The Therapeutic Benefits of Balls and Rollers

Therapy balls and rollers offer many of the benefits of bodywork, but with the accessibility of a self-care practice and classes. Bodywork and massage therapy has a long list of benefits for overall health, pain management, athletic performance, and immune function. Sessions are one on one and highly individualized to each client’s body and what will best support their health.

Not everyone is able to receive bodywork or massage as often as their body needs it, though. A reasonable health maintenance schedule for bodywork is once every 2 or 4 weeks, and busy schedules and finances can make that difficult for everyone to access. That’s where the balls and rollers come in! With a grippy texture and firm (but not hard) to the touch, they can support health in many of the same ways bodywork does.

The ball or roller is able to mimic what the therapist does with their hands and feet, using slow, firm pressure to create length and hydration. They can address pressure points, lengthen fascia, relax muscle tension, and rehydrate tissues. Classes can get anyone started with these tools, as a trained teacher leads students through proper techniques and teaches them what to notice. Each student needs to learn the difference between sensations that create health, and pain that does damage.

Coming to class is an important part of dedicating regular self-care time and establishing good practices. Once you have these pieces, you can then begin to integrate balls and rollers into your own self-care practice at home. Self treatments like releasing the IT band after each long run or addressing pressure points on the hands to relax head and neck tension after a day on the computer, can go a long way to maintaining a daily sense of ease and vitality. This also allows classes and bodywork and massage sessions to become more effective as they can spend more time addressing root causes of discomfort.

At Ha.Lé, discovering the therapeutic use of balls and rollers was an Aha! moment for us. We had tried for years to figure out a way for clients to continue their treatments off the massage table. Yoga is a great complement to bodywork, but it does not work with the body in the same way. Adding therapeutic balls and rollers completes the care students receive in movement and yoga classes, and all of our teachers are encouraged to integrate all of our tools into their classes. We wholeheartedly encourage clients to come to class in order to support and maintain the specialized bodywork they receive on the table.

How Often Do You Need Self-Care?

Our bodies require regular care in order to thrive and heal, and one of the best ways to make sure we are on top of our self-care is to put it on our schedule instead of trying to fit it in around everything else. As a health and wellness practice, HaLe’ has experience with what kinds of schedules work best. Here are our recommendations, based on the state of your body:

Acute Pain: 3 classes/wk, bodywork or acupuncture every week

Acute pain is an active, painful flare up or injury. The body needs frequent treatment in order to release secondary tension, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, support the lymph system, regulate the pain signals, and generally assist the healing process.

Sub-acute: 1-2 classes/wk, bodywork or acupuncture every 2 weeks

Sub-acute pain falls between acute pain (sudden and awful) and chronic pain (long term, constant/consistent pain). It means that something hurts, but it hasn’t been hurting for a very long time and it isn’t terrible. The body is not in crisis but still in need of support and healing, so regular treatment until it resolves is recommended.

Chronic: Start with 2-3 classes/wk and bodywork or acupuncture every 1-2 weeks, then taper down

Chronic pain is long term pain that is not healing or getting better, and can be anywhere on the spectrum from unbearable to really annoying. Addressing chronic pain involves a combination of treatments to reduce overall pain levels and to treat the root cause of the chronic condition. This usually means coming often at the beginning, and as treatment makes progress at interrupting the pain cycle, tapering off gradually until treatments reach a maintenance level.

Maintenance: 1-2 classes/wk, bodywork or acupuncture every 4 weeks

To maintain a level of general good health and low pain, we recommend a basic self-care schedule. This helps resolve issues before they begin to hurt, reduces baseline stress levels, hydrates the connective tissue (fascia), and promotes a general sense of well-being. People who are very active or athletic may need more frequent self-care maintenance.

 

A Note on Mental Health care:

These same protocols can also be applied to mental and emotional health. Psychotherapy sessions for high distress, medium distress, chronic distress, and mental health maintenance often follow the same frequency guidelines as the pain levels, since mental and emotional distress is a form of pain. Coming to classes provides valuable support for regulating mood, reducing the physical symptoms of mental and emotional stress, and releasing emotional energy that is stored in the body. Adding bodywork and/or acupuncture to your treatment plan can treat imbalances that may be contributing to distress and help boost a sense of overall wellbeing.

