Whether hitting the road, taking to the skies or even hoofing it over a trail, traveling takes a toll on your body. Long hours in a single position or thousands of steps can cause muscle fatigue and cramping.
About six years ago, I found out my persistent hip pain was due to Hip Dysplasia (yes, like a Labrador) and it seemed to flare up the worst during travel. The large muscles up and down the side of my leg and hip and up toward my back would get rock-hard and painful, making it difficult to sleep or even walk … definitely not helpful, considering my love of far-flung destinations.
For several years, I tried many treatments to alleviate the pain and muscle tightness – massage (would help for a while), jacuzzi baths, ibuprofen and yoga. While all of these were helpful, none really provided the “release” I felt I needed to undo those tight spots.
Last year I went to see a physical therapist for the Dysplasia and she suggested pressure-point therapy as a way to help the muscles relax. She used a device called a Thera Cane to basically press down hard on my tight spots and help them release. It worked! However, the device is large and bulky and not really packable. Plus, you need someone to really press down hard, so using it solo isn’t quite feasible.
I began a search for an alternative I could use while traveling, even while alone. Looking at the Thera Cane, the end is a hard plastic ball. I had used a tennis ball before but found it really wasn’t doing the trick (too squishy). Wandering through the aisles of my local sporting goods store, I saw a possible solution: a wiffle ball!
For those unfamiliar, a wiffle ball is about the size of a baseball, but is plastic and vented, making it extremely light – Kids can hit it hard and it won’t go very far. However, its hard plastic shell makes it extremely durable and tough.
I purchased a three-pack of wiffle balls for $2.99 and took them home for a test run. Voila! The perfect accessory for do-it-yourself pressure point relief to help stiff muscles on the road. Using the exercises my physical therapist showed me, I created four “do anywhere” moves for instant tension relief:
- Foot Roller: After a long day walking or hiking, the arches of the foot can get very tight. Sit in a chair or on the edge of a bed and take off your shoes and socks. Place the wiffle ball under your foot (starting in the arch) and slowly roll your foot back and forth over the ball for about two minutes – the massage motion will increase blood flow and help release the tightness in the arch.
- Back Relief: Lay on the floor (better on the floor than the bed, the bed gives too much) and place the wiffle ball under your right shoulder blade. Slowly rock yourself back and forth over the ball, moving it around the large muscles encasing the blade. Move the ball to your left side and repeat.
- Hip and Upper Leg Tension Reliever: While still on the floor, move the wiffle ball to under one side of your butt (yes, your butt!) – place the ball right in the center of the largest part of the muscle and roll around on top of it, letting it move around the entire buttock and up towards your lower back and down to where the buttock meets the thigh…you should feel immediate tension release down the hip and into the leg.
- IT Band/Outer Leg Reliever: Runners know the IT Band well – it runs along the outside of your leg, down the thigh and over the outer part of the knee. When you run a lot, it gets insanely tight and painful. It can also get very tight when you are walking or hiking every day. Roll over onto one side, prop yourself up on an elbow and place the wiffle ball just below your hip in the large part of your thigh – is it tender? This means your IT Band is tight. Slowly move yourself up and down while bracing with your elbow, allowing the ball to roll up and down your leg to relieve some of this tension.
The best parts about using a wiffle ball for muscle stiffness? It’s small, light and cheap – the perfect travel accessory!