Despite the very many health benefits of massage, we can't all book regular appointments at the spa. But there's a basic (and cheap!) tool known to many regular runners and other athletes that just might be the next best thing. If you haven't already, it's time to get familiar with a foam roller.
Foam rolling, also called self-myofascial release, works by focusing attention on myofascial tissues, which are what the Mayo Clinic describes as "the tough membranes that wrap, connect and support your muscles." Manual pressure alleviates stiffness of these tissues, helping to "loosen up restricted movement" and prevent injuries.
By using a foam roller to assist you, you're basically getting a professional massage for free (well, after the original $15 or $20 you'll shell out for your roller). Foam rolling doesn't just help to reduce existing aches and pains, but it's also a great way to warm up cold muscles before exercise.
The key is spending enough time on your roller to make a difference. Speeding through the moves is one of the most common mistakes when it comes to foam rolling, and it makes sense: The faster you roll, the less it hurts (and, yes, sorry, it will probably hurt). But at high speeds, it'll do less good for you, too. Instead of whizzing through your foam rolling, spend 30 to 60 seconds (or up to two minutes if you're an experienced roller) on each spot, moving ultra-slowly and smoothly.
Lie face down on your roller and crawl forward and backward with your arms to roll from hip to knee.
Balance on your side with the help of your arm and opposite leg, and roll from about two inches below the hip to the knee. To increase the pressure, stack your legs. Then switch legs.
Sit on the roller and cross your left leg over your right. Lean slightly to the left, so the pressure of the roller hits the meaty part of your glute, and roll forward and back. Then switch legs.
All photos by Damon Dahlen for The Huffington Post