Crackle and Pop: Knees and other Joints

Our knees and other joints can pop, grind, crunch, and make other interesting sounds. This can be alarming, causing worry about the health of the joint and whether the sounds are a sign of something serious.

What makes those sounds: There are a lot of complex tissues in our joints, and most of them can make some noise. Tiny bubbles can form in the joint fluid due to changes in joint pressure, and they make a sound when they pop. Ligaments and tendons can make a click or pop sound as they move over a bony lump and snap back into place. Cartilage can develop uneven areas as we age, and a grinding or crunching sound can be from those rough surfaces gliding across each other.

When to worry: As long as there is no pain or swelling, these sounds are not a reason to worry. They can come from age, use, or healed injuries, and the noises are not part of the alarm system of your body. Our body uses pain and swelling to indicate that there is a problem, and that is how you know when the joint needs extra attention and treatment. And if you ever experience a sudden pop followed by pain, that is almost always an injury that needs treatment.

Support for Joint Health: There are a few keys to supporting joint health, whether they are just making painless sounds or are causing discomfort. Bodywork and movement classes both help restore alignment so that the right muscles and connective tissues are working together, and to relieve muscle tension that can contribute to joint pain. Hydration of the tissues is also key to keeping joints supple and healthy, which is especially supported by bodywork and therapeutic movement. Acupuncture is also very effective at treating pain and the imbalances that may be causing that pain.

Joints like knees and shoulders that make interesting sounds without pain are not a cause for alarm. They can serve as reminders to stay committed to our self care, but do not indicate serious damage or injury to the joint.

Focus on Feeling Better: Medical Massage

Medical massage refers to bodywork that focuses on treating specific health issues. A lot of research has been done over the last several decades, proving the benefits of medical massage and bodywork as treatments for pain, stress-related illness, injuries, and some chronic conditions. Even better, there are little to no side effects, other than an improved sense of well being.

Medical massage and bodywork is effective support for the circulatory systems of the body, including blood and lymph. This helps speed healing from injuries, surgeries, and overexertion. It brings nutrients to where they are needed most, clears out toxins and by-products created by tissue repair, and lowers blood pressure. Circulation is key to the overall health and wellbeing of all our tissues and organs, and it is a complex system that can deeply benefit from focused, professional support.

Another aspect of medical massage and bodywork is the ability to restore function and address the structures of the body. Injuries, muscular imbalances, and repetitive motion can cause structural issues, which then leads to chronic tension or recurring pain. Treatment through bodywork can relieve the pain when these issues flare up. It can also help address the root causes, ideally restoring function without surgery or medications.

There are also tremendous neurological benefits to receiving medical massage and bodywork. Nurturing physical touch cues the body to switch out of fight or flight mode and into nourish and restore mode. This begins a cascade of neurobiological effects, including lowered cortisol and other stress hormones, deepened breath, improved digestive function, and reduced strain on the heart. Bodywork also helps reduce neuropathy by restoring blood flow to starved nerves, improves nerve tone and function, and helps turn down the volume on pain signals.

Medical Massage and Bodywork is one of the most comprehensive treatments you can add to your healthcare. It can effectively address specific complaints like low back pain, knee pain, and headaches, even as it nourishes organs, regulates mood, and boosts health. By helping to correct imbalances before they become acute problems, bodywork effectively supports overall health and deep wellbeing.

Replenish Your Capacity to Give

Being generous brings joy and improves our overall health. However, our capacity to give can become depleted by stress, high expectations, and reduced feelings of empathy. In other words, we can feel so distressed that it becomes more difficult to connect with the joy of giving.

Being generous is a proven benefit to our health. It activates positive feedback loops in the brain that in turn can increase longevity, improve heart health, and release oxytocin, the happy trust hormone. However, it is not the size of the gift that brings these benefits, but our ability to connect with the people we are giving to, and to feel for ourselves the joy or support that gift brings them.

