Trigger Point massage products

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Whether you're an athlete, a casual exerciser, or just someone who gets a few tight muscles from stress, a massage is always a real feel-good. But getting to one – or paying for one – isn't always possible.

We've seen a lot of self-massage products of all shapes and sizes, all of which say they are the answer to anybody's problems. The problems in most cases are, one, knowing how to use them and, two, being comfortable using them. Sometimes they are a hard plastic or wood that is just too much of an "ouch" to be very encouraging. Plus, many may be great for one area of the body, but can't effectively get to another very well – at least not as a self-massage. We know a good number of exercisers who use tennis balls or racquet balls to put acupressure-like treatment on some muscles. Not a bad solution.

The Trigger Point Technologies company has come to the rescue (no more absconding with errant racquet balls at the gym!). Founded by an athlete who has fibromyalgia (a muscle-centered pain syndrome with distinct trigger points but as yet no cure), TPT offers a series of products to help put pressure just where it's needed, but with a softer, patent-pending material that allegedly changes shape to mold to your muscle in about 5 to 7 seconds, allowing it to better penetrate the muscle belly for effective therapy. The Massage Ball is about the size and shape of a tennis ball, while the FootBaller and QuadBaller are shaped a bit like dumbbells, but with center rods that are fatter in the center and thinner toward the rubber discs at the ends – and of course all made of that soft material. These three work together with a block that is the same as a yoga block stretching aid but in this case it called a BallerBlock (OK, bad name, but we didn't let that influence us).

We put the package of the three massage products and the block in a common area where they would be handy and waited to see if we'd go for it. Funny thing is, we did, although some products saw more use than others.

The smaller FootBaller was a delight on tired calves as well as on feet, and easy to use while sitting. One tester used it on arches and tired feet and felt refreshed after a few minutes. The larger Quadballer was great on hamstrings and gluteals, as well as the back of the neck, but despite its name was a bit awkward to lie on face-down for a quad massage. One of our testers used it with great success to massage a very tight calf muscle -- and work out kinks and a knot -- the result of a torn muscle months before. The simple Massage Ball could be used while lying down (supine) to pinpoint sore muscles anywhere in the back, shoulders, hips, gluteals and hams, as well as with pressure applied by the hand on quads and neck. The soft material made it more comfortable than a racquet ball too. The Block? Well, hmm. It's a bit difficult to master as a way to use the Footballer on your Achilles or calf (it's used to raise your lower leg while you're sitting, but one movement that's too large or a bit crooked and your foot falls off the block). Still, it's a fine stretching aid although not new.

The short (9-minute) DVD that accompanies the packages is a nice intro but not truly a follow-the-leader education, which would be something the company should consider offering perhaps for an additional charge – a 30-minute DVD or even a small booklet with pictures. In the intro DVD, founder Cassidy Phillips discusses the massage therapy, but gets a bit too wrapped up with tech-geek talk like muscles names (psoas, rectus femoris, TFL, etc., which most normal people don't know) and physiology techie talk like "elasticity equals wattage and power or general comfort" (wattage? Is this a light bulb?), both of which would be best avoided. Pictures of recommended ways to use the products are on the website, so folks would most likely be forced to print out a bunch of pages, none of which are really formatted for functional printing. 

All those minor nits aside, the products – either separate or as a package – would be a solid addition to anyone's workout bag no matter at what level they train.

SNEWS® Applause Meter: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested Retail: $130 (package with all four products). Separate items or smaller kits available for $10-$70.

For more information:www.tpmassageball.com or 1-888-31.BALLS (1-888-312-2557)

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