In this edition of From the ATRA Archives presented by Salomon, Robert McAtee, massage therapist and author of Facilitated Stretching, provides tips to incorporate golf ball massage into a daily stretching regimen. The article first appeared in our Trail Times newsletter issue number 2 in fall 1996.
You finish a long, grueling trail run and you’re tired and sore. After a shower you feel better, but your feet are still aching. Now is the time to get out your trusty golf ball and get down to business.
Maintaining proper flexibility and muscle tone in the feet is crucial for trail runners. The strain on the feet over long distances and uneven terrain is enormous and must be relieved for the feet to function properly through all phases of the running gait. Loss of foot flexibility and strength due to chronically shortened muscles and connective tissue can lead to general aches and pains in the feet – or worse – overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis. In addition, foot problems can translate into ankle, knee, hip and low back pain.
Stretching and self-massage of the feet feel good and help them to recover from the pounding of daily training. Here are some tips to help keep your feet happy:
Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Bend your knee and grab your foot with both hands, placing your thumbs on the sole of the foot. Begin by squeezing, stretching and twisting your foot.
Use your thumbs, knuckles or fist to methodically massage the entire bottom of the foot, including the heel. You can use circular strokes, or go back and forth, or use long strokes along the length of the foot. Do whatever feels good. If you find sore spots – and you sill – spend some extra time working on them. This may “hurt good,” but should not cause pain.
If your hands get tired, you can break out your golf ball and use it as a massage tool. Use the palm of your hand to roll the ball around on the bottom of your foot, with a fair amount of pressure. The golf ball is effective because the little ridges on it help stimulate the nerve endings in the foot, break up micro-spasms in the muscles, and warm and stretch the plantar fascia. This band of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot can become inflamed and develop plantar fasciitis, a painful overuse injury that can seriously hamper your running.
Sit in a chair, place the golf ball on the floor and put your foot on it. Use your body weight to apply moderate pressure (“hurts good”), then roll your foot around, letting those little ridges dig into the tight, sore places. If you apply this technique on a regular basis, you can eventually stand up and place most of your weight on the golf ball.
Once you’ve squeezed, twisted, kneaded, and “golf balled” your feet, spend a few minutes stretching your feet and legs. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel all over. Adding this simple massage and stretching routine to your training schedule will keep your feet healthy and happy and increase your running pleasure for many seasons to come.