Our ability to feel that sense of connection and empathy is reduced by stress. Compassion fatigue, which happens when we care about others to the point that our ability to care becomes depleted, often contributes to a loss of empathy. Other causes include personal trauma, high anxiety or depression, and physical pain.

Reducing stress levels through self-care and pain management is an effective way to restore empathy and open-heartedness. Bodywork and acupuncture both help reset the nervous system away from fight or flight stress responses, even as they treat specific dysfunctions or imbalances. Therapeutic movement classes like HaLé Yoga and MELT help release stress that has become stuck in the body, rebalancing and resetting the nervous system. Psychotherapy and counseling help integrate body and mind, creating space for health.

Treating stress through self-care replenishes the body’s resources for connection with others. This allows us to more fully empathize with others, restoring our capacity to give and to experience the joys of generosity. At HaLé we encourage you to both take time for your own self-care, and to give that gift to others who also need a little replenishing.

Deep Harmony through Being Present

Being present allows the stress of what has happened (past) and what has not yet happened (future) to fall away from the mind. Instead we turn our attention to the present, which is where the body lives. Common, simple techniques focus on the breath or the rhythm of our heartbeat. By shifting our awareness to our physical sensations, we can begin to relax the alarm systems of stress and allow our bodies to turn on the internal systems of nourishment and healing.

There are many ways to cue the body and mind to come into the present, and one of our favorite techniques at HaLé is a gentle, supportive bodywork called Breema. Based on Nine Principles of Harmony, Breema teaches that we best support ourselves and one another by being present in the moment.

Breema combines different nurturing touches to support whole-bodied relaxation and health. This includes stretches to relieve tension along with compression and gentle touch. It also incorporates rhythmic movements and stillness as a way to keep your mind in your body and so in the present moment. Sessions are able to assist with physical flexibility, emotional balance, and mental clarity.

Breema and other forms of mindfulness practice that are based on awareness of the body help support an overall sense of vitality. Being in the present opens us to a sense of joy, connection, and gratitude. This in turn expands our understanding of self and helps us live a more meaningful life.

The Emotional Benefits of Bodywork

Bodywork and massage are great treatments for emotional health as well as pain and tension. Regular sessions have been shown to improve mood after as little as 15 min, and can help treat stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma.

The emotional benefits of massage and bodywork begin with relaxation, a sense of peace, and self-awareness. From the first moments you lay on the therapy table, your body begins to cue your nervous system that you are now warm and safe and can begin to relax. Your heartbeat slows, your breathing deepens, and your stress hormone levels begin to drop. Your treatment continues to deepen this relaxation response and bring your awareness inward to your body.

Receiving regular bodywork and massage allows the treatments to build on each other, so that sometimes just walking into the treatment room can begin the cascade of positive emotions and biological responses. Regular treatments are especially effective for depression and anxiety, as they release endorphins like serotonin and dopamine and reduce stress hormone levels, which helps to improve and regulate mood.

Bodywork can also help release emotional trauma that has been stored in the body as tension or dysfunction. It becomes a great complement to other therapies, supporting the work of psychotherapy, mindfulness, and other treatments that work to heal emotional trauma and support an overall sense of well-being.

Our bodies and minds are inherently connected to each other, which allows bodywork and massage to provide effective support for emotional health. The healing power of touch combines with the safety and warmth of a quality therapist to create space for emotional release, mood regulation, and an improved sense of wellness.  

Treatments for Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a painful and sometimes severe condition where nerve damage causes pain, tingling, and numbness from affected sensory nerves, and lack of coordination or control in motor nerves. It can be caused by cancer treatment medications, high blood sugar levels, and other conditions, and is most common in the feet and legs. Effective treatment calms the nerves and restores blood and oxygen flow so that the damage can heal.

Acupuncture is one of the most effective treatments for neuropathy, with an over 75% success rate after a course of 4 or 5 weekly treatments. Most people maintain their improvements unless the condition is caused by medication they are still taking. The treatments work to improve nerve conduction and reduce the stagnation of energy in the limbs, restoring balance to the flow of the body.

