TP- or Trigger Point Therapy have been around for a couple of years, and specialise in the production of self massage products- The Massage Ball, The Grid, The Quadballer etc. They are made in bright exciting colours, come with instruction manuals, have a snazzy logo on them and promise to "achieve goals you never thought possible".
They are typically quite expensive when you look at alternatives, and so far I have only been able to free up cash to buy the Trigger Point Ball- the least expensive of the range. So, what is it meant to do, what are the alternatives, is it any better than them and, most importantly, does it work?
To give an accurate idea, first I'd better explain the principle. When you use muscles to exercise, or even just sitting there looking at your computer, they are slowly breaking down. They then build up again when you rest. (this is why rest is SO important when you are planning training schedules- but I won't rant on about that now).
However, when the collagen comes along to help build up the muscles again, it is a very sticky substance and can "stick" muscles together, making them inefficent. Also, when muscles repair, they can repair in a sub-optimal way, causing scar-tissue to develop within them. This isn't necessarily a good thing insofar as muscle efficiency is concerned and anything you can do to get rid of the scar tissue is a good thing.
In order to do this you have a number of options. Stretch more- which is an oft laughed at method of getting better at something, (I have no idea why- maybe its all the conflicting advice out there), Sports massage has a number of interesting and occassionally quite theraputically discomforting techniques, such as Soft Tissue Release and Friction, which break down scar tissue, and then there is the foam roller, or roller ball kind of techniques of myofascial release which is what I'm going on to talk about.
In the most basic of terms, rolling a muscle over a hard roller or a ball distorts the muscle and the scar tissue that may have built up inside the muscle, and using tensile force, encourages the scar tissue to reform along lines of stress. It also has a pumping effect which can help get rid of metabolic waste from the muscle, while drawing fresh oxygen laden blood in- which is a good thing, it helps muscles seperate from each other if they have become adhered to one another with the sticky collagen used to repair them. They also help seek out and reduce trigger points, which are points of exquisite pain located within muscles. These points can be released with pressure, but need to be stretched afterward as well in order to ensure they do ont come back.
The idea of the Trigger Point tools is that they mimic the pressure and accuracy of the human hand better than any other artificial device, like a tennis ball, foam roller or whatever.
Now, it is no secret that rolling over a foam roller on your quads is a great way to find out where all the painful bits are. Try using one of those on the rather more intricate areas around your shoulders, the fascia across the sole of your foot, or even into the deep 6 within the bum, and you will have a bit more trouble getting good results. The Foam roller (or lemonade bottle, or beer bottle depending on how sadistic you are feeling), just doesn't have the right shape to get the results.
|sqidgeyness of the TP ball|
The general answer to this always used to be get a tennis ball, put it under whatever is causing you gyp and roll around on it until you feel release, or at the least, feel like you have battered the area into submission. Once the tennis ball gets too easy, find a cricket or hockey ball and do much the same thing. Hard rubber balls are actually pretty good as well. However, as you may notice, all these balls are pretty hard and have no "give" in them whatsoever. Start treating yourself with it and you're going to bring yourself to the limit of "theraputic discomfort" fairly rapidly.
|squidgeyness of a tennis ball|
(Which you get with any other ball/roller type thing, but there you go).
So, thats the idea, but is it worth £22 for the ball? (I'd love to go into whether the roller is worth £45, but I haven't got one yet- the hard polystyrene roller that I already have is certainly holding up very well indeed though)
After using a number of different types of ball, from tennis to lacrosse to cricket etc, it is quite nice to have a snazzy and well made alternative which is made specifically for massage. It does seem to slightly deform as I use it, but no more than a tennis ball, or- a better alternative, a hard rubber ball with a bit of "give" in it, which costs all of a couple of quid, if that.
The TP ball is softer than a cricket ball, softer than a hockey ball, a little harder than a lacrosse ball, and harder than a tennis ball. Its ever so slightly softer than a hard rubber ball, but not by much. As you push into it, the top fabric portion of the ball squashes in by a small amount before meeting firm resistance, much like the feeling and hardness of a rubber ball. As for it deforming after 5-7 seconds, it may do slightly, but nothing so much as to think "wow this is magic, and REALLY feels like a massage therapists hands".
If I didn't have it, would I be any less able to prepare myself or athletes for their sport? Would I feel that I was using a substandard piece of equipment by relying on a tennis ball?
The honest answer. Not really. Ok, yes its a pretty thing to have and yes it appears to do what it says on the tin in terms of deforms slightly, but do you really need to spend more than £20 on a ball?
I'd still advisepeople to use a tennis ball, but if they have the money and inclination, get a Trigger Point ball. However, it is by no means an essential item. As far as I can see and have felt, it works, but so do the alternatives.
There are courses you can go on to learn about the balls and the various types of tools that TP makes, and I'm sure that I've missed out some of their marketing gab as well. There are a number of people who swear by the TP stuff and have no truck with any other alternative- nothing but the best- being their mantra. Indeed, but as far as I can see, the more correct mantra would appear to be "nothing but the most expensive".
I have no idea what is inside it and what makes it like it is, and I'm not going to cut mine open to find out what is in there- which perhaps points to the fact I am more attached to it than I'm prepared to admit. But then, maybe I just don't want to destroy something that cost £20.
One other thing, if you own a dog and are considering getting one- either make sure its well away from said animal, or be prepared to find out what its made of. I doubt very much they are Mutt-compatible.
Summary review- if you have the money and inclination, get one, if not, use a tennis ball.