I have and it works for me when I watch TV in the couch.
There is also good neck massagers that you can buy pretty cheap. After scrolling through Amazon I found 3 neck massagers that are both affordable and seem to be good for a neck massage. Some of them can be moved to other parts of the body as well, like to the lower back.
FITFIRST Neck and Shoulder Massager this one is one of those you strap over your neck with straps for your hands, I believe it can be used for you to manually apply pressure. Hangsun 3D Neck and Back Shoulder Massager MG600, this one looks pretty much the same but has got better reviews.
I’m pretty much spit-balling here but I also found one that looked like a neck pillow that is battery-driven! Zaichen Travel Pillow and this one were also very cheap.
Foam rollers are becoming more and more popular as rehabilitation equipment options expand. They are great whether you are in a sport as an athlete, physical therapy, or exercise for your health. I also put together a list of the best foam rollers for overweight people. Foam rollers are portable and variable pieces of rehabilitation equipment. Unlike massage chairs, you can take them with you to the gym, vacation, in the car, and can be purchased for as low as $20.
Another name for foam rolling specifically is self-myofascial release. This is the concept of using physical pressure by rolling your body over the foam roll to stimulate the muscle and fascia reducing tension and gaining all of the additional benefits of massage previously mentioned.
The guidelines for foam rolling are that you should roll 1 inch of your body per second. This is a slow pace to make sure that there is enough time for the myofascial to release and benefits of the activity to occur.
One of the best parts about foam rolling is that it takes little time (10-20min) and can be done before, during, and after exercise. The foam rolls come in various densities with the densest foam rolls being most aggressive and possibly most uncomfortable to use. Some have textures of them to also enhance sensation.
To find the best foam roller that suits you, start with the least dense and un-textured roll.
Keep in mind that foam rolling initially will be uncomfortable as you attempt to reduce tension and increase circulation within the specific areas of the body you are working on. Breathe through discomfort and stop altogether if there is any pain.
You may need to take breaks and circle back to those sensitive areas over time to reduce sensitivity. Expect several weeks before feeling the “afterglow” effects of traditional massage therapy.
I have used so many foam rollers in my line of work but have pretty much never given the different kinds of models any thoughts. So I did what I had to, I found 3 different foam rollers for different kinds of needs! 2 of them in which I use myself and one that was ridiculously expensive but looked pretty awesome.
High Density Foam Roller From D-Fit By Deawna
I can’t be a 100% sure that this is one of the ones I like from the clinic but it looks identical and the price was lower than I expected.
AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller
I have tried this model, but it really doesn’t do it for me. I need more grip haha.. Maybe if you have severe back problems and want to start carefully, this one is pretty cheap. There are tons of models like it – I just picked the first one I saw.
TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller
This one is quite expensive (I think) for being a foam roller – but it seems to have its advantages.
The Theracane is a fantastic tool for self-care and self-massage. This green cane is often seen in fitness centers and physical therapy clinics to provide specific and accurate pressure to areas of the body that are tight and sore.
In comparison to the foam roll, the Theracane has small nubs on it to reach hard to get places and the design of the tool allows for greater leverage by the user in regulating the desired pressure.
This device is also affordable and under $50 online and in most stores. There are several re-designs of it but the original green, shepherds hook design is the best for personal use. The Theracane is best used for the neck and back as it allows the user to work those areas on their own unassisted.
This is a Theracane If you have ever wondered! 🙂 This one has the shepherd’s hook design.
Another self-care tool that has similar benefits of massage therapy is the lacrosse ball. This piece of rehabilitation equipment is essentially a denser, smaller foam rollto get into smaller spots and apply greater pressure on the body. Lacrosse balls are great for travel or distance sports such as cycling or running because they are small and effective.
The lacrosse ball is best used in the back of the neck, upper trapezius, between the shoulder blade and the spine, and any deep muscle soreness and tightness. It should be noted that when leaning on the ball between you and the wall is how to regulate the pressure.
The more you squat down and lean into the wall the more pressure is applied which impacts the sensation.
No link, it’s just a ball. Search for it on Amazon!
The Muse Brain Sensing Headband
There is a device called “The Muse”, which is a great meditation tool. I wrote my 300-day experience using The Muse, in case you want to read it.
There are a lot of benefits from using TENS Machines.
I put together a list in an article for the best TENS Machines for sciatica and fibromyalgia.
All of these therapies, tools, and techniques may have different effects on different people.
One person who loves the foam roll may dislike the lacrosse ball, or someone who swears by massage therapy will never use a massage chair again. The most important tool to use is the one that works for you. The benefits of using a massage chair and other rehabilitation equipment (and services) are similar but may vary in their individual impact.
Also, this equipment and techniques are best used in combination and moderation. Do not rule out exercise, stretching, and hydration to reduce muscular tension and soreness. Taking a holistic approach and combining various techniques to find what recipe works best for your individual needs is a great way for lasting results.
The Mayo Clinic
Lastly, the Mayo Clinic has provided several noteworthy benefits of massage that are important to mention.
Some studies have found that massage can be beneficial for anxiety, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia related to stress, myofascial pain syndrome, soft tissue strains or injuries, sports injuries, and temporomandibular joint paint.
The main idea is that massage, self-care, and rehabilitation equipment is worth trying if other therapies or services are not working as long as it is safe and appropriate for you as an individual.
Wamontree, P., Kanchanakhan, N., Eungpinichpong, W., & Jeensawek, A. (2015). Effects of traditional Thai self-massage using a Wilai massage stickTM versus ibuprofen in patients with upper back pain associated with myofascial trigger points: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(11), 3493–3497. http://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.27.3493