Bodywork and massage treat neuropathy by focusing on restoring blood circulation to the small vessels that provide oxygen to the nerves in the feet and hands. Without enough oxygen, the nerves malfunction and send signals of pain, tingling, burning, and numbness. Treatments need to be at least 60 min once/week and focus on working as deeply as is comfortable, with the goal of eventually flushing all the stagnant blood out of the tissue. It is also important to do at least 15 min a day of self-massage and range of motion exercises at home to support the detailed work of the treatments and continue to make progress.

Therapeutic movement classes, like yoga and tai chi, strengthen the communication between nerves and brain and also help treat neuropathy. Opening up the front of the body increases oxygenation and improves blood circulation, helping to nourish the affected nerves. Classes also are generally calming to the nervous system, which helps ease the pain symptoms. Regular classes, especially when taken along with other treatments, help keep the pain from getting worse and support the healing process.

Neuropathy is an often painful condition that can be treated, and acupuncture, bodywork and massage, and movement classes like yoga and tai chi all help reduce pain, increase circulation, and support healing for damaged nerves. Because nerve pain is often due to a lack of oxygen, increasing blood flow can go a long way toward easing symptoms and creating health.

Diabetes Support

Diabetes is a stressful and common condition that requires constant management. It puts tremendous strain on the physical body, and elevates mental and emotional stress levels. Creating health and support for diabetes means treating the body systems that are under strain and reducing overall stress levels so that you can switch the nervous system out of fight or flight mode and into rest and repair mode.

Bodywork and massage increases the circulation of blood and lymph, which brings oxygen and nutrients to tissues and boosts insulin uptake. It also calms the nervous system, helping to turn off the alarms, and is effective at treating the stiffness and mobility issues caused by high blood sugar levels.

Mindfulness practice helps to both lower blood sugar levels and to better self-manage diabetes. In one study, 16 weeks of practice improved mood, lowered stress, addressed sleep issues, and decreased fasting blood sugar levels.

Therapeutic Movement classes like yoga provide the physical activity needed to increase circulation, especially to the arms and legs, where people with diabetes most have issues. Regular physical activity also helps the body improve its response to insulin, and helps directly lower blood sugar levels by reducing stress hormones in the body.

Acupuncture is able to reduce the nerve pain and neuropathy that can come from diabetes. It also helps to lower blood sugar levels, and to regulate the urge to eat too much, drink too much, and pee too often. Overall, it helps to rebalance and support the many physical systems under strain from diabetes.

The constant management of diabetes means that you are in an ongoing conversation with your body about its health status on a daily basis. There are ways to have that conversation and to reduce the strain and stress of this condition through health care that also increases your overall sense of wellbeing and supports your whole self. All of these therapies, including bodywork, mindfulness, therapeutic movement classes, and acupuncture, work with the care of your doctor to improve health and quality of life.

Relief for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a common source of joint pain, caused by wear on the protective cartilage cushioning the ends of the bones of the joint. It can start at any age, and by age 60, most adults have some arthritis. The bones most often affected are in the hands, spine, knee, and hip joints. Bodywork and massage, movement classes like yoga, and mindfulness practice can all help with the pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion of osteoarthritis.

Part of osteoarthritis is that collagenous tissue will settle in to create a patchwork of scars that creates a lot of stiffness, and bodywork is effective at helping to restore that lost range of motion. It also works to realign posture, which relieves strain on affected joints, and decreases swelling. Additionally, massage and bodywork reduces pain by directly impacting the nerves of the affected joints.

When it comes to movement classes, the general rule for students with osteoarthritis is: if it hurts, stop and do it a different way. The benefits of yoga and other therapeutic classes include increased mobility, balance, and range of motion, all of which help to reduce arthritis pain. Everything done in class can be modified to accommodate physical issues, so if any pose or motion is uncomfortable, let the teacher know so they show you another way.

Mindfulness techniques are also proven to help treat people with osteoarthritis. They retrain the brain away from focusing on pain and thereby magnifying it and making it worse. The effects of mindfulness practice are cumulative; the more often you do it, the more it helps.

Osteoarthritis may be a common cause of pain, stiffness, and discomfort, but it is possible to feel significantly better through treatment. Supporting your health through bodywork, therapeutic movement classes, and mindfulness can improve both your symptoms and your overall sense of wellbeing.