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Knee & hip DIY recovery tools for runners

Tom Jennings adductors deep tissue exercise foam roller foam rollers foam rolling hamstrings hip hip flexors iliotibial band injury ITB ITband knee lacrosse ball massage medicine balls mobiltiy myofascial release performance piriformis pvs quadriceps recovery rehabilitation rolling pin run runners running self myofascial release sports performance tennis balls tensor fascia latae tfl training trigger points

Soft tissue recovery (STR) tools entered the sports arena long ago with products like the foam roller igniting an entire industry (including my own Therawheel product line). Running my own health & fitness company for ten years required thoughtful injury solutions for each client and in my experience the first step in recovery is normalizing soft tissue. However, I recognized very early not all clients liked or could tolerate STR products like a foam roller to normalize the soft tissue. I became frustrated by the lack of versatility and effectiveness of these and other products. Some clients could not get on the floor to roll because of a bad shoulder, or low back pain. Many just lacked upper body strength to support themselves. For others rolling was just to intense while some complained the intensity was not enough for muscle groups like the hamstrings. Similarly, other products were to flimsy and clients complained the product did not target the right area. Therefore, I set out to create a solution that worked for me and my clients. However, in doing so I recognized one size does not fit all and what works for one may not work for the other. Moreover, what you have available at home is some times the only solution.

In this first part of this series, I recommend DIY products for knee and hip injuries. The recommendations are based upon what I've used myself and what I normally recommend to my clients. Keep in mind location of the injury, versatility and your comfort level of using STR products are primary factors to consider when choosing a DIY or manufactured STR product. Likewise, STR tools come in all shapes, sizes and firmness. The more experienced runner may appreciate a product that is small, firm and digs in deeper to the muscles. While a beginner may be content with a softer tennis ball. Likewise, a hand-held roller may be ideal for longer muscle like the quadriceps. Conversely, the hamstrings usually requires a larger, firmer product like a medicine ball.

DIY Products 

For starters, DIY or Do-it-yourself products are the easiest and certainly most cost effective way to begin STR. By DIY I don't mean you need to make something but rather re-purpose a tennis ball or medicine ball. I've been known to use the corner of a kitchen counter to dig into my hip! But most people likely have a tennis ball or some type of firm ball lying around at home they can use. Likewise, some people get creative by taping together pvc tubing. While it may not be optimal, it likely is better than nothing and may be a good way to get started. However, sometimes it's worth an investment of 30-50$ to have a product that will last a while and can be used by you and other family members for years.

Here are a few of my favorite uses of DIY products for specific muscle groups. But understand these are not the only options and some are interchangeable.

Medicine ball- is a good choice for the posterior hip area, especially the piriformis because it is more targeted and is less intense than a foam roller or lacrosse ball.  

Lacrosse ball- is ideal for hamstrings because it is smaller, firm and targets the hard to isolate hamstrings.The pin & stretch technique as shown in the video is a great way to mobilize the hamstrings.

Rolling pin- if you have nothing else this is a simple and effective hand-held tool to provide general rolling over the large muscles like the quadriceps. The rolling pin is not flimsy and you can easily control the intensity. 

PVC- can be pretty intense but a handy device for general rolling of the larger longer muscles or the ITB.(note- not breaking up fascia or scar tissue)

Tennis ball- offers excellent targeting for the hard to reach hip flexors, especially the tensor fascia latae. Using a firmer product for this area especially for beginners is often to intense. 

Hands- While STR products were developed to give our hands a break, sometimes they are the best or only option. Sometimes just pressing into a tight area and moving the knee or hip joint can offer some relief. Try this unique technique for the adductors